Editors' Picks

Parker & Otis' Pimento Cheese (+ Grilled Sandwiches with Bacon & Tomato)

October  2, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos shouldn't be this good together.

Pimento Cheese Recipe

Shop the Story

Pimento cheese is, at its core, nothing but tufts of unmelted cheese, a cushion of mayonnaise, and chopped pimentos: a glomming-together of unassuming and seemingly unfriendly ingredients. It doesn't seem like it should exist, but the moment you taste it, you understand.

This trinity is a Southern institution -- but from there, everyone has their own way. Perre Magness (Food52's own TheRunawaySpoon), who's writing a pimento cheese book, has learned that every Southerner has a story, an opinion, a recipe. "What's so interesting," Magness told me, "Is -- for something that's basically 3 ingredients -- people have such strong opinions about the absolute only way to make it."

Pimento Cheese Recipe

Virginia Willis adds grated onion. Richard Miscovich spikes his with rye. America's Test Kitchen's linchpin ingredient? Pickle brine. For some, orange cheddar is non-negotiable (and it's not like it's Red 40 dying most of our orange cheese, so let's all relax about that). Even the question of Duke's vs. Hellmann's mayonnaise isn't safe territory. "People get very emotional about that," Magness said.

It's common practice to stir together a batch to keep it in the fridge all week -- to stuff in brown-bag sandwiches, on your favorite crackers, in the crook of a celery stick. We recommend all of this. But it's starting to see new life too. "10 years ago, you never would have seen pimento cheese on a burger," Willis recently told me. Or in fritters or biscuits, or as a starter at fancy restaurants. But how could any of that be a bad idea?

Pimento Cheese from Food52  Pimiento Cheese from Food52

It would be impossible to declare any one version genius, new- or old-fangled, and to do so I would have to possess a boldness that I simply do not. Pimento cheese is genius, period.

But this one, from Parker and Otis in Durham, North Carolina, is an excellent place to start. It has a low mayo-to-cheese ratio and a big dose of pimento -- both of which keep it strong and fierce. There's also an underdog spice at play: celery salt, which takes a heartbeat of sharp tang and breathes a little herbal depth into it. (But don't worry, not too much.) Our Assistant Editor and Community Manager Marian Bull brought this to a lot of tailgates, and made a lot of friends.

Pimento Cheese Recipe  Pimento Cheese Recipe

And as if they knew that pimentos aren't always easy to find at Yankee grocery stores, this recipe says it's okay to use comparatively milder and less cute roasted bell peppers (which we did).

More: DIY Roasted Red Peppers

Pimento Cheese Recipe and Grilled Cheese

Best of all, Parker and Otis use it to make a jaw-dropping upgrade to a grilled cheese. It has bacon. And tomato. To mimic the sandwich press used at the shop, we weighted and dry-toasted ours in skillet, and finished warming it through in the oven. But Magness has an even better idea, for next time: "Put a little mayo on the outside so it gets real crispy." 

Pimento Cheese Recipe and Grilled Cheese

Parker & Otis' Pimento Cheese (+ Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato & Bacon)

Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

Serves 12 as a dip, or 6 as a sandwiches

Pimento Cheese Dip

2 cups coarsely grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp white cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 cup finely chopped drained pimentos or drained roasted red and yellow peppers from jar
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Crackers and assorted raw vegetables (such as carrot sticks, celery sticks, trimmed green beans, and bell pepper strips), to serve

Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato & Bacon

Pimento Cheese Dip (above)
12 strips bacon, cooked till crispy
1 large, ripe tomato
12 slices sourdough bread

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Pimento Cheese Recipe

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]

Listen & Subscribe

From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.

Listen & Subscribe

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jacquelyn Haas
    Jacquelyn Haas
  • ltaliaf
  • throwcly
  • sweet fang
    sweet fang
  • KirstenS
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Jacquelyn H. April 28, 2015
Has anyone made this with homemade mayo?
ltaliaf June 25, 2014
For something crazy delicious and different try adding some jalapeño and serve on crackers with a bit of strawberry preserves and pecans on top. Sooooo good. Comes from a gourmet deli in Louisville.
throwcly June 23, 2014
I'm from a Kentucky family and my grandmother insisted that the cheese be put through a certain grinder that she clamped to the table so it would have the proper size and shape.
sweet F. June 22, 2014
I used the ol' food processor to shred my Sharp white and yellow cheddars. Then I used a jar of Trader Joe's roasted red peppers, garlic and eggplant spread. Also used garlic sea salt and three Tbls of Basil olive oil. Bright flavor against all the sweet and salt. I cut in scallions and used horseradish cream. Pretty lip smacking, thank you for the spring board, I love this stuff.
KirstenS June 22, 2014
I can't abide celery seeds, but I love a bit of onion in pimento cheese -- I add green onions to mine, and also a bit of chili powder and cayenne. I base mine off of Bill Neal's famous pimento cheese which combines cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, and adds a shot of bourbon as well.
marsiamarsia June 15, 2014
I use Hellmann's made with olive oil and mix it with Vegenaise. Usually I add a bit of horseradish to the mayo mix. I call this "Pimento Cheese for Grown-ups." I vote NO on celery salt; in fact, I don't add any salt because the cheeses are salty enough, but I'll admit to adding a dash of garlic powder to round out the flavors.
Suzannah March 5, 2014
Made this as listed (minus celery salt because I didn't have any), and it is very, very salty. I think it's the cheese. Any suggestions on readily available, less salty cheddar?
Patricia D. October 5, 2013
I have been making Pimento cheese for years and currently make it for a Tea House in North Carolina. Everyone loves it...even people from up North who never heard of it. My recipe very simiar to yours,
Jaleh N. October 5, 2013
This looks delicious! I love the idea of adding onion to it as well. I might be making a trip to the grocery store today to get the things to make this tonight.

The Hungry Nomad (hungrynomad.net)
Amanda S. October 4, 2013
hands down one of the best most sinful sandwiches i've ever eaten
Michael October 3, 2013
As a child my Mom would make Perogi's with a Pimento cheese/Red Mashed mixture. That served w/Browned Kielbasa Sausage or almost any kind is WOW!
DanaERT October 7, 2013
HOLY COW that sounds amazing!!
DanaERT October 3, 2013
The pimento cheese recipe I'm dying to get my hands on is from Weaver Street Market in NC - the smoked one in particular! It doesn't seem to have very much mayo but it has some incredible seasoning I can't put my finger on.

That said, a friend of the family makes an excellent version that is mayo-based (Hellman's for life!) and uses a mixture of pimento liquid and milk heated up to slightly soften the cheese for easier mayo mixing. Very tasty!
Liz W. December 13, 2013
please, share the smoked version with me... maybe it's smoked gouda? or smoked paprika? We are also Hellman's for life - even tho we have turned organic esp. where fats are concerned, no, until the regular old Hellman's is organic - we eat it toxically. It's the ONLY mayo.
Liz W. December 13, 2013
please, share the smoked version with me... maybe it's smoked gouda? or smoked paprika? We are also Hellman's for life - even tho we have turned organic esp. where fats are concerned, no, until the regular old Hellman's is organic - we eat it toxically. It's the ONLY mayo.
KirstenS June 22, 2014
Weaver St's got too smokey versions, one made with chipotle pepper chili powder, and the other made with smoked cheddar. They are both delicious!
minissimus October 2, 2013
The recipe is fine, as far as it goes, and the sandwich looks, well, monumental. But, no cayenne?? A pinch elevates fine pimento cheese to divine pimento cheese.
KirstenS October 2, 2013
I completely agree and forgot to include it in my additional ingredients below!
KirstenS October 2, 2013
I love PandO's pimento cheese, and often buy it for parties. But if I'm doing my own, I combine a few different recipes, and add green onions, cayenne and a slosh of bourbon (a la the late great Bill Neal of Chapel Hill).
Regine October 2, 2013
Thanks Kristen.
Ellen S. October 2, 2013
Unorthodox, but I'm going to try this with chopped, roasted mild green chilies (the New Mexico type), because my garden is churning out huge quantities of these lovely peppers. (Unfortunately I've never seen them for sale in the mid-Atlantic region where I live. Italian frying peppers, which are easy to find, could be a substitute.)
Sandy W. December 4, 2013
What a great idea! Why have I never thought to do this?! I don't have any fresh-from-my-garden peppers, but I'm going to make Roasted Poblano Pimiento Cheese NOW! I make my own regular PC with half sharp cheddar, half Monterey Jack, roasted red peppers and Duke's mayo, but going green is brilliant!
Regine October 2, 2013
Maybe something is wrong with my computer but every time I click on SEE THE FULL RECIPE, it does not take me to it.
Kristen M. October 2, 2013
Sorry about that Regine -- there was an issue with the link earlier, but it should be fixed now!
re-arranging_jars October 2, 2013
That sandwich looks amazing. I think someone needs to combine pimento cheese with Amanda's baking sheet mac & cheese idea. Maybe that someone is me.
M W. October 2, 2013
This version sounds good--almost as good as Demented Pimiento Cheese (note the extra "i" in pimiento, which is how some of us die-hard Carolinians spell it), which uses chili garlic paste (or Sriracha sauce) instead of pimiento peppers. The taste is different but still good, and can range from spicy to downright nuclear depending on how much chili garlic paste you add. --Thanks for all your excellent stuff!!
MeghanVK October 15, 2013
I've done that when I couldn't find pimentos! I might actually prefer it - shhhhhh.
smithviki October 2, 2013
The familiar liitle jar with the yellow lid containing the little peppers spells the name as pimiento. Tastes good either way though.