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Jun 9, 2004 12:58 PM

Pimento Cheese (Long)

  • p

Growing up in Texas, we always had a tub of pimento cheese in the fridge. I’d get home from school, get a slice of bread, spread some pimento cheese on half, fold it over and have myself a snack. It never occurred to me that people would do anything else with pimento cheese, that there was more than one recipe and that pimento cheese was not cheap and plentiful everywhere.

Skip ahead many years to San Francisco. Shockingly, neither tubs of pre-made pimento cheese nor pimento cheese sandwiches were available in every corner store. Jonesing for a pimento cheese fix one day but realizing I had never paid any attention when she made it, I called my mom. Sure enough, she laughed when I asked for a pimento cheese recipe -“All you do is git yourself a block of government cheese, grind it up, add pimentos and enough mayo to make it spreadable.” Aaaah, it was as simple as that and I ate happily until…

Skip ahead to October 2003 when Southern Foodways Alliance held its Pimento Cheese Invitational. They collected over 300 recipes and stories about Pimento Cheese. They crowned a the winner “Pimento Cheese Queen”. They published a book of the recipes which they gave to attendants at that year’s food symposium. Luckily, a friend of mine got a hold of the recipe book. I just finished reading it.

I am shocked I tell you, shocked.

You would not believe what people out there are doing with pimento cheese!!! I’m a fairly imaginative as well as open-minded but, well, there’s some crazy inventive people out there.

Here’s what I learned -

Classic Pimento Cheese – cheese, pimentos & mayo. People use everything from 100% velveeta to blends of multiple cheeses to 100% cheddar. There’s even some people out there using cream cheese (but I suspect they’re yankees). Cheese grating techniques varied from hand-grating to using a meat grinder. The controversy around pimentos seemed mostly to center around the “To drain or not to drain” question. Mayo choices were all over the board – from home-made to Hellman’s to Duke’s to…gasp…Miracle Whip.

But once people veered from the classic, they scattered in all directions. I was, and still am, amazed at the diversity of ingrediants and techniques used to make something. Especially, since I’ve only made it one way my whole life….


Special Seasonings – A lot of people add a little something extra to their pimento cheese such as one or more of the following in various amounts and combinations: red pepper; paprika; cayenne pepper; chili powder; various brands of hot sauce; Worcestershire sauce; dry mustard; various brands of prepared mustards; salt; garlic salt; celery salt; onion salt; white pepper; black pepper; vinegar; sweet pickle vinegar; rice vinegar; red wine vinegar; cider vinegar; lemon juice; sugar; garlic powder; milk; Pet milk; soy sauce; celery seed; dried oregano; Durkee’s and dried dill.

Additional Ingredients - A number of people not only add special seasonings but also extra ingredients in small amounts such as one or more of the following in various combinations: green onions; white onion; yellow onion; Vidalia onion; (chopped or grated) onion; garlic; pimento stuffed olives; cream-style horseradish; sweet pickles; chopped pecans; scallions; chopped green chilies; onion relish; margarine; evaporated milk

Extenders (Yikes! We never did this….) - Since cheese is the most expensive ingredient, a number of people include one or more ingredients in larger amounts designed to stretch their batch of PC – chopped or grated boiled eggs; chopped sweet pickles; bacon bits; crackers; saltines; dill pickles; Ritz crackers; chopped green olives; jerkins; butter

Cheese Blends – Like I said before people use all sorts of cheese in their PC and a number of them use their own special blends. Here’s the list of cheese people put in their recipes: government cheese, cream cheese, rat cheese, mild cheddar, meduim chedder, sharp cheddar, colby, cottage cheese, white cheddar, swiss. The brands most often quoted seemed to be Velveeta, Cracker Barrel & Cabot.

The Stove - While most people seem to grate or grind their ingredients, there’s some folk who use heat – either a double-boiler or saucepan straight on the stove to melt their cheese before adding in the other ingredients so as to get a very smooth texture.

Beyond the White Bread Sandwich

People were also very diverse with what they did with their finished product, Pimento Cheese. Beyond the white bread sandwich, they turned it into a dip, stuffed celery, made grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, added all sorts of things to their sandwiches, and in one case – made a PIMENTO CHEESE CAKE!?!

I feel like the veil has been lifted!

I’ve begun experimenting with my Momma’s recipe. So far, I really like the variation that I made with Tabasco Chipotle Hot Sauce and roasted garlic. I didn’t like it at all the version with Worcestershire sauce. The mustard version I made was okay, but not great.

I loved, loved, loved making grilled pimento cheese sandwiches – I can’t believe I never thought of it before.

I'm enjoying my Pimento Cheese journey and will love being able to hand down MY recipe.

Long Live Pimento Cheese!!


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  1. What a great, interesting post! Hope you share the results of your investigations, would like to try making the ultimate myself! Now, what the heck are rat cheese and government cheese?

    22 Replies
    1. re: Coyote

      Both are phrases used by older or previous generations than myself, but here's what I understand them to mean.

      Government Cheese - The goverment used to give out cardboard boxes of food to welfare people on the first of the month. They got the food from subsiding farmers and food producers. Often yellow cheese was in the food box but it was unlabeled so people just called it Government Cheese.

      Rat Cheese - Is a similar idea. Before the massive branding that is our life now, you just went into a store and bought a inexpensive yellow cheese that as well as eating, you used to bait your mouse traps.

      1. re: Pssst

        My Dad still calls cheap yellow cheese "rat cheese" -- he likes his with pickles, but being a California girl I don't know nuttin about no pimento cheese.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler
          Jeremy newel

          Kraft used to make pimento cheese and sold it in little glasses that had flowers on them. I remember having it at my grandmother's house in San Mateo CA during WWII. She put it on Ritz crackers, to be served with drinks. My, I haven't thought of that in a very long time.

          1. re: Jeremy newel

            I was buying cheese the other day at my supermarket and in with the Cheez Whiz and Velveeta were little jars of Kraft Pimento cheese - like in a juice glass size. Also Kraft Roka Blue Cheese spread - in the same little glass jar - very good also.

            But I'm sure this pimento cheese is not as good as homemade. D.

            1. re: Donna - MI

              Hmm, I don't think thats quite the same thing - what we get is shredded cheese and mayo and pimentos in plastic tubs in the refridgerated dairy section. We get those same little jars of myserious cheeses, like pineapple and old english, but not the pimento kind.

            2. re: Jeremy newel

              Kraft used to make a LOT of soft cheese items and sell them in little jars, which people like my grandma would buy and use to make twee little sandwiches for their bridge club, probably cutting them out with heart, spade, club and diamond cookie cutters. In addition to the pimento, they had an Old English sharp cheddar, plain Neufchatel and (my favorite) pineapple Neufchatel. (Okay, I just read Betty's post - where do you live? I swear I've not seen this stuff in stores since the mid-'60s!)

              Ruth, Mrs. O is a California girl, too, but in Nashville (possibly the Pimento Cheese Capital of the World) she developed a taste for this stuff, kind of astounding when you know how very much she loathes pimentos or any other sweet pepper. Whenever we go back for a visit she has to get her pimento-cheese fix. Preferably homemade, though she will accept some Mrs. Grissom's.

              1. re: Will Owen

                Will, I remember living in North Carolina in the mid-70's and eating that Pineapple Neufchatel with my friend at her house.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Mrs. O should try to find some Palmetto Cheese. Best commercial PC that I've ever had. Not as good as my homemade, but damn good.


            3. re: Pssst

              A classmate of mine back in grad school was from NYC and had pimento cheese sandwiches at a reception and came back to the studio raving about them like they were some new thing, so refreshing and pure. She described them in detail and I said, oh, pimento cheese on white bread we make those all the time in Oklahoma. She insisted I didn't know what I was talking about, because how could a dumb Okie know about something so good when a New Yorker didn't know about it? That was not possible in her universe. I still think she thought I was lying.

              1. re: Betty

                that is hilarious! (and sad, for her)

              2. re: Pssst

                Government cheese (subsidized) was also, back in the day, provided to retired persons. Both my maternal grandparents and my widowed paternal grandmother were given a big block of yellow cheese free on a regular basis. They could not eat all that cheese so passed it along.

                The schools in the area also got cheese as well as rice from the government. I think the cheese was served grated with tacos mostly at the schools. The rice could be added as an extra side dish to any plate at no charge and without another side being eliminated.

                1. re: CyndiA

                  The cheese was part of what was referred to as "commodities" and every month, after proving eligibility to the program, one went to the place where it was disbursed and collected various things, some of which were not constant, and others, like the cheese, were. Much of it was surplus from things like the dairy subsidies, which meant large 2-lb. cans of butter, powdered milk, and the cheese. I also recall dried beans, canned vegetables and cans of what was labeled beef, precooked and chunked/shredded, but was awfully red. My then-husband had left me with two small children and no job, and I was struggling to get through nursing school, and if it hadn't been for Aid to Dependent Children and commodities, I (as I said once before on CH) would not have spent 30 years taking care of patients and their families.

                  The commodities program was replaced by food stamps.

                  1. re: lemons

                    Actually, indigent people can still get commodities. At least they can in MO.

                    1. re: sueatmo

                      Not every where - we can't in St. Louis and St. Louis County, certainly.

              3. re: Coyote

                Well, here's a good start for you.

                Below is the winning recipe from the Pimento Cheese Invitational as posted on the Charleston website (I can post a recipe that is available online elsewhere, yes?).

                Also note that the link below (registration required) gives information about how to order your own Pimento Cheese Invitational Cookbook which I highly recommend, mostly for the stories that people wrote.

                Lella's Pimento Cheese
                Cheddar cheese, grated, about 1/2 a food processor full
                1 small jar whole pimentos
                Dash onion powder
                Dash red pepper
                Dash Worcestershire sauce
                Pinch sugar (less than 1/4 teaspoon)
                Homemade mayonnaise (recipe follows)
                Blend grated cheese and pimento in food processor until well-blended. Add mayonnaise as needed, blend again, add other ingredients, blend. The pimento cheese is a solid color and you cannot see the pimentos once blended.

                Lella's Mayonnaise
                1 egg
                1 cup oil (add 1/4 in the beginning, reserve 3/4 cup)
                1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
                Dash cayenne
                1/2 teaspoon salt
                1 tablespoon lemon juice
                Onion powder to taste
                Place all ingredients in food processor (or blender), reserving 3/4 cup oil. Add remaining oil slowly while processing (we use the metal blade on the processor).

                Davis adds, "My processor is old, but the tool to push food in the processor has a tiny hole to allow air in. (I don't know if they all do.) My sister-in-law, Libby Griffin discovered this trick while learning to make Lella's mayonnaise. If you put the pusher in the opening and pour your oil in the pusher -- it allows a tiny constant stream of oil to be added to the mayonnaise while you are processing. Using this method, we never have the mayonnaise separate."


                1. re: Pssst

                  Now that THERE's a recipe for pahmenna cheese. We like ours on burgers, with fresh ripe tomato and lettuce. We stuff it into celery and olives and cherry tomatoes. We mix it with hot cooked pasta for a fast, delicious dinner. And we make pahmennapops, whereby you insert an iced-tea spoon into said tub o' deliciousness, scoop out a spoonful, and lick it off.
                  Oh, by the way.....the most successful burger we ever made was Elkburgers at a tailgate, and they were the perfect, slightly gamy foil for the tangy cheese.

                  1. re: mamachef

                    How can one stuff pimento cheese into olives? It doesn't seem possible!

                    1. re: Mr. Haney

                      Big olives, small straight tip on small pastry bag.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        is there anything you can't do? yum!

                    2. re: mamachef

                      Pahmennapops. Love it. I have had that before. I have also substituted a finger for the spoon. ;-p

                    3. re: Pssst

                      Pssst: According to the book that came with my Cuisinart - and this was a good 20 years ago - that little hole's primary purpose is to provide a metered flow of oil into the work bowl when making mayonnaise.

                    4. re: Coyote

                      At some point the government stockpiled a vast, seriously vast, quantity of cheese. It's "commodity cheese", and welfare recipients, Indians, and public school cafeterias got it monthly. Also really excellent peanut butter.

                      My middle school cafeteria still gets it and it is only, I repeat only, served with Chili and fresh cinnamon rolls, as God intended. (One of the most comforting things about going back to teach at the school where I grew up, with 20 years of absence in-between)

                    5. b

                      Beautiful paean to pimento cheese!

                      I'm sending away for the cookbook.

                      I grew up in Tennessee with a tub of PC always in the fridge. Mine's pretty pure and sinple: pour the diced pimentos and their juice in a bowl, mash them well, grate extra-sharp cheddar into the bowl, stir in Hellman's, a little sugar, ground white pepper, and cayenne until it makes a chunky paste, and refrigerate for 24 hours to let flavors meld and texture firm up.

                      I think PC on white bread is the best food in the world, but I also eat PC on hamburgers, hot dogs, corn chips (as a dip), and spoons (the simplest).

                      But question: doesn't a grilled PC sandwich get too gooey and sloppy to hold as a sandwich? I'm a bit afraid to try it.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Browniebaker

                        My grilled version out worked out fine. MY PC is really light on the mayo so maybe that helps?

                        But if you're scared here's a variation I do for company that works well also -

                        Toasted PC Sandwiches
                        1. bring PC to room temperature
                        2. toast bread
                        3. spread the toast with PC asap (should get a little melty)
                        4. put sandwich in low/just warm oven (will stay warm & melty)
                        5. repeat until you have enough for everyone!!

                        1. re: Pssst

                          Thanks for the recipe!

                          You mention that your PC is light on mayo. My proportions are one pound grated cheese, two jars diced pimentos with juice, and 1/2 cup mayo. How much mayo is in your PC?

                          1. re: Browniebaker

                            Honest I don't know. I like my PC to have strong cheese flavor and am very sensitive to "greasy mayo tongue" as I call it. I put it in by the spoonful mixing between each spoon. So maybe 2-4 spoons?

                            In my experience, the amount of mayo one puts in PC depends on two things:
                            1) Using the pimento juice. If you use the juice, you don't need as much mayo. I use the juice.
                            2) How spreadable do you want your PC?

                            In general, I tend to make my PC more stiff than what I grew up eating. Its more like cheese and less like dip if that makes sense?

                            1. re: Pssst

                              I make grilled pimento cheese also, with or without pimentos, usually light on the mayo for the sliding around issue, and with whatever cheese I have around. I think it is the only worthwhile use of American cheese.

                              Our great old local drugstore used to grill pimento cheese sandwiches when I was a kid and put a green olive on top. Wonderful stuff.

                              1. re: Pssst

                                How much mayo is something I keep playing with in my PC. I started out with four tablespoons per pound of cheese and two jars pimentos with juice. A relatively stiff mixture. Then one day I doubled the mayo and, being a mayo fanatic, was in heaven. This amount of mayo does, however, increase the ooze-factor when serving at room temperature (which I think is the best). Of course, how much ooze is optimal would be another question . . . .

                                Maybe I'll go back to the stiffer mix for a try, and to try a grilled PC sandwich.

                                I think about PC way too much!

                        2. I think my grandmother was out of pimentos one day and substituted roasted green chilies and we had a new family favorite. Made teh same way, grated longhorn, minced onion, a little minced garlic, chopped green chilies and Helman's to bind also a generous grinding of black pepper. We use is a a dip with Fritos, as sandwiches and sometimes just stand there and eat it out of the container.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Candy

                            I make mine the same way, except I use pickled jalapeno peppers instead of green chile peppers...

                          2. I love pimento cheese, hand shredded and made by my mom. But others (even mine) will do in a pinch as compared with that of store bought.

                            A grilled pimento cheese on buttered rye is a thing of wonder.

                            Also, the Varsity of Atlanta/Athens, GA fame was renowned for it's pimento cheese burgers. Greasy as all hell, but so delicious. No need for other condiments and I loved squeezing the burgers and running the fries/onion rings along the side to pick up the excess. It's a wonder I'm not 300 lbs.

                            1. i think i'm going to hv to try making some myself. i'm a cheese freak. so, how long does this stuff last in the fridge, generally-speaking (if you don't scarf it all down right away, that is)?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: fat kitty

                                I think the longest I've ever had a batch was 2 weeks. So I'm just guessing that its however long your most delicate ingredient lasts.

                                The cheese should last a long time. The pimentos are pickled so those last a long time. So maybe its the mayo that would make it go bad? especially if you used home-made mayo.

                                1. re: fat kitty

                                  The longest I've had a batch (made with Hellman's) in the fridge was four weeks, and it was fine. You'll know when it's bad by, first, the slimy sheeen and, subsequently, the furry mold.

                                  1. re: Browniebaker

                                    ha! thx for the advice. don't think it could possibly last that long w/out being eaten. but, good to know, if i want to make a really big batch!