Pimento cheese reminds me of summer. When I was growing up in Eastern North Carolina, this cheddary cheese spread was a staple in our fridge in the summers. My Mom made it often and I probably didn’t have non-homemade pimento cheese until many years later when I moved to Chicago.
If you’ve never had pimento cheese, it’s typically shredded cheddar cheese, blended with diced pimento peppers and mayonnaise to create a spread or dip. Recipes will vary from chunky consistency to very smooth and spreadable. Some simple variations also come in the form of adding sugar or honey for sweetness or adding other peppers or chili powders for spice.
On many family beach or lake trips (shout out to White Lake!) during my youth we’d be presented with a lunch option of pimento cheese or tomato sandwiches. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned the correct answer when my Mom asked, was “both,” but when I was a kid, I always opted for the pimento cheese. My Mom’s recipe is smooth, creamy and sharp from the cheddar with just a touch of sweetness.
One other lasting memory for me during our family beach trips was snack time with pimento cheese and Bugles. With a built in pocket scoop, a bugle makes a great cheese spread dipping utensil. I’d be lying if I said I had never had a pimento cheese sandwich with a side of pimento cheese and bugles.
There was a time while I was in high school and/or college that my Mom inherited a sourdough starter from our across-the-street neighbor, Mrs. Newton. Mom made bread from that starter for at least four or five years and I remember it being great sandwich bread that we took with us on our yearly beach trip (we lived about 45 minutes from North Carolina’s coastline).
In thinking about approaching and writing about the pimento cheese sandwich, I chose to bake King Arthur Baking’s sourdough sandwich bread recipe. I plucked my sourdough starter, Jimmy Starter Jr., out of back-of-the-fridge retirement and started feeding him again.
My starter was born on October 1st, 2019 – President Jimmy Carter’s 94th birthday – so I was presented with the perfect name for him. He’s served me pretty well, but at some point during the early 2020 pandemic, there was a severe lack of flour in the stores and I felt it was a bit wasteful to keep feeding him. I left Jimmy in the back of the fridge for at least 10 or 11 months to chill.
It wasn’t until very recently that I pulled him out, poured off the liquor from the top and within two or three feedings he was doubling in size after every feeding. Just like his namesake, Jimmy Starter Jr. is back at work building things.
For this sandwich I wanted simple sandwich bread and not boules, so this recipe is baked in 4×8 inch bread pans. The resulting bread ends up a tiny bit dense, but I feel that helps it hold up very well to spreads and toasting. The egg wash prior to baking makes the top shiny and pretty and the tight crumb sets each slice up for some good mayo or mustard spreading.
Mom’s pimento cheese recipe
Pimento cheese is a southern United States thing. It wasn’t invented in the south, but from all accounts it was perfected there. I’m working with my Mom’s recipe that I’m sharing below with you. This isn’t a gourmet pimento cheese that you might find at a fancy restaurant. This is pimento cheese spread that you should be eating on sandwiches or spreading on crackers.
To get things smooth, this recipe requires a food processor. You could probably do it without the food processor, but the blades help a lot in getting a spreadable consistency. A lot of food processors also came with a shredding blade which will shorten the time and effort you need to get the cheese shredded. Here’s the Cuisinart food processor (Amazon affiliate link) that I own and use, but you can find them cheaper if you shop around. Just try to get one that also has the shredder blade or else you’ll need to use a box grater.
Duke’s vs Miracle Whip
Most of the time my Mom used Miracle Whip to make her pimento cheese. I’ve used it also but I actually do not like the taste of miracle whip on its own. Because of this, I decided to do a back to back blind tasting of the same exact recipe with just Duke’s Mayonnaise vs Miracle Whip.
My wife and I each got two spoons and served the other samples without sharing which was Duke’s or which was Miracle Whip. My wife’s palate is definitely better than mine and she was able to guess correctly. She knew which was Miracle whip, but she said they were very very close. I did not accurately guess from a blind tasting and even after the blind tasting, while looking at both and knowing which one I was consuming, the differences were very slim.
I was very much expecting to immediately be able to discern the sweet tang of Miracle Whip, but it did not stand out. The Duke’s version is a slight bit more savory than Miracle Whip, but it isn’t that noticeable if you’re not specifically looking for it. I guess my main takeaway from the blind tasting and eating both batches all week is that you can use your favorite mayonnaise in this recipe and it will still turn out tasting great.
Untoasted vs Toasted
Now we’re back to the debate about whether a specific sandwich is better toasted or untoasted. I got into it a little when I wrote about PB&J and in both cases so far I’ve definitely preferred the toasted version of the sandwich. The texture of butter toasted bread just stands out too much. Below you can find photos of both types of pimento cheese sandwiches. My vote for pimento cheese sandwich is toasted bread. BUT you shouldn’t toast/griddle the bread with the pimento cheese inside.
Griddling the sandwich with pimento cheese already inside will cause the spread to get melty and slide out of the sandwich. So if you do griddle or toast it, just pay attention and get it off the heat before you lose all your cheese.
I toast the bread with butter in a skillet with no ingredients. Once the bread gets to where I want in terms of color I let the bread rest and cool a minute before spreading pimento cheese in the middle. Toasting it and then applying the cheese later keeps everything from melting and becoming a big mess.
BREAKING NEWS: add bacon to something and it will be good.
Extra cheesy biscuit option
Pimento cheese is fantastic on a biscuit (in this case my super savory cheddar cheese biscuit). I also used pimento cheese in my recreation of The Uva. I’m not sure why I even need to type all these words, you can look at the photo and see how beautiful it is for yourself!
The best way to add spice and heat to my Mom’s pimento cheese recipe is to add chopped up pickled jalapenos or another type of pepper into the mix. This is something that you can add into the full batch or you can chop up just a few jalapenos and add them to each individual sandwich.
I love pimento cheese! Did I say that already? Try this recipe for your next family get together or snack night. I’ll be back next week writing about some other sort of sandwich. Sign up for my newsletter if you’re one of those email people!