Pimento Cheese is one of the south’s most cherished staples and is often referred to as the “pâté of the South”. You will see it served at ladies luncheons, picnics, church potlucks, weddings, funerals and even at the Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National.
If you are not from the southern part of the U.S., you may have never heard of pimento cheese and might wonder why it is so popular. This creamy cheese spread is true southern comfort food made with a blend of sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, roasted sweet pimento peppers and various seasonings. Ask any southerner for their recipe and it will probably be different from the next person you ask. They might make it with just cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimento like my mother did or they might add garlic, grated onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, jalapeños, pickles or even bacon.
Husk, a well known restaurant in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is noted for its farm to table meals. After entering through the front door, there is a huge chalk board that has a list of ingredients used in the days cooking and the farms they came from. When my husband and I visited for lunch one day, one of the signature items on the menu that we had to try was their “House Made“ Pimento Cheese, Grilled Crostini, Pickle Relish, Crispy Country Ham and Chives. It was different from what I’d had before and we both enjoyed sharing the appetizer to start our lunch. I knew then that one day I would have to try making their version.
Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef Southeast”, founding chef and now culinary advisor at Husk shared his very popular pimento cheese recipe in his cookbook called “Heritage” and it was the inspiration for the pimento cheese recipe I’m sharing here.
- 7 oz. jar of diced pimento, drained well
- 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 – 3/4 c. mayonnaise (Duke’s is the brand I used)
- 1/2 tsp. hot sauce such as Tabasco or to taste
- 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
- 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
- 8 oz. block extra sharp white cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
- 8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
- 1/4 c. finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles with some of the brine (I used Mt. Olive Simply Relish, deli style sweet)
Grate the cheese on a box grater or food processor and set aside. Place the cream cheese in a medium bowl and stir until softened. Add the mayonnaise, Tabasco, spices and mix well. Add the grated cheese and relish and mix until well combined. Fold in the diced pimento. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Tips and Notes:
- I used jarred diced pimento but if your market has fresh pimento peppers, you can roast, peel, seed and dice them like Chef Brock.
- In the past, I used Hellman’s mayonnaise but Chef Brock and most southerners prefer Dukes. I bought it and am now a convert as the taste is more like homemade. Start with 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and if the mixture seems too thick add 1 or 2 Tbsp. more.
- Don’t use pre-shredded packaged cheese, it is too dry.
- I used two 8 oz. blocks of cheddar, one white extra sharp cheddar and one sharp cheddar but you can use 1 lb. of sharp cheddar if you wish.
- Chef Brock’s recipe called for 1/4 cup pickled ramps, chopped, plus 1/2 cup of the brine which I doubt anyone will find. He suggested to substitute finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles and brine. I only used a 1/4 cup of sweet relish that included a little of the brine in the measuring cup.
- Chef Brock used a 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. sugar in his recipe but I didn’t add either to my recipe.
- If you want a creamier spread, blend with a hand mixer for a minute or two.
- For a more flavorful pimento cheese, prepare it several hours in advance of serving.
- When I had the appetizer at Husk, the pimento cheese was spread on grilled crostini and topped with sweet relish, crispy country ham and chives. I have served the pimento cheese in a similar fashion, using either toasted crostini or crackers and topped it with a sprinkle of the sweet pickle relish and crumbled bacon.
- The brands I mentioned are just personal preferences (not endorsements) and may not be available in your area. Use the best ingredients that you can find.
I grew up eating pimento cheese sandwiches because my mother was trying to stretch a dollar. Now you can find various versions of pimento cheese on menus in some of the best restaurants in the country. You can have it as a starter at Husk in Charleston, in a sandwich at the Masters Golf Tournament or as an ingredient in the mac and cheese served at Churchill Downs. Whether you decide to have pimento cheese in a sandwich, as a snack with crackers or celery sticks or perhaps as a topping on baked potatoes or burgers, I think you will enjoy this recipe…it is true southern comfort food.