Fundamentally, it just feels good in your mouth.
~ Ted Lee
Canned pimentos? Roasted red peppers? Miracle Whip? Mayonnaise? People get mighty particular about their pimento cheese — and profess dismay and horror over some of the variants out there. Pimento what? Pimento cheese? Oh, come off it. You know what pimento cheese is. I ate it as a kid in Missouri and it's so widespread that even the local Trader Joe's carries tubs of the stuff in sunny San Diego.
|Early 20th century pimento cheese box, packed for A&P|
Regardless of its modern geographic promiscuity, pimento cheese (or minnow or menner cheese or a few other pronunciations) is a touchstone of Southern eating. The spread has been around for a little more than a century and really got a boost when farmers around Griffin, Georgia began growing Spanish pimientos (we usually drop the second "i" in English) in the early 20th century. At its most simple, pimento cheese is a blend of shredded cheddar cheese, cooked red peppers or pimentos, and mayonnaise. After that, things get personal. Shredded or minced onion gets added. Garlic, pickle juice or relish, curry powder, cumin, cilantro, red and black peppers, Worcestershire sauce, and even liquor are not unheard of.
Mississippi pastry maven and chef Martha Foose politely disapproves: "Oh, I've seen so many affronts to pimento cheese through the years."
Foose and others, including Lisa Fain (Homesick Texan), Ted Lee (the bespeckled half of the Lee Brothers), barbecue pit master Carey Bringle, Robert Stehling of Charleston's Hominy Grill, and Jason "Oh, God, No" Alley of the restaurant Comfort in Richmond, Virginia are featured in the short film Pimento Cheese, Please! by documentarians Nicole Lang and Christophile Konstas.
For a look at what the stuff is, where it came from (New York what?), and what it means to some Southerners, check out the film: