Pimento cheese is a divisive subject. Nearly every Southern family has a recipe, and the general components are the same—typically shredded cheese, mayonnaise, and chopped pimentos. But what type of cheese? Which brand of mayo? Are the pimentos canned or fresh?
As any culinary historian will tell you, the only way to know a recipe’s essence is to go straight to the source, and Columbia, South Carolina, is home to the earliest published pimento cheese recipe (or so the story goes). It was here in 1912 that the earliest pimento cheese recipe was published. Janie DuBose was its author, and it ran in A Friend in Need, a cookbook printed by the Free Kindergarten Association of Columbia, S.C.
In DuBose’s dish you’ll find all of the usual suspects. It reads: “Ten ct. can of pimentos. 1-2 cup of grated cheese.” Followed by directions: “Chop the pimentos fine, add the cheese and put in mayonnaise to right consistency and spread on thin slices of bread.” Pretty standard stuff.
But there’s more. DuBose concludes with: “A little finely chopped sour pickle is an addition to this.” Chopped sour pickles? A touch of dried mustard or cayenne, sure. But break out the gherkins and you’re liable
to hear audible gasps.
What’s not in dispute is the legacy of this enduring smear. Beloved across the South, respected by Northerners as a creamy curiosity, pimento cheese evolved into many iterations throughout Columbia, which you can sample today. But, cheeses take the wheel, where to begin?
Enter the Pimento Cheese Passport, a sort of Rick Steves guide to the cheesiest spots around town. All you have to do is fill out an online form and accept a text message in return. There’s no app to download; simply save the passport to the home screen on your mobile device, then tap it to reveal sixteen savory stops where you can enjoy the so-called
Caviar of the South.
Each restaurant offers its own interpretation. Visit The War Mouth and you’ll be served hearty dollops atop Yukon gold potatoes. Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits, on the other hand, delivers its signature chipotle pimento cheese on a sausage biscuit with a side of Congaree Milling Co. blue corn
pimento cheese grits.
There’s Creole pimento cheese at Bourbon and fried green tomatoes with horseradish pimento cheese and bacon at West Columbia’s Cafe Strudel—a true marriage of Southern specialties. Naturally, there’s a burger available at Rockaway Athletic Club that swaps out the typical slice of American cheese for the pimento version. If you’re looking for a truly elevated experience, Mr. Friendly's New Southern Cafe has taken the party platter utility player and dressed it up as “French Quarter” pimento cheese paired with a bacon-wrapped filet mignon.
Beyond a roadmap to such rewarding meals, Passport users can enjoy prizes along the way as they visit participating locations. If only DuBose was around to see what she started.
Start your own journey at
Chopped sour pickles?
A touch of dried mustard or cayenne, sure. But break out the gherkins and you're liable to hear audible gasps.
Destination Pimento Cheese
Columbia not only has an important tie to pimento cheese, it also offers a passport to experience the signature Southern spread in a variety of unique ways throughout the heart of South Carolina