What Is Pimento Cheese Actually Made Of?

Among the mainstays of Southern cuisine, few dishes evoke nostalgia and comfort quite like pimento cheese. Known for its creamy texture, bold flavor, and vibrant color, the spread has deep roots in Southern culinary tradition. Whether served as a dip, melted atop a burger, or simply as a sandwich filling, pimento cheese is as versatile as it is delicious. Ready straight out of the fridge, it is a crowd-pleasing appetizer for any social gathering or potluck dinner, and it is a fantastic spread for kid-friendly snacks

However, for those who are uninitiated, the spread leads to a lot of questions, especially since pimento cheese is not really a cheese but a spread that contains multiple ingredients, though shredded cheddar cheese is one of them. Other ingredients include minced roasted pimento peppers, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and other seasonings. Since the recipe originates from home cooking, there are endless variations of the dish, each tailored to a family's particular taste. 

From cream cheese to cheese spread

What is known now as pimento cheese actually started as an attempt to replicate a manufactured product from New York, where a type of cream cheese mixed with roasted pimento peppers was sold in the early 20th century. Sold in jars, this kind of ready-made pimento cheese was a popular product all the way until the end of the Second World War.

When the original pimento cheese became unavailable in stores thanks to declining popularity, home cooks in the South started making their own. To make the modern pimento cheese, you need cream cheese, roasted pimento peppers, mayonnaise (Duke's is preferred for its flavor, but other brands are acceptable), shredded sharp cheddar cheese, salt, and ground black pepper. Start by chopping the pimento peppers into small pieces and set aside to drain. Meanwhile, mix the rest of the ingredients in a standing mixer with a paddle attachment until well combined. Add the pimento peppers and mix slowly to avoid crushing the soft vegetable until it becomes a thick spread. Taste the results and add more seasonings if desired. The spread can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months.

The versatility of pimento cheese

Long a common home cooking favorite in the South, pimento cheese has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the last two decades. Today, you will find the spread in many restaurants that serve southern cuisine alongside regional favorites such as fried chicken, peach cobblers, and watermelon salads. And as the spread becomes more popular, many different variations have emerged that add and substitute different materials. For example, some recipes call for adding shredded mozzarella or jack cheese in addition to cheddar, while others call for the addition of onion and garlic powders for an extra punch. Hot sauce, as is cayenne pepper, is a common addition for its piquancy.

While delicious on its own atop crackers and celery sticks, pimento cheese is also a fantastic condiment for other dishes. For example, it is a flavorful topping for burgers and hot dogs, and it can be used to create a potato or pasta salad when the spread is mixed with extra mayonnaise.