Pimento Cheese

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

A graduation party. There must have been a hundred people there, all dressed in nice clothes.

In the entryway was a poster-sized picture of the kid who graduated. He’s 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 am 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, the party was nice. I shook hands with the graduate. The kid has everything going for him. He has the world by the tail, and I’m proud of him.

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.”

After all these years, my mother was right. Good things really do come to those who wait.

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

48 comments

  1. Sandi in FL. - May 13, 2019 7:27 am

    My dear mother made very good pimiento cheese, but the best you’ll find today is at Charlie Joseph’s Restaurant in LaGrange, GA. My sister lives there and buys it by the gallon. I’ve never tasted better anywhere really. I have a cheese grater just like the one in your illustration, and it does the job fine. Just be careful not to grate a knuckle or two!

    Reply
  2. Dale Ash Pepsi-Atmore - May 13, 2019 9:54 am

    Amen, Sean!! I too am a pimento cheese snob. There is nothing finer in the South than homemade pimento cheese. Store bought should be outlawed.

    Reply
  3. Nell Thomas - May 13, 2019 9:55 am

    Same with potatoe salad. Can’t beat homemade.
    Not everybody’s! I’m still trying to duplicate my mother-in – laws. It was the best.

    Reply
  4. GaryD - May 13, 2019 9:58 am

    I guess I’m one of the few who doesn’t like pimiento cheese. Never had it but I know I don’t like it.. I hate cheese.

    Reply
    • Bev - June 15, 2019 11:51 am

      Try it! You sound like Mikey on the old commercial. When Mikey tries it, he likes it ❤️. However, as asserted by many here, the best is homemade. Mrs. Stratton’s doesn’t cut it.

      Reply
  5. Jean - May 13, 2019 10:16 am

    Nobody but us southerners would ever understand our love for pimento cheese. Raised on it…make it still today and I love it! Store bought just won’t cut it.

    Reply
  6. Judge Jimmy Pool - May 13, 2019 10:22 am

    I share Sean’s weakness for pimento cheese. I love it so much, that I have through the years improved on my mother’s and my sister’s pimento cheese. I daresay, it compares with my mother in law’s…pretty blasphemous talk the day after Mother’s Day! But, those who have tasted my pimento cheese proclaim my claim that mine is “the best in the history of the world, period!” It can cause small insurrections at tailgate parties or office gettogethers. I don’t take it to Methodist functions for fear of lives being taken in the House of the Lord over the last remnants in a Tupperwear bowl. People who assert that they don’t like or eat pimento cheese have conversions on the spot with their first taste.

    Reply
    • Sue Riddle Cronkite - May 13, 2019 12:46 pm

      How about sending me your recipe. My e-mail is cronkitesue@gmail.com

      Reply
    • Janet Lipscomb - June 12, 2019 5:21 pm

      I would love a copy of your recipe also. Janet.lipscomb@yahoo.com. Thx!

      Reply
    • Ben Leaptrott - June 12, 2019 8:01 pm

      Yes, Judge Jimmy, don’t be stingy! Please share bleaptrott@gmail.com

      Reply
    • June - June 15, 2019 6:25 pm

      Please email your recipe, would love to try it.

      Reply
  7. Elizabeth - May 13, 2019 10:30 am

    I grew up on store bought, thought it and a tomato on bread was heavenly. then my friend brought me some homemade. The classic recipe from southern living, with pecans and Worcestershire sauce, I’ve eaten two tubs pretty much by myself with a spoon! Where was this heavenly stuff my whole life?

    Reply
  8. Cathi Russell - May 13, 2019 11:08 am

    Like my mama always said when I trotted that phrase out, “don’t be surprised if your mama slaps you back!” (And she made killer pimento cheese!) Thanks for the memories & the tears this morning!

    Reply
  9. MaryJane Breaux - May 13, 2019 11:25 am

    ‘Ninna Cheese is a staple in my household. A slice of great bread and proper Pimento cheese is a slice of Heaven indeed, miss you madly Momma!

    Reply
  10. Joe Patterson - May 13, 2019 11:52 am

    Thanks again

    Reply
  11. Karen - May 13, 2019 12:29 pm

    We used to have “eat-ins” in the surgery department at the hospital. People would bring a home made dish. Some of my best recipes came from these events. Pimiento cheese is on that list. If you were scrubbed on a case, you missed out. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  12. Sue Riddle Cronkite - May 13, 2019 12:42 pm

    I used to be the same way about potato salad. One time I counted 13 different kinds of potato salad at a New Hope Baptist Homecoming.

    Reply
  13. Connie Havard Ryland - May 13, 2019 12:56 pm

    Southern staples that are only good homemade. Potato salad. Pimento cheese. Biscuits. Corn bread. The food of my life. Along with all the other good southern food that no one else understands. Now I’m hungry. Thanks for the smile this morning. Hugs and love.

    Reply
    • Tammy Moody - May 13, 2019 4:12 pm

      ♥♥♥

      Reply
  14. MermaidGrammy - May 13, 2019 1:53 pm

    Real potato salad, real pimento cheese and baked macaroni and cheese – not that yellow slop – are all Southern (below Montgomery) delicacies. Now, the child/ren waiting to be adopted by you and Mrs Sean, can have the best graduation party ever, but you have to put a wiggle in it and get started! Love

    Reply
  15. Outdoor Writer David Rainer - May 13, 2019 2:00 pm

    Sean, I love your columns, but you have stomped on one of my pet peeves. It’s not pimento cheese, it’s pimento AND cheese. Pimento would have to be incorporated during the cheese-making process to be pimento cheese. Pimento AND Cheese mixes shredded cheese, pimentos and mayonnaise, preferably Blue Plate. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • Martha Martin Black - June 12, 2019 6:19 am

      Blue Plate? Oh Lord no! Gotta be Dukes!

      In fact there is a Dukes brand pimento & cheese called “Red Clay” and its pretty fog gone good. I do add a few red pepper flakes or minced Jalepno when I get it home yall.

      Reply
  16. Jess in Athens, GA - May 13, 2019 2:38 pm

    “My mother is not going to like that joke.” I laughed at that because I know exactly what you meant. I’m sure I told some jokes in my time that which my mother failed to see any humor. But you don’t know if you don’t try.

    Reply
  17. Pat - May 13, 2019 3:24 pm

    It’s a southern thang!

    Reply
  18. Jack Darnell - May 13, 2019 3:41 pm

    Lucky dog! I love a pimento cheese sandwich, even the stuff in plastic contgainers in the super! 😉

    Reply
  19. Tammy Moody - May 13, 2019 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the memories today Sean! No one in this Midwest town can make pimento cheese like my Momma. Except for my sister after her. For my birthday two years ago my son made all the “Southern things” he could think of. Cheese grits, fried chicken livers (sure to clog my arteries, but hey, it was my birthday), fried chicken, and of course pimento cheese (with special crackers). I’ll have to give him credit – it was a good spread, but it wasn’t pimento cheese. It had butter and pecans in it! But hey, not many sons would look up recipes on the internet (mistake one I guess) and bring all the ingredients to his Momma’s house and cook her Sunday dinner! I do know how my Momma made her pimento cheese – guess I need to write it down in the book that I’ve been writing him for 4 years. Thanks again, Sean! You are a Superman in my eyes (and you know that you are in the eyes of your Momma!)

    Reply
  20. Margaret Jackson - May 13, 2019 4:42 pm

    Sean,

    I really enjoy reading your column. I read it every day when my 4th graders go to PE.

    I have developed a pimento cheese recipe that everyone here in my area loves (Woodland, in Eastern Randolph County). It was even requested for our family Thanksgiving Eve party!!!

    I thought I’d send you the recipe and let you try your hand at making it.

    First, get a cheese grater like you see at Olive Garden. it’s safer than the box style!!

    Second, there are actually measuring spoons that you can buy at kitchen outlet stores called PINCH (1/8 tsp), SMIDGEON,(1/32 Tsp), etc.

    Enjoy!!
    Margaret Jackson

    SUPER PIMENTO CHEESE

    8 oz. cream cheese, softened
    8 oz. medium cheddar cheese (block)
    8 oz. Colby and Monterey jack blend (block)
    1 can mild Rotelle
    4 oz jar diced pimentos
    1 c. mayonnaise * smidgen of red pepper
    ¼ tsp salt ¼ tsp paprika
    ¼ tsp garlic powder 1/8 tsp black pepper
    Step 1: Put Rotelle and pimentos in colander to drain. Leave at least 10 min, going by every few minutes to toss and shake out all the water.
    Step 2: Put cream cheese in a medium bowl and add in all the spices.
    Step 3: Finely grate cheddar and other cheese together in a very large bowl.
    Step 4: Add Rotelle and pimentos to the cream cheese bowl and beat until well blended. Add the mayonnaise and beat again.
    Step 5: Pour over the grated cheese. Gently mix thoroughly.
    Best when chilled overnight.
    ENJOY!!!

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - May 13, 2019 8:25 pm

      Hi Margaret, your recipe sounds yum-o, so I copied it down and will try it as soon as I buy the cheeses needed! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  21. Marilyn - May 13, 2019 5:07 pm

    I still make mine homemade, the grocery store kind is tasteless and slimy. Use sharp cheese, equal amount of cream cheese, diced not sliced pimento, may, and a small dash of worchestire, dash(es) of tobasco. I must say it is good. You can add pecans or onions but I don’t. Must be served on really fresh, white, gummy bread.

    Reply
  22. Tom Luckett - May 13, 2019 5:38 pm

    In a pinch try Prices brand it is very close to home made. Remember I said close? 😊

    Reply
    • Dee - June 12, 2019 11:42 am

      Yes, it’s the best I can find from the grocery store .

      Reply
  23. Nancy Wright - May 13, 2019 7:20 pm

    My son was with me yesterday and we talked about his favorites from our Baptist dinners! He sounded so much like you, Sean!

    Reply
  24. Estelle - May 13, 2019 7:26 pm

    Because I’m lactose intolerant I use cheddar cheese and diced pimentos. I just drain the liquid from the pimento. Add Blue Plate mayonnaise (if you can find it). Mix well but so not over mix or it just develops a slimy texture. I grate my cheese on the side with the large holes. I will also add some grated dill pickle to the mix. I have eaten some with jalapeño added to the mix. Available at Sam stores. This is good put on Ritz crackers for an hors d’ouevre. Cheese with pimento and mayonnaise is pimento cheese. The real stuff; anything else you put in it are just add ons. I love it and eat lots of it. It drives my cholesterol up bout some things are worth it. 😋

    Reply
    • Dana D. - June 12, 2019 3:23 pm

      I have put Jalapeno slices on my pimento cheese sandwiches for years. I think it is so good. I don’t add it in because of other family members not liking anything hot.

      Reply
  25. Cathy M - May 13, 2019 10:32 pm

    It is truly a work of art. If you really want to get down put it on a piece of toast in the oven. That with a coke on ice is about as good as it gets. I am with you, Sean. That and a good BLT. Lord, help us😂

    Reply
  26. Charaleen Wright - May 14, 2019 4:19 am

    Reply
  27. Kathy Coxwell - May 15, 2019 1:43 am

    Homemade pimento cheese is the best by far! I have one of those old cow bell graters, and I’ve left a tad of my blood and a few chips of knuckles in things I’ve made. But….. those things are still the best way to grate!

    Reply
  28. Janet Mary Lee - May 16, 2019 5:46 pm

    Can’t help but get tickled that this is one of the longer of your lists of comments about ….cheese!! We all know a good thing!! And yes, homemade is always to die for!!!….Now Hungry!! 🙂

    Reply
  29. Sylvia Johnson - May 19, 2019 9:36 pm

    Sean, it is not homemade, but if you need pimento cheese and there is no one to make you any, swing by Ingles and get their Laura Lynn Brand Cheddar Pimento Cheese. It will hold you over till you get somebody’s Mamma to rescue you! You may decide you don’t need rescuing! Sylvia Johnson Ellijay GA, formerly from Moreland, GA. P.S. You are much kinder than some other Southern writers I have known.

    Reply
    • Martha Martin Black - June 12, 2019 6:22 am

      Skip the house brand go for the Dukes brannd “Red Clay”

      Reply
  30. Mary Schmidr - June 12, 2019 1:23 pm

    One of my favorites is celery stuffed with pimento cheese!

    Reply
  31. Pam Mingle - June 12, 2019 2:46 pm

    There is a Palmeto brand pimento cheese with jalapeños that’s really good if you don’t have homemade! And I had amazing Pimento Cheese Grits in Charleston SC!

    Reply
  32. Kathryn - June 12, 2019 3:41 pm

    I disagree with the previous poster who said it was pimento AND cheese. While technically, that may be true, down here where I live, (just south of Georgia), it’s “pimento cheese,” and I’ve never heard it called anything else! My mama made the best, but like most, she never wrote down the recipe!

    Reply
  33. Martha Ard - June 12, 2019 3:52 pm

    I make some awesome homemade pimento cheese, but in a crunch, the Palmetto cheese sold at the grocery store is pretty good.

    Reply
  34. Connie - June 12, 2019 5:45 pm

    My Mother made the best pimento cheese and I have a made a ton of it in her memory. My neighbor says it is better that what they have at the Golf Tournament in Augusta. Three ingredients. Velvetta cheese, diced pimentos (Drained) and Miracle Whip. Go for it and yes on toast is awesome.

    Reply
  35. Paula Barnhill - June 12, 2019 7:37 pm

    Love, love, love pimento cheese! By the spoon, on crackers, on bread, on celery, etc. And a couple of years ago I discovered grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. Have to say it’s really close to heaven.

    Reply
  36. Teresa - June 15, 2019 8:14 pm

    Working at a deli while in college years ago, we served our deli-made pimento cheese on toasted raisin bread. It’s a little bit of sweet and salty heaven. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!

    Reply
  37. Dee Thompson - June 20, 2019 2:56 am

    I applaud your column but really, you should have mentioned that only Duke’s mayonnaise is worthy of going in the pimento cheese. Also, using a hand blender to mix up the cheese, fresh garlic, cream cheese, etc. is the way to go. Trust me on this.

    Reply

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