Once you start eating pimento cheese, it's hard to stop. But in this case, the readers wouldn't let us stop.
After hearing so many good things about Pawleys Island-based Palmetto Cheese and Charlotte-made Augusta's, we recently did a blind taste test. Observer colleagues Kathleen Purvis, Shannon Crisp and Olivia Fortson faced coded plates of Palmetto, Augusta's and Ruth's.
The clear winner was Palmetto, followed closely by Augusta's, with Ruth's in a distant third place.
While fans of Palmetto and Augusta's were pleased, readers flooded us with their own suggestions for the best pimento cheese brands. Fans of Burlington-based Stan's were appalled that we hadn't included it, and both Something Classic and Fresh Market had vocal contingents.
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How could we refuse to try again? This time, we sat down to plates of Palmetto, Stan's, Something Classic Spicy Pimento and Fresh Market's deli-made brand. Again, we didn't know the identity of the cheeses until we had rendered our verdicts.
The result: Palmetto is in first place again. It calls itself "the pimento cheese with soul," and we have to agree. It has a great balance of shredded cheese texture and mayonnaise creaminess, as well as a hint of garlic flavor and a little cayenne heat. Based on a recipe perfected at the Sea View Inn on Pawley's, it's sold locally at most Harris Teeter and Bi-Lo stores.
Second and third place were almost too close to call, but we gave the edge to Fresh Market. Both Fresh Market and Stan's are what we'd call "wet" cheese, with lots of mayo and great spreadability. Fresh Market's version had a little more cheese flavor. Stan's, while good, was very soft and a bit bland, with a cheese texture that seemed more processed.
In distant fourth? Sorry, Something Classic fans. While we love most of the food from this local caterer and prepared-food shop, the pimento cheese is very dry, almost like straight shredded cheese and pimento with almost no mayonnaise at all. "It tastes like a Cheese Nip (cracker)," said one taster.
And for all of you who insisted that the only good pimento cheese is homemade, we heard you, too. You'll find our favorite pimento cheese recipe, a white cheddar version adapted from the Pinckney Inn in Charleston, below.
White Cheddar Pimento Cheese
2 cups white Vermont cheddar, coarsely grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup drained, chopped pimento
1 to 2 chopped stuffed Spanish olives
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
White or black pepper to taste
GRATE the cheese using the largest holes on a box grater. Mix together all the ingredients, mashing the pimentos in with a fork as you go. Refrigerate until ready to serve.