This Southern Pimento Cheese recipe is quick, easy, and flavorful. It’s perfect as a spread, dip, sandwich, or on its own!
When I think about sandwiches and the South, I automatically think about pimento cheese. This iconic Southern menu item is great slathered between two pieces of soft white bread, piled onto a stalk of celery, smeared on a cracker, and even more delicious… melted over burgers and hotdogs!
What is pimento cheese?
In true Southern twang, we usually refer to this delicious mixture as “puhminner cheese.” And while there are many variations to this Southern staple, the basic ingredients remain the same – pimientos, cheese, mayonnaise, and seasonings.
As a Southerner, I grew up on the stuff, but I know there are lots of folks that don’t even know what a pimento is and how it is made.
A pimiento is a red, sweet pepper. It’s often used interchangeably with roasted red bell peppers. They are commonly found jarred in water either diced or sliced.
Pimento cheese is a delicious combination of sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, and pimento peppers.
Delicious when served in a myriad of ways, pimento cheese is most commonly eaten as a spread on crackers, a dip with chips or celery sticks, and as a filling for sandwiches. It also makes for a great topping for burgers and hot dogs.
Is it spelled pimento or pimiento?
Y’all, I’ve been fighting this battle for the better part of the last 14 years. Should it be spelled pimiento or pimento?
The folks over at Southern Living lean towards the spelling with the extra “i,” saying that it’s listed as the first spelling in Merriam-Webster.
It seems that pimiento is the original Spanish spelling for the word that refers to the pimiento pepper. However, that spelling has evolved to be pimento – especially when referring to pimento cheese. Perhaps it has to do with the translation from Spanish to English. Perhaps we all just got lazy.
So which is the right one? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve had some sponsors in the past that have required one spelling over another, so you’ll find it spelled both ways on Southern Bite. In fact, to keep things interesting, I might just randomly change the spelling in this post.
How do I soften cream cheese?
There are several ways you can soften cream cheese. Choose any of the following methods.
- Submerge in a large mixing bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes.
- Microwave the cream cheese in 10-second intervals. Don’t over nuke it though! No one wants scorched cream cheese. What a travesty!
- Leave out your cream cheese on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Place in your hands while still in the packaging for about 15 minutes. Press the packaging back and forth in your palms until you can feel it is creamy and approximately room temperature.
Once your cream cheese is a soft and easily-stirred consistency, you are good to go!
Tips for making pimento cheese:
Grate your own cheese! While I LOVE the convenience of bagged, pre-shredded cheese from the grocery store, the cornstarch and stuff they use to keep the shreds from sticking together in the bag seems to have an effect on texture. I really recommend shredding your own. Can you use the other stuff? Sure! Just know it won’t be quite the same.
Don’t forget the onion! Onion adds a unique flavor to pimento cheese that just can’t be left out. The zing it adds will make your pimento cheese stand apart in all the best ways. However, do not use diced onion. The crunch of the onion does not go well in pimento cheese, so just take the time to grate up a little onion right after you grate your cheese. It won’t add much time because you only need 1 tablespoon!
Why do onions taste bitter?
I’m going to get science-y on you here for a minute, so bear with me…
I’m probably going to over simplify this, but here we go.
When the cells of onions are damaged, they form sulfur compounds. Those compounds are what make us cry when we cut onions and what can make onions taste bitter. More of those compounds form the longer that they sit.
So, if you’re going to be storing this pimento cheese for a while, I might recommend using onion powder over the freshly grated onion – especially if you are sensitive to that bitter flavor. I’d use about 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder to replace the 1 tablespoon of grated onion.
Sharp cheddar cheese – I highly suggest grating a block of sharp cheddar cheese rather than the bag of pre-grated cheese. The pre-grated cheese typically includes cornstarch to prevent the pieces from sticking together. This will affect the texture and taste of your pimento cheese, and not in a positive way. Grating is best!
Cream cheese – This is a controversial ingredient for some, but trust me when I say it really adds a delicious creaminess. Pimento Cheese purists can leave it out. You’ll just want to soften your cream cheese prior to stirring your mixture so it combines evenly, if you use it. I’ve also found that using brand name cream cheese softens better and mixed more evenly into things like this, but you do you.
Mayonnaise – I will sing until the cows come home that Duke’s mayonnaise is superior! Any brand will do, but Duke’s is just the way we go around here and for good reason.
Pimentos – Unlike the pre-prepared cheddar cheese, I actually do suggest you go with the pre-chopped pimentos in a jar. Save yourself some time here! It won’t affect the flavor and end result at all.
Onion – You only need a small onion for this recipe. Grating 1 tablespoon should only take you a few seconds max but is worth the extra effort.
Garlic – You only need one teaspoon of granulated garlic or garlic powder. Granulated garlic and garlic powder aren’t quite the same in terms of measurement, but I don’t think it makes a huge difference in this case.
Southern Pimento Cheese
- 1 lb block sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 (4-ounce) jar chopped pimentos, drained
- 1 tablespoon grated onion
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
- salt to taste
- Grate the cheese using a box grater.
- Combine shredded cheddar, softened cream cheese, mayo, drained pimentos, grated onion, black pepper, and garlic. Stir to combine.
- Add salt to taste. Allow to rest at least several hours in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to develop.
- 1/2 pound (8-ounce) block of medium cheddar cheese
- 1/2 pound (8-ounce) block of sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 4 ounces whipped cream cheese
- 1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos, well drained
* If nutritional values are provided, they are an estimate and will vary depending on the brands used. The values do not include optional ingredients or when ingredients are added to taste. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, I recommend grabbing your favorite brands and plugging those ingredients into an online nutritional calculator.