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What is pimento cheese?
I fell in love with pimento cheese when I lived in Jackson, Mississippi. The first time I had it smeared on a French roll and toasted with slices of fresh tomatoes, I was hooked.
It’s a blend of simple ingredients, including cheeses, mayo and spices with pimento peppers folded in.
Pimento peppers are mild red peppers also referred to as cherry peppers. They’re popular in Spanish cuisine. But here in the U.S., we found a way to Americanize them by stirring them into cheese dip.
The history of pimento cheese
Through my research, the earliest reference to pimento cheese that I could find was a suggested menu for a Catholic Lenten Luncheon from Harper’s Bazaar out of New York in 1905. The menu included oyster bouillon, chicken chartreuse and a chicory and violet salad.
The preparation instructions said to mix strips of cream cheese with the chopped pimentos.
A year later, the Detroit Free Press published an article from Harper’s Bazaar for a pimento and cheese salad recipe that called for layering cream cheese slices and roasted pimento on a bed of lettuce with French dressing.
Then, in 1908, the Evening Herald out of Fall River, Massachusetts, shared details about a gathering of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their menu included potato salad, stuffed eggs and pimento cheese and lettuce sandwiches.
I was fascinated to see the historic references generated from Northern states. Be that as it may, today pimento cheese is known as the caviar of the South.
It’s still layered between crustless white bread to make petite luncheon sandwiches. But it’s also great at a tailgate party with celery sticks and crackers.
For the best pimento cheese spread, you want a good cheese base. I like cheddar cheese and pepper jack cheese blended with full-fat cream cheese and Southern mayo.
- Cheddar and Pepper Jack Cheese: For the best texture, buy an 8-ounce block of each cheese and freshly shred it with a box grater or food processor. You can use mild, medium or sharp cheddar.
- Cream Cheese: You’ll need one 8-ounce package. Let it sit at room temperature to soften. It will make mixing everything easier.
- Mayonnaise: If you want to make true Southern style pimento cheese, look for Duke’s mayonnaise. If you can’t find it, Heinz, Best Foods or Hellman’s will do.
- Pimento Peppers: You’ll find these in a small jar in your grocery store. They’re usually near the pickles and olives, but sometimes they’re on the top shelf with the canned vegetables.
- Seasonings: For a fantastic base, I use a blend of granulated garlic, granulated onion, kosher salt, black pepper and either Cajun seasoning or cayenne pepper.
Substitutions: If you like your pimento cheese a little spicier, try mixing in roasted Fresno peppers or a little hot sauce. You could also change things up and use Roasted Hatch Peppers. If you prefer for it to be more mild, use roasted red bell peppers. I season with granulated garlic and onion, but you can use garlic powder and onion powder, if that's what you keep on hand.
How to prepare pimento cheese
- STEP ONE: Start by freshly grating the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses. You can use a box grater or food processor.
You could use pre-grated cheese, but the results won’t be as creamy, because pre-grated cheese is packaged with anti-caking ingredients to prevent it from sticking together.
- STEP TWO: Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the cream cheese, mayonnaise and seasonings, until smooth.
PRO TIP: If you don't have a stand mixer, use a hand mixer, wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula.
- STEP THREE: Mix in shredded cheddar and pepper jack cheeses. Start with the mixer on low and then increase the speed, so the cheeses are well blended together.
- STEP FOUR: Drain most of the liquid from the jar of pimentos. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the peppers. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. The flavors will start to come together more as it chills.
How to serve pimento cheese
There are so many different ways to use pimento cheese. It can be served as a dip, smeared on white bread or melted into a grilled cheese sandwich or quesadilla.
If you go the quesadilla route, I recommend trying it with corn tortillas. It’s my favorite way to eat it, and it’s super addictive.
If you want to make little tea sandwiches, spread 3-4 tablespoons of pimento cheese between two slices of white bread. Remove the crusts and cut into four pieces.
You can serve pimento cheese right away, or you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
This pimento cheese recipe can be frozen for a few months, but I prefer not to, because it loses it’s creaminess and some of its vibrant flavor.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Use freshly shredded cheese, not pre-shredded cheese
- Let the cream cheese rest at room temperature before blending
- Use a mixer or sturdy wooden spoon to mix everything evenly
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. You can find pre-made pimento cheese in grocery stores. It’s usually near the deli with the pre-made potato salad. However, it’s nowhere near as good as this easy recipe. Pre-made pimento cheese lacks the freshness and creaminess that you’ll get if you make your own.
There is just a trace of carbohydrates in this homemade pimento cheese recipe. They come from the natural sugars in the pimento peppers. If you buy pre-made pimento cheese, check the label. It’s often made with corn syrup or added sugars.
For a sandwich made with two slices of bread, plan on using 3-4 tablespoons of cheesy spread. You can serve the sandwich whole, or you can slice off the crusts and cut it into four small squares (see above).
The original recipe called for just cream cheese. Today, people also add shredded cheese. I like a combination of medium sharp cheddar cheese and pepper jack cheese.
If you pull pimiento cheese straight from the fridge and serve it, it will be hard, which means most chips and crackers will break if you try to dip them into the cheese. It’s best to let the pimento cheese dip sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften. Then, serve it with a spoon. It tastes great on tortilla chips, Club crackers and Wheat Thins.
This easy pimento cheese recipe uses orange cheddar cheese. When that’s combined with the natural juice from the peppers, it takes on an orangish hue. If you prefer for it to be more white, you could also use white cheddar cheese. Pre-made pimento cheese that you find at the store often has colors or natural dyes mixed in to make it appear cheesier.
More dip recipes
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Homemade Pimento Cheese Spread
- 8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
- 8 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp granulated onion
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cajun seasoning
- 4 oz jar pimento peppers, drained
- Shred: Using a box grater or food processor, shred the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.
- Cream: In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese, mayonnaise and seasonings.
- Mix: Add the shredded cheeses to the cream cheese mixture. Start by mixing on low. Then increase the speed to medium for about 30 seconds, until everything is blended.
- Fold: Drain the liquid from the jar of pimentos. Then, using a rubber spatula, gently fold them into the cheese.
- Serve: Serve with crackers or smear it on a sandwich or burger. Or refrigerate up to a week.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.