I love pimento cheese. There, I said it. If you’re not from the South, you might be wondering, “What is pimento cheese?”
Pimento cheese is a classic Southern cheddar cheese and pimento pepper dip. It’s affectionately referred to as “pâté du Sud,” or Southern pâté.
Pimento cheese is creamy and cheesy, tangy, peppery (spicy if you wish), and spreadable. If you appreciate cheddar cheese, pimento cheese is going to be your new favorite party dip and sandwich spread.
My grandmother, Mimi, made pimento cheese when I was little. I was a picky eater back then, but at least I had the good sense to appreciate her pimento cheese. I order pimento cheese every time I find it on a menu, which to my delight, seems to be happening more frequently these days.
I tried to find Mimi’s recipe in her handwritten recipe books, which are among my treasured possessions, along with her ring that I’m wearing on my left hand. I got lost in nostalgia and found my great-aunt’s Jell-o cucumber salad recipe, but not Mimi’s pimento cheese.
So, I came up with my own pimento cheese recipe. Let’s make some!
What are pimento peppers?
Pimento (also spelled pimiento) peppers are small red peppers that are not at all spicy. They’re often called cherry peppers when you find them sold fresh in grocery stores.
Pimento peppers are even more mild than red bell peppers. You might recognize them as the little red peppers stuffed inside green olives.
If you’re from the Midwest, rest assured that pimento cheese has nothing to do with pimento loaf. Pimento peppers are the only common ingredient.
Pimento Cheese Ingredients
In its most essential form, pimento cheese is made with cheddar cheese, pimento peppers and mayonnaise.
Freshly made, homemade pimento cheese tastes far superior to store-bought options. By making it yourself with quality ingredients, you can avoid strange preservatives. Here’s what you’ll need.
Extra-Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Be sure to buy a delicious extra-sharp variety so the cheddar flavor shines above all else. I used Tillamook.
Grate your cheese by hand on the large holes of a box grater. Don’t buy pre-shredded cheese, which is coated in powder that mutes the flavor and interferes with its creamy texture.
Cream cheese enhances the cheddar flavor and ensures that your pimento cheese is tangy and spreadable.
Not all pimento cheese recipes include cream cheese, but it just doesn’t taste right to me without it. I’d bet money that Mimi’s pimento cheese was made with cream cheese. If you read Serious Eats’ lengthy history on pimento cheese, you’ll see that cream cheese and pimentos have been friends for a long time.
Pimento peppers are a given. They infuse the dip with mild pepper flavor and provide its signature reddish hue. Be sure to drain your peppers well, and give them a few extra chops if they come in slices rather than a tiny dice.
If you can’t find pimento peppers, roasted red peppers are a great substitute. Chop them up until you have a scant one-half cup. I used jarred peppers for my recipe tests, but you could go the extra mile and roast your own peppers.
Mayonnaise lends a silky texture and some key flavor. If we weren’t using cream cheese, we’d make up for it with additional mayonnaise, but I’ve found that a combination of the two yields the tastiest results.
Duke’s brand of mayonnaise is standard in Southern pimento cheese. I used Sir Kensington’s instead, since that’s the brand I keep on hand.
A Few Simple Seasonings
Pimento cheese flavorings vary by recipe. A combination of garlic powder and onion powder lend subtle and irresistible savoriness.
I like my pimento cheese a little spicy, so my recipe includes cayenne pepper as well. The heat is subtle but makes me go back for more. Take it up a notch with fresh jalapeño pepper, which adds seriously fresh flavor and a light crunch. A little bit goes a long way.
If you’re sensitive to spice, you can reduce or omit both the cayenne and jalapeño. You can always add more heat, but you can’t take it away.
How to Make Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese is super easy to make, and ready in 10 minutes. You essentially just need to stir the ingredients together until combined.
I use my hand mixer to beat the ingredients together, which yields a nice, lightly fluffy texture. Don’t mix it up in a food processor, since pimento cheese is best when the individual ingredients retain some texture.
Watch How to Make Pimento Cheese
How to Serve Pimento Cheese
Here are a few classic serving ideas:
Pimento Cheese Sandwiches
You haven’t lived until you’ve had a pimento grilled cheese sandwich. You can also follow tradition and serve pimento cheese between two slices of bread, sliced into tea sandwich form if you’re throwing a party.
If you want to build a more substantial sandwich, pimento cheese is great with sliced cucumber (or dill pickles), tomato, sprouts or arugula, and even a fried egg.
As a Dip or Spread
Pimento cheese and crackers is a winning combination. If you want to lighten up your party spread, serve it with substantial strips of bell pepper (any color but green), cucumber, or celery.
You can take cues from pimento cheese and add pimento peppers to your favorite cheddar dishes. I can’t wait to add some to my go-to mac and cheese.
Please let me know how your pimento cheese turns out in the comments! I bet your friends will fight over it at your game day parties.
Looking for more party snacks? Here are a few favorites:
- The Best Guacamole
- Baked Jalapeño Poppers
- Crispy Baked Potato Wedges
- Perfect Stovetop Popcorn
- Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 2 cups 1x
- Category: Dip or spread
- Method: Mixer
- Cuisine: Southern
- Diet: Vegetarian
This pimento cheese is the best! It’s cheesy, tangy, peppery (spicy if you wish), and spreadable. Recipe yields 2 cups.
- 2 cups freshly grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
- 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1” cubes and softened at room temperature*
- 4 ounces pimento peppers**, well drained and chopped if in strips
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Duke’s is traditional but I also like Sir Kensington’s)
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (decrease or omit if sensitive to spice)
- ½ medium jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, and minced (about 1 tablespoon; omit if sensitive to spice)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the cheddar, cream cheese, pimento peppers, mayonnaise, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and jalapeño (if using), and several twists of black pepper.
- Beat the mixture together with a hand mixer, your stand mixer, or by hand with a sturdy wooden spoon or spatula. Beat until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
- Taste, and add more black pepper if desired, and/or salt for more overall flavor (I usually add a pinch of two). If you’d like your pimento cheese to have more of a kick, add another pinch of cayenne. Blend again.
- Transfer the mixture to a smaller serving bowl. Serve your pimento cheese immediately, or chill it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Pimento cheese hardens as it cools; let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature to soften.
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes and the Lee brothers via The New York Times.
*Cream cheese tip: If you, like me, always forget to pull the cream cheese out of the fridge in advance, simply cube it into a microwave-safe mixing bowl. Warm it in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds, just until it’s more pliable. We only need it warm enough to mix into the other ingredients, but not warm enough to melt the cheese.
**Where to find pimento peppers: You’ll find pimento peppers in well-stocked grocery stores, typically near the roasted red peppers. If you can’t find them, substitute a scant ½ cup chopped roasted red pepper. You’ll hardly tell a difference.
Kate, this is a wonderful recipe, and so delicious. It hit all my spots, and brought back happy memories of my mom (long gone now) making pimento cheese for a family picnic. I’ve made your recipe (and doubled it) several times and shared it with family and friends who loved it! As a side note, I’ve even tucked some of it in homemade bread dough to make a cheesy artisanal loaf of bread. Thank you so much for creating and sharing this awesome recipe. I’m sorry it took me so long to post this!
I made this a couple times last summer and we really enjoyed it. I just made it again for macaroni and cheese and dialed up the heat level a bit. It was so delicious!!!
That’s great to hear, Maria!
C & K,
Thanks for the recipe! Made it 5/11/22. I added a bit more black pepper, Cayenne pepper, and used celery salt. Oh, I also add a heavy pinch of sugar. I find that a bit of sugar rounds everything out. So good on crackers, celery, and baked potatoes.
Steve from Oxford, OH
Great to hear, Steve! Thank you for taking the time to let me know what you thought.
I just made your pimento cheese and I am going to have to make another batch right away because my husband and I have eaten most of it. I think that should tell your readers that this is so much better than that jarred stuff in the grocery store. I am always looking for a snack that has taste and beguiles the eye. This is a sublime spread. Thank you!
I love that! Thank you for your review, Rebecca.
I absolutely love this recipe! I’m a huge fan of pimento cheese, and this is one of the best. I’ve made this before as a dip for fight night with the guys, and it’s a huge hit. I’m making it again as a stuffing for my version of a Texas Twinkie; a jalapeño stuffed with chorizo, this pimento cheese, wrapped in bacon, and grilled. Should be a knockout!
Thank you for sharing, Dave! I appreciate your review.
This is an excellent recipe. Pimento cheese is indeed a Southern staple. It is one of the few sandwiches you can get at the Masters. I could not bring myself to use a mixer. My mother, who would have been the same generation as your grandmother, used a fork. I’m certain that’s the way God meant for it to be done.
I agree. Mash with a long tined fork in a flat bottom bowl. It’s sooo good.
I’ve never tried this with cream cheese before but it turned out deliciously. Even my picky 9 year old son liked it! It’s so good melted in a sandwich with toasted bread and sunflower shoots.
Hooray! That’s great to hear, Rene.
My first time making homemade pimento cheese. Wonderful recipe! Just the right amount of spices. I did omit the jalapeños but I might try it next time with it. Perfect without it though. Thank you so much for sharing this! I have a whole new appreciation now for shredding my own cheese. Superb taste.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Kathy! Thank you for taking the time to review.
I have fresh pimento peppers. Can I use them without roasting?
Hi Jackie, I haven’t tried it. Let me know if you do!
Thanks for this recipe. Just sampled the spread. Soooo delicious!
Definitely going in our recipe file !
My father-in-law had pimento cheese on his grocery list for two months, but our local grocery stores don’t sell it.
He doesn’t like hot spices, so no cayenne, no jalapeño.
Will let you know how he likes it.
Question: Does this store well, frozen?
PS: Used reduced fat cream cheese for this batch.
Hi John, I don’t recommend freezing dairy. I’m glad you enjoyed this recipe!
I agree with Kate — DON’T freeze it. I tried to last summer when I made too much, and when I thawed it, it had this gross grainy texture. I tried to eat it anyway, but ended up throwing it away :-( Now I make a half batch if I don’t have enough folks around to help me eat it. Today I roasted, peeled and diced a red pepper, and put it all in my half-batch, and it is DE-LISH-OUS!
Several couples are throwing a dinner party to benefit our local 4-H and it has a southern theme. None of us had ever had pimento cheese so I decided to try it. It was a big hit! One friend even made some saltine crackers with spices that we spread it on and that made it even better. Thanks for all of your great recipes!
Great to hear, Mary! I appreciate you taking the time to review.
I made this with Chipotle peppers because I was out of pimentos. It was outstanding the perfect sweet to heat ratio. It might just be the best spread I’ve ever had. Can not wait to make it the regular way next time!
Blue plate is southern standard
This pimento cheese recipe is delicious! It’s got the perfect amount of bite, sweetness and heat. The consistency is perfect, too. I’ll definitely be making this again and again.
Love to hear that, Cheryl! I appreciate your review.
Strangely enough, I have always wondered what pimento cheese is after watching Better Caul Saul – fans will know that this is Mike Ehrmentraut’s sandwich of choice! I decided to have a look and found this recipe and can confirm it is really delicious. I had it with Brunswick ham on a freshly baked baguette for lunch today. Thank you so much for sharing, Kate! (Now I have to find out how Gus Fring makes his Chilean fish stew…)
Mine turned out really thick what can I do to make it more spreadable?
Hi Angie, It is a thicker dip. I don’t have great advice without changing the recipe. Sorry!
I’ve never seen pimento cheese made as a dip but rather a spread. So it would be thicker to put on bread or crackers.
More mayo and or more peppers
where do you buy pimento peppers?
Hi! You should be able to get them at your local grocery store. I haven’t had issues finding them.
This recipe is phenomenal!!! I loathed pimento cheese when I was a kid, but a recent trip to South Carolina has made me fall in love with homemade pimento cheese, and yours definitely didn’t disappoint!
I’m glad you love it, Misty!
I made this and it is soooo good! Being a southern girl I sometimes crave pimento cheese (especially in a grilled pimento cheese sandwich). I don’t like all the junk and bad oils in commercial so I wanted to make my own. This recipe is easy and delicious. Will be making this quite often I’m sure. Oh and hubby loved it too!
Thank you for sharing, Pam! I appreciate your review.
It’s Super Bowl Eve, and I couldn’t wait ;) We had a toasted pimento cheese sandwich with a sliced Pink Lady apple for lunch. I had 4 oz cream cheese left over from making your Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese last weekend (*heavenly *) and added about a tsp Worcestershire sauce from a Southern Living pimento cheese recipe I’ve used for several years. My husband and I thought yours was outstanding! This evening he’s a guinea pig for your Mexican Street Corn. Your descriptions of your recipes make everything sound scrumptious, Kate. Thank you!
Sounds delicious, Sooz! Thank you for sharing how you served this.
Great recipe. I used roasted red peppers instead of pimentos and also threw in some halved green olives (with pimentos). And I also sprinkled in some smoked paprika instead of cayenne. Right now I’m eating some of this cheese spread on crackers with a bread and butter pickle on top. So yummy!
Thank you, Melanie! I appreciate your review.
If you want to kick up the spice, replace the cayenne with habanero chili powder and maybe use a little chopped habanero in place of the jalapeno. It really gives the cheese a nice, assertive bite.
Made this today , it is wonderful just like the recipe !
I divided it and made one half adding some dry ranch seasoning, only because I am such the ranch lover
It really is delicious both ways .
Your video says “how to make pimento cheese”, but it’s a soup how to…
Hi Gary! Not all my recipes have videos yet. I hope you tried it and enjoyed it.
Ruth M. Martin
So sorry to hear that Cookie has left for her final journey, she will be meeting so many special new furry friends. Know that she will be running, jumping, and once again enjoying her life but now she will be pain-free. Thanks for the pimento cheese spread recipe, sounds like just the one I’ve been looking for, and I’ll be sure to reply with a review. I may have been born in the north, but have been southern for many years, Key West is my Happy Place! Ruth
I missed pimento cheese so much. I used to eat it when I was in Singapore with my friend who is working with a French family.
I found it so good and yummy.
Thanks for sharing your recipe. More power to your career.
I’m glad you loved it, Honey!