Pimento cheese. Food of the Southern Gods. Known as Pate of the South or Caviar of the South. It can be a lot of things. Delicious. Spicy. Sweet.….Polarizing.
There’s always ONE troublemaker who hates it. And more than a few cooks who put way to much mayonnaise or sugar in it. If there’s one thing we got going for us here in the South, it’s a plethora of pimento cheese. Heck, here in the Triad, we have no less than 7 common (but uncommonly good) choices at our local markets and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. Then there are those who say, “I can make it much more cheaply myself.” Face it. The good stuff ain’t cheap— but at the same time, making it yourself really isn’t either, what with all the cheese and roasted/pimento peppers and accoutrements.
You’ll almost always find it on the menu at any of the American Southern style restaurants and at the local potluck or family reunion We even enjoy a little friendly local competition that coincides with National Pimento Cheese Day (April 9) and it seems like every year there’s a different winner. More on the Muddy Creek Cafe Pimento Cheese Throwdown at the end of this story.
We did a little research on some locally produced Pimento Cheese, the kind that’s pretty easy to access…not the kind only available at one market (or restaurant) and asked some of our readers/fans about their favorite pimento cheese and we found some stand outs. There’s plenty more pimento cheese to go around, but it’s a start.
Musten & Crutchfield: When asked, most respondents said their local favorite was none other than Kernersville’s market for home-grown deliciousness. It’s been around for a long time. With two varieties, Regular and Hot, you can find Musten & Crutchfield’s pimento cheese at their own store on Main Street plus local supermarkets, independent stores and even Walmart. It is very traditional in flavor, maybe a bit creamier than some of its counterparts. If you want to try something really fun, add it to some cooked breakfast sausage for a really tasty dip and enjoy with tortillas or pita chips. The creaminess with the sausage really works. On lucky days you may find the pimento cheese in their homemade ravioli! mustenandcrutchfield.com
Uncle Chris’: A personal favorite. With Uncle Chris’, first came the pickles, then came the pimento cheese. I first learned of Uncle Chris’ Pimento Cheese when perusing the menu of the Camel City Grill food truck. Owner Ben Devar said he liked it because it was the perfect blend of pimento cheese and not too mayonnaise-y. Chris Russell even makes pimento cheese to order for the food truck in flavors like Gouda & Bacon and Carolina Reaper. You’ll definitely find Uncle Chris at Lowes foods across the state. The Original and Fire Roasted Jalapeño are sure to please, but if you can take the heat, we recommend hooking yourself up with the Smokin’ Habanero. It is righteous. And so yummy on a cracker with a bread and butter pickle–particularly a Miss Jenny’s Habanero Bread & Butter. Oh yes…all day.
Red Clay Gourmet: Another personal favorite, made in Winston-Salem and served up on the burgers at First Street Draught House. Lance and Michelle Sawyer realized customers were quickly becoming super fans of the pimento cheese. They set out to make it more readily available and one that is “out of the norm” pimento cheese. Now Red Clay Gourmet is available at local markets, some Lowes Foods and Whole Foods in traditional flavors like Classic Sharp and Flame Roasted Jalapeño, but be sure to check out Hickory Smoked Cheddar and for a more refined elevated variety, the Goat Cheese & Sun-dried Tomato (which is really good in grits or with fried green tomatoes or on burgers or… just about anything). You can also buy online at redclaygourmet.com
Conrad & Hinkle: (not pictured) Based out of Lexington, Conrad & Hinkle Market has been around for 97 years. And the pimento cheese since 1940. They have an original and spicy version. I’ve found Conrad & Hinkle mostly at meat markets and many charming country stores across the Triad. It’s really great and an overall pleasant combination of and is probably more reminiscent of pimento cheese you grew up with. Sort of “unfooled around with.” C & H has actually shipped their pimento cheese as far as Germany. conrad-hinkle.com
Vantastic!: The pimento cheese that found a home at The Porch Kitchen & Cantina, this very sharp and cheesy pimento cheese has no mayo in it! It gets its creaminess from the cheese itself and milk and some vinegar…which gives it a bit of a pickle juice flavor that has made it a local favorite for some time. It comes in Original and Jalapeno. You can find Vantastic! at Lowe’s Foods and select markets.
My Three Sons: From Greensboro with flavors of Emmy’s Original, Fire Roasted Jalapeño and a Spicy White Cheddar. One of the things that sets MTS apart is that they like to leave the pimentos and peppers a bit chunky so you can see them. Found at The Fresh Market, Harris Teeter, Lowe’s Foods and Whole Foods. mtsgourmet.com
Honorable mention goes to Burlington-based Stan’s, another PC that a lot of folks grew up with around here.
And for the record, there were plenty of respondents who said, “mine!” or “hers!” But sorry, homemade wasn’t in the running in this case.
Tip to those who want to try a homemade version: Use FRESHLY grated cheese not the kind that’s pre—grated AND this I learned recently, please try not to buy chopped pimentos. If you don’t plan on roasting your red peppers yourself, buy jarred roasted red peppers and take a minute to chop them. I promise you, it’s worth it. Here’s a great recipe by Charleston Chef Sean Brock. I LOVE his recipe. The adapted version is pictured in the image at the top of the post. I just subbed the pickled ramps for Miss Jenny’s B & B Habañero. And Texas Pete for Tabasco (naturally).
Finally, most of the makers of the above mentioned pimento cheese have recipe ideas on their websites and we encourage you to check it out. But very quickly, here are some tasty uses for the pate of the south:
On sandwiches with bacon, tomato, fried green tomato; shrimp & grits, scrambled eggs, salad, egg salad, nachos, burger toppings (go crazy and put it with chili and jalapenos), tomato pie. Providence Restaurant in WS makes an ice cream with it! For a great snack, enjoy with a sweet pickle and crackers, or warm it up and serve with pork rinds.
Really, the possibilities are endless for the treat that’s as Southern as sweet tea.
Mentioned earlier, back on National Pimento Cheese Day, April 9, Muddy River Cafe held its annual Pimento Cheese Throwdown and 5k Run. Proceeds benefit the Riverwood Therapeutic Riding Center in Tobaccoville. Muddy Creek owner and event organizer, Shana Whitehead, says she launched the event three years ago as a way to celebrate the trails around her Bethania cafe. “The run is getting bigger every year…this year we had 100 participants.” As for the pimento cheese throw down? “Our customers always tell us that our pimento cheese is the best. It’s really good on a sandwich with tomato and bacon. But we knew a lot of people make really great pimento cheese in different ways, so this throw down is a way to celebrate the creativity that goes into pimento cheese.” There’s also a category for the home cook. As for the pros….here’s a list of winners:
Best Classic-Wolf Daddy
Most Creative-Wolf Daddy
BEST Overall-The Living Room Coffee House & Wine Bar, Pilot Mountain
People’s Choice-Wolf Daddy
For more information on the Pimento Cheese Throw Down and 5K run, visit muddycreekcafeandmusichall.com The event is held every year around this time.