Pimento Cheese

A few years ago, I went to a graduation party. There must have been a hundred people there, all dressed in nice clothes. Under the current social-distancing circumstances, it seems like ancient history thinking that people were holding graduation parties.

In the entryway was a poster-sized picture of the kid who graduated. He was eighteen, tall, handsome. He looked like Superman, minus the “S.”

People were mingling, there were refreshments, music, and a long buffet. And I was on a mission for pimento cheese.

I will do almost anything for pimento cheese. Not plain pimento cheese, but the kind made by a professional. My aunt, for instance, makes a spectacular variety. And my wife’s pimento cheese is good enough to make Billy Graham slap his own mama.

My mother is not going to like that joke.

Anyway, I don’t care for the orange slop found in supermarket coolers. That stuff looks like stink bait. I’m talking about the real thing, made by a lady who knows her way around a kitchen.

A woman who swats your hand when you poke your finger into her food. A woman who shakes a wooden spoon at you and says, “Good things come to those who wait, young man.”

These sweet women have been shredding blocks of cheddar the old-fashioned way since the early days and have developed arms bigger than Sylvester Stallone.

My mother used to have a cheese grater we called the “knuckle buster.” It was shaped like a cowbell, with rusted edges. You had to stay current on your tetanus shots to use it.

If you were disobedient, my mother sentenced you to grate cheese until your knuckles were unidentifiable. If you were especially bad, you had to grate the onions for tartar sauce.

I don’t know if you’ve ever grated an onion. Many good men have lost fingers grating onions on my mother’s grater.

But the fare was worth it. And years later, I would discover that this brand of food is hard to locate after you leave home.

When you can’t find good pimento cheese, you can always try the Methodist potluck. But you’ll have to beat Uncle James to it. He is notorious for licking the dish clean.

Or, you might find decent pimento cheese at a Junior League meeting. Long ago, I snuck into my wife’s meeting. When all the women were busy practicing their secret thumb-wrestling handshakes, I ate an entire pint of cheese.

I do not recommend cheating Junior Leaguers out of their rightful pimento cheese. These women carry pepper spray in their handbags and take CrossFit classes.

Once, I attended a Baptist function in Birmingham. I zeroed in on the pimento cheese while the pastor was still asking the blessing. I took one bite and almost gagged.

“I believe this cheese has gone bad, Preacher,” I said.

“No, it’s store bought cheese. Sister Linda puts grocery-store cheese into a Tupperware container to pass it off as homemade.”

Which is the only sin in the Bible that is unforgivable.

You can also find pimento cheese at graduation parties. Like the one I was telling you about. When I saw the homemade pimento cheese on the buffet line, it took me back in time.

I had memories of childhood. I remembered a world of church ladies, summer socials, baseball on the back lawn, guitar music on the front swing, and covered dishes.

I fixed my plate and was greeted by an old woman behind the buffet. She looked at my mountain of cheese and gasped.

“It’s a sin to be greedy,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you make this cheese?”

“Yes, and it’s for everyone, not just you. Now put some back.”

She limited me to only one tablespoon. And this is a shame. Because eating only one tablespoon of pimento cheese is like driving to Disney World to take a nap in your car.

Still, I remember that the party was nice. I shook hands with the graduate. The kid had everything going for him. He had the world by the tail. I have never had the world by the tail. To me, the world has always been more like a mechanical bull ride at the VFW.

I left the party, I loosened my necktie. I was thinking about the way my mother used to let me lick spoons when she was baking. And about pimentos, in those little jars. And the summer days when my mother made fresh bread.

There are few pleasures that can outdo homemade bread and butter.

Before I crawled into my truck, I heard someone yelling my name. It was the woman from the buffet. She was following me, carrying a Tupperware container.

She handed it to me.

“I fixed some to take with you,” she said. “We had plenty leftover.”

This particular memory makes me feel good because after all these years, I know that my mother was right. Good things really do come to those who wait.

No. Billy Graham would’ve never slapped his mama.

26 comments

  1. Cathi Russell - May 26, 2020 8:54 am

    Good pimento cheese is a gift from the angels. But if you do have to resort to store bought, try Palmetto brand. Billy Graham might kiss his mama for that stuff!

    Reply
  2. Linda Cook DeVona - May 26, 2020 10:39 am

    I think one of your future posts about pimento cheese should include a recipe for the homemade stuff for some of us who’ve never had the chance to sample the real deal!

    Reply
  3. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 26, 2020 11:17 am

    Good things do come to those who wait. I had been waiting for this story.

    Reply
  4. Ginger Hubbard - May 26, 2020 11:32 am

    If you are ever in Cedartown, GA…stop by Pirkles Deli…best pimento cheese ever!!!

    Reply
  5. Karen Fluharty - May 26, 2020 11:44 am

    In a pinch you should try Palmetto Pimento Cheese. I take it to friends and family in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. It is pimento Cheese with soul. You will have to use the google to see if it’s near you. This lady has done a great job of making it close to homemade.

    Reply
  6. Dianne - May 26, 2020 11:55 am

    Sean…………agree with the “comment” just before mine. In a pinch, if you can’t get good homemade pimento cheese, try Palmetto Pimento Cheese. It is so very good, and people always ask, “Did you make this, it’s wonderful!”. I highly recommend it. My mother made great pimento cheese, and a childhood friend was known for her pimento cheese, but both of these dear people are no longer with us, so Palmetto Cheese is the best substitute. An Auburn football game without good pimento cheese just won’t do!

    Reply
  7. Christi Gould - May 26, 2020 12:52 pm

    I love your stories. I look forward to my inbox each day wondering what piece of good news you’ll share. Have you thought about collecting the recipes along with the stories for your next book?

    Reply
  8. Norma - May 26, 2020 1:06 pm

    Someone beat me to it!!! I was going to tell you to try Palmetto brand pimento cheese. I found mine at Walmart. I am a pimento cheese snob also and this is the only store bought that I like.

    Reply
  9. Ferrelle Bagley - May 26, 2020 2:10 pm

    Only eat homemade pimento cheese. My son swears I put a secret ingredient in it but I only use cheese, pimentos, and a good mayonnaise. Then I sprinkle a little paprika in. The secret is it must be soupy because it will stiffen up after you refrigerate it. So use lots of mayo and also the juice of the pimento. Umm good!

    Reply
  10. Jenny the Pirate - May 26, 2020 3:25 pm

    Sorry but Palmetto Pimento Cheese does not do it for me. At all. I share with you here my private pimento cheese recipe — one that BG truly would slap his mama for a bite of. I call it Pirate Pimento Cheese, and you’re welcome:

    8 ounces (one brick) full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese (Yes, Philadelphia and yes, full fat.)

    2 cups (a little more is a lot better) hand-shredded Cabot Extra-Sharp Cheddar (Don’t substitute any other brand and on pain of death, do not use pre-shredded cheese. Heaven forfend.)

    1/2 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise (If you can’t get Duke’s, you can’t make this recipe. Sorry not sorry.)

    (Just kidding. Use your favorite mayonnaise.)

    8 ounces mushed-up pimentos (Drain the little suckers out of their jar or jars, dump them onto your cutting board, and work them over with a mezzaluna or appropriately businesslike knife.)

    Generous dollop (do not measure and have no fear) Giuliano Hot & Spicy Jalapeno Spread* (Mount Olive makes a similar product so if you can’t secure a jar of Giuliano, go with second best but deduct one-half of a style point.)

    Coarse ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste (If you still use that whiny-thin free-flowing excuse for salt and/or garden-variety black pepper dust, you are on your own and you haven’t made my recipe.)

    Lemon pepper (A free-spirited sprinkling.) to taste. And totally optional.

    Reply
  11. Peggy - May 26, 2020 3:34 pm

    No – Palmetto brand pimento cheese is NOT good. It makes me cry for the REAL deal.

    Reply
  12. George Thomas Jones - May 26, 2020 3:58 pm

    I share your thoughts on good pimento cheese. I am a 97-year old WWII vet who still has one of your dangerous “cowbell” cheese graters—I have read and enjoyed your columns since your first performance in my hometown—Monroeville, AL (Harper Lee (whom I knew since her childhood) “Maycomb”. I did not get to attend your second performance, but was disappointed when the only thing you mentioned with regard to performing in the most famous county courtroom in the entire country, was about locals presenting you with pimento cheese sandwiches. Just thought we deserved better,

    Reply
  13. that is jack - May 26, 2020 4:08 pm

    Hey George, you probably won’t look back at this, I just wanted to say, LOVE YOU DUDE, and all the men left and gone from the WWII era. You be one tough fellow to handle that grader at 97 yrs young. Hang in there. The boy can’t help he likes pimento cheese so much.

    Reply
  14. that is jack - May 26, 2020 4:10 pm

    I see my comment didn’t make it, but that grader is in our cabinet now, methinks. I like cheese too, even that mixed up kind called pimento.
    Good read.

    Reply
  15. iamjmwilson - May 26, 2020 4:19 pm

    Oh Sean, I grew up with a mama who made “real pimento cheese” grating the cheese on a knuckle buster! I couldn’t have agreed more with your assessment of the store-bought kind…until a few years ago. It may not yet be available in your area but folks can now buy the real thing at the store (Publix was the first to have it here in Charleston). It is called “Palmetto Cheese- The Pimento Cheese with Soul” and it’s from their own Southern family recipe.
    Here is the website: https://www.pimentocheese.com
    Do let me know how you like it!
    Sometimes I use this as a base and then add more Dukes and pimentos from the little jars, just to stretch it a little. It does cost a pretty penny!
    Hope you enjoy Palmetto Cheese and the Lord’s good blessings during this strange Covid time in our dear country!

    Reply
  16. Linda Moon - May 26, 2020 5:15 pm

    I miss the history of those ancient times. I like that joke about the Evangelist, but I don’t like pimento cheese….sorry.
    And I’m with you and your mother on the Homemade Bread. Serendipitously, I’m wearing a band-aid on my thumb knuckle right now because of a cheese-grater. Yesterday my young gingerhead and I talked and talked and then some….for hours. He’s been riding a mechanical bull for a long time. Like baking bread, waiting…. and talking, ended some of that weight for him. Good things will come from it. We’ll be doing more talking and baking bread, partly because before he had to ride that bull he was sometimes called “The Bread Man”, the young innocent child who loved bread!

    Reply
  17. Bobbie Shelley - May 26, 2020 6:27 pm

    Love pimento cheese. Especially homemade! But love your columns also. Keep it up!

    Reply
  18. Curtis Daughdrill - May 26, 2020 7:19 pm

    My Aunt gave me her recipe back in 1988, she died then 5 years later my Mom died and now I’ve lost the recipe! I remember I had to cook it.it wasn’t this crap where you mix shredded cheese with mayo & call it pimento cheese.
    Please share your recipe, PLEASE
    I’ve looked for over 25 years for good pimento cheese, tried EVERY store brand to no avail. Make a 76 year old man in Allentown, FL happy!
    Curt

    Reply
  19. Berryman Mary M - May 26, 2020 7:33 pm

    Good things do come to those who wait! And you are a lucky man to have a great wife who is also a great cook!

    Reply
  20. Jon Dragonfly - May 26, 2020 10:52 pm

    Great Grandmother Ellison’s
    (Almost) Secret Recipe
    Pimento Cheese

    Ingredients:
    16 oz. Kraft Coon Brand New York Sharp Cheddar Cheese
    [now sold as Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve, in black wrapper]
    4 oz. Diced or sliced pimentos
    32 oz. Kraft Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
    ¼ tsp. Salt

    Procedure:
    Using a meat grinder with a small hole cutting plate, grind cubes of cheese while occasionally adding pimento to the grinder until all is ground together.
    Empty the salad dressing on top of the cheese/pimento mixture, add the salt, and stir, stir, stir. It will be very soupy. (Taste some on a Ritz cracker and ask your helper if it is salty enough.) (Don’t eat all of it now, it gets better.)
    Cover and let stand in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The cheese will absorb the dressing and the mixture will become somewhat stiff. Taste it now and if more salt is needed or more dressing is needed to “loosen” it up, they can be added.
    When ready, bottle it in the salad dressing bottle and the pimento bottles. The big bottle is for your family. The little bottles are for gifts to drive your friends crazy with desire for the Secret Recipe. Any that will not fit in the bottles, you get to eat right away.
    You must keep this refrigerated, it has no preservatives except what was in the original products. Grandma’s Pimento Cheese gets better the more it ages, the hard part is to not eat it up before it reaches its peak.

    This recipe was devised by Wilma Copeland Ellison sometime in the 1950s. She taught it to her son-in-law around 1970 (see, she did love me). She would be delighted to know that her love lives on in this creation.
    Wilma C. Ellison 1913 – 1989 J.F.D.

    Reply
  21. Jo Wilhelm - May 26, 2020 11:07 pm

    Sean, I absolutely love your writings, posts, columns, or whatever you wish to call them. I am an 82 year old woman that never liked pimento cheese, sorry, still don’t! More for you. I just wanted to tell you how much I love reading your stories. They give me a down home feeling, perhaps like nostalgia. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy, hope this doesn’t sound strange or crazy. Please don’t stop until you join your Dad.

    Reply
  22. Judy - May 26, 2020 11:34 pm

    I love this story – thank you! I’ve lived in England for years, but my Mum is from Birmingham, Alabama and my sister and I spent our childhood summers at our grandparents’ house there, and we still holiday every year in Destin with family from the South (hey y’all!). There are SO many things we love about the South, including pimento cheese. My great-aunt (who lived in Ashville, Ala) made the best. PC came up in a conversation my sister and I had the other day which ended with ‘where on earth can we find pimentos’. So – it’s impossible to find those little jars in London (especially during lockdown), but I think we’ve found an alternative… hopefully it’ll work out…

    Reply
  23. Teresa - May 27, 2020 12:01 am

    Please share your wife’s recipe. Please….

    Reply
  24. GLEaves - May 27, 2020 12:12 pm

    I am certain that I’m not the only person around who DOES NOT LIKE Palmetto Pimiento and Cheese! If you do, then you certainly should have it. I support your right to choose your cheese.

    Reply
  25. Linda Landgren - May 27, 2020 5:35 pm

    Sure wish you would share that southern pimento cheese recipe with us poor westerners. Sounds like we are missing a taste treat.

    Reply
  26. iamjmwilson - May 27, 2020 5:47 pm

    Linda, the main thing in real southern PC is to not have it sweet, like the stuff you buy in the store. Dukes or Hellmanns mayo is a must. I have a son in law from the mid west who loves our PC now, but had never heard of it when he came into the family. He referred to it as “Pimento and Cheese” and that was a dead give away he was not familiar with this southern classic.

    Reply

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