It’s Masters Week and that means it’s time for many lucky attendees of the Master’s tournament to experience their first taste of pimento cheese. The legendary sandwiches are served at Augusta National for only $1.50. Since I’ve never tasted these, I can’t vouch for them but apparently they are one of the tournament’s most popular items.
Pimento cheese is one of those classic Southern dishes that many of us remember from childhood as something we never gave much thought to. If you were hungry, you were likely to get a pimento cheese sandwich. If you were going to a church dinner, your mama probably took pimento cheese sandwiches. If you were attending a bridal shower, there was probably a tray of “fancier” pimento cheese sandwiches, cut into dainty squares with the crusts cut off. And if it was the middle of the night and a glowing light was shining from the kitchen, you might have caught your dad with the refrigerator door open, snacking on pimento cheese on Ritz crackers.
I did a little research on the history of pimento cheese, and it turns out that this is not a Southern food in origin. According to author and food historian Robert Moss, the term and subsequent recipe variations of pimento cheese actually began with Northern cheese manufacturers seeking to expand the usage of their new popular product, cream cheese. The state of Georgia does lay claim to pimentos, however, as it became the leading grower and producer of pimentos in the nation in the early 1900s. Regardless of how it came to be, pimento cheese is now identified as a Southern food — but there is little agreement on the actual recipe.
While I use only extra sharp and sharp yellow cheddar or a mix of sharp yellow and sharp white, there are plenty of Southern cooks who use Velveeta, cream cheese, or Monterey Jack. Some people add onions or olives or jalapeno peppers, along with various seasonings like Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, or garlic. I like to keep it simple and only use mayonnaise, cheese and pimentos with just a little cayenne and black pepper mixed in. There are also raging debates about grating — should you use the smaller holes or the larger holes — or grate it in the food processor? I will tell you, I think the food processor is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to grating cheese, if I’m making macaroni and cheese. But not for pimento cheese. I like the small side of the handheld grater. It’s a little more time consuming and tedious but I think the more delicate, softer shreds mix into a creamier consistency for the final dish.
To start, take cold cheddar and grate on the small side of the handheld grater until you have a bowl full. You may notice in this photo that this cheese was not, in fact, grated on the small side. That’s because David was helping out in the kitchen and *claims* I never told him to use the small side.
Then add in mayonnaise, pimentos, cayenne pepper and pepper. No salt as the cheese is salty enough by itself.
Mix everything together until the pimento cheese is smooth and creamy. And taste. This is the most important part. Start with a smaller amount of mayo than the recipe calls for, as well as a smaller amount of cayenne pepper, then taste as you go. You may not like it as creamy or as spicy as I do, so you may want to stick with a little less. Pimento cheese is all about personal preference.
This recipe makes enough for a party and to have leftovers for sandwiches. You can keep it in the fridge for several days, although it probably won’t stick around that long.
- 2 10 oz. blocks extra sharp Cheddar cheese (I prefer Cracker Barrel, and usually use one white and one yellow)
- 1 7 oz. jar diced pimentos
- 1¼ - 1½ cup of mayonnaise (Duke's)
- ½ - ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Grate cheese into large bowl using small side of grater.
- Drain and add pimentos.
- Sprinkle the cayenne and black pepper over the cheese.
- Stir in 1¼ cup of mayonnaise. You may decide to add an additional ¼ cup depending on how creamy you like it.
- Mix well and taste. May add more cayenne and a little salt if needed.
Interesting reading about pimento cheese: