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The History of Pimento Cheese in South Carolina

When the conversation steers towards Southern culinary tradition, it’s impossible to overlook pimento cheese. This delightful fusion of cheese, pimento peppers, and mayonnaise doesn’t just charm our taste buds but also weaves the very fabric of Southern food culture.

As South Carolinians, we feel a certain pride as our state claims a prominent role in the spread’s history, perhaps even its birthplace.

The Cheese That Crossed Oceans

Before we explore our local history, let’s take a moment to appreciate the larger picture of pimento cheese.

Tracing its lineage back to Spain’s pimento peppers and the late 19th century American cream cheese industry, pimento cheese found its way into pantries across the nation.

When the Great Depression hit, this protein-rich, budget-friendly delicacy became a saving grace for many Southern homes. It turned from a simple spread into a cherished treat, especially for families who found meat a luxury.

Columbia, SC: The Cradle of Pimento Cheese?

The capital city of South Carolina, Columbia, takes pride in being the custodian of one of the earliest recorded pimento cheese recipes. Penned by Janie DuBose, this recipe first appeared in a 1912 cookbook, “A Friend in Need,” curated by the Free Kindergarten Association of Columbia, S.C.

While DuBose’s recipe celebrated the standard trio of pimentos, cheese, and mayonnaise, it offered a zesty twist: an optional sprinkle of finely chopped sour pickles.

Classic Pimento Cheese Recipe

Taking a peek into the past, DuBose’s recipe goes as follows:

  • 10 ct. can of pimentos
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheese
  • Mayonnaise to taste
  • Optional: a dash of finely chopped sour pickle

Preparation is as simple as it gets. Start by chopping the pimentos finely, then add in the cheese, and blend it all with just the right amount of mayonnaise. If you’re in the mood for an extra zing, throw in the sour pickle.

If you can’t find canned pimentos, consider roasting red bell peppers at home and tossing in a pinch of garlic and vinegar for added flavor. For the cheese, good ol’ Cheddar is your ticket to authenticity. And when it comes to how much mayo to add, aim for a creamy yet firm texture, like peanut butter.

A Timeless Tradition

There’s no denying that pimento cheese, with its roots nestled in Southern soil, has weaved itself into our lives. Aptly dubbed “the pâté of the South,” this versatile spread graces picnics, golf courses, and countless Southern occasions, a sign of its enduring charm.

In every bite of pimento cheese, we celebrate not just a dish but South Carolina’s culinary heritage. Whether you like it spicy, tangy, or straight-up classic, this iconic spread has more than earned its spot in the Southern food hall of fame.

Pimento cheese is more than just a spread; it’s a tradition, a taste passed down over a century, worth savoring in every bite. And remember, it’s more than okay to give it your personal twist, because that’s what culinary traditions are all about!