What Is Pimento Cheese, Actually?

I’m from Massachusetts but I went to college in the middle of Ohio, and it wasn’t until visiting the dining hall there my freshman year that I first encountered a strange and mysterious orange-y cheese spread near the sandwich station. Never one to shy away from eating a new kind of cheese, I soon made myself a tuna salad sandwich and slathered the bread with this stuff. After putting it in the panini press, I sampled it—it was delicious. Only later would I learn that this orange stuff was pimento cheese.

But what’s pimento cheese, exactly, and how do you use it? Today, let’s celebrate and learn about this delicious spreadable cheese product. We’ll have a memento to pimento, if you will, that will end with a pimento crescendo, comprendo

What is pimento cheese?

Pimento cheese is a popular Southern cheese spread, usually with a distinctly orange hue, that contains pimentos as a crucial ingredient. But what are pimentos, exactly? As devotees may recall, I have written about these little guys before, describing them as  “a variety of chili pepper that is more fragrant than a typical bell.” Wow, incredible writing. You can also find pimentos in green olives or pimento loaf luncheon meat, but they are the star ingredient of pimento cheese spread.

What is in pimento cheese?

Pimento cheese is available in a lot of grocery stores in the spread or cheese section, but if you want to make it at home, it’s not hard but there are many variations out there. Generally, you can count on pimento cheese to contain cheddar cheese, cream cheese, and, of course, pimentos. But the seasonings change from chef to chef. This recipe from Cookie And Kate offers a recipe containing cheddar cheese (sharp is best), cream cheese, mayonnaise, jalapeño pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and, of course, pimentos. Some recipes eschew the jalapeño for red pepper flakes, others leave both spicy pepper additions out altogether.

What does pimento cheese taste like?

It has cheddar and cream cheese overtones, but with a distinctly tangy, pepper-y flavor provided by the pimentos. If you’ve ever had pub cheese or beer cheese or even queso, you might find that you enjoy the combination of dairy and spices. 

Is pimento cheese spicy?

Pimento cheese need not be particularly spicy. The version I first encountered in college was pleasantly mid-Ohio mild. Pimentos are peppers, so they give the spread a slight tang, but it should be palatable for all but the most spice-sensitive individuals. If you can handle a bell pepper, you can usually handle pimento cheese.

Do note, however, that many pimento recipes call for jalapeños or red pepper flakes, which will of course give the spread a bigger kick. As with salsa or guacamole, there’s a wide variety of spice levels available, so proceed with caution.

How long does pimento cheese last?

Homemade pimento cheese should last about ten days in the fridge. The store bought varieties, which often include preservatives, will keep for around four weeks after opening. 

What to do with pimento cheese: 

Pimento cheese is not only a good spread for sandwiches or simply enjoyed on a cracker, it’s also great with veggies. Celery is a particularly popular pairing. But if you’re totally inundated with pimento cheese and aren’t sure quite what to do with it, Food & Wine has got you covered—they have a list of ten of their favorite recipes that use pimento cheese. One that looks especially decadent is the pimento cheese fries recipe, which drizzles a hearty helping of gooey cheese spread over some store bought fries. Of course, my pimento cheese use of choice will always be on a homemade tuna melt. 

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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