Have you wondered why Pimento Cheese is so popular in the South? It might be because the South doesn’t have a deep history of commercial cheese production. Garden & Gun Magazine just did a piece on the rise of Southern cheese making since the 1990s. According to G&G, the reason might be geography. Summer temperatures tend to burn off the grass and make the cows lethargic, which means less milk. Warm temperatures mean insects and parasites never get really killed off. A processed cheese, like pimento cheese, worked better in the South.
As a fan of pimento cheese, I’m always on the look out for a good spread. Rehoboth, frankly, doesn’t understand pimento cheese. Luckily, I can import it from Washington and in particular from the Harris Teeter on 1st and M Streets, NE — best selection in the city. I stopped by this evening for a tub, as I had a hankering for Southern caviar. To my delight, the selection of pimento cheese varieties had grown substantially. I’m not surprised. Harris Teeter started in Charlotte, NC, the city many aficionados call the capital of pimento cheese, given how pimento cheese manufacturing today seems to be mostly in the Carolinas.
It didn’t start out that way. Some claim earlier versions of pimento cheese originated in New York, Minnesota, and North Dakota and trickled down to the South. It became associated with the Carolinas mainly because of the textile mills. In the anti-union South, workers had to eat quickly on breaks. Pimento cheese sandwiches, sold by small companies and later in vending machines, became popular for lunch. The textile mills are gone, but pimento cheese lives on. I used to think it was a dying taste, but given what I see in Harris Teeter, I think I’m wrong. The pate of the South lives on.