The Yankee Origins Of Southern Food Staple Pimento Cheese

If you've tried pimento cheese, then you know it isn't actually a type of cheese, but rather it's a blend of several ingredients that combine to make a creamy dip that's delicious slathered on almost anything. Cookie and Kate details this dish gets its smooth, spreadable texture from cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, and mayonnaise, while color and flavor come from diced pimentos and seasonings from fresh minced garlic, onion powder, and mustard.

Pimento cheese is usually served as a dip for crackers, spread on bread in the form of a pimento cheese sandwich, or smeared on a grilled cheese for a unique twist on the childhood favorite. While you can usually find this treasured dip at parties, in a jar at the grocery store, and even at restaurants across the U.S., it's widely accepted as a Southern dish. However, you may be surprised to learn that pimento cheese originated in the Northeast.

The South put its own spin on pimento cheese

According to Serious Eats, pimento cheese got its start in New York, which was the home of such industrial food products as cream cheese and jarred pimentos. The original dip started with fewer ingredients consisting of those two, along with chives and mustard. As reported by Tupelo Honey, the recipe was published in a 1908 issue of Good Housekeeping and became popular across the states after being featured in the magazine.

Tupelo Honey further states that eventually, the rising cost of pimento peppers, which were imported from Spain, prompted Southern farmers to start growing them. One in particular by the name of George Riegel, founder of Pomona Products, became the first to plant and grow the bright red vegetable in the U.S. in 1916, per Southern Kitchen

Pimento business boomed in Griffin, Georgia, and the peppers were grown, canned, and shipped across the country with increasing demand, per Serious Eats. However, after World War II, pimento cheese fell out of popularity in most places, except in the South, where the recipe was not only still served but also tweaked. 

You could say they added their special ingredients to take their pimento cheese to the next level. Enter hoop and cheddar cheese that replaced the cream kind with the addition of mayonnaise to bind it all together — and behold, the Northern-turned-Southern edition of the cheesy, delectable spread was reborn (via Serious Eats and Tupelo Honey).