The mayonnaise debate is still spreading.
It started last week, with a blind taste test of Duke’s vs. Hellmann’s as part of a gathering by Charlotte’s Piedmont Culinary Guild, a collection of chefs, farmers and food folk at Small City Farm. After taking a taste and making their picks, those who were there got a tomato sandwich made with whichever mayonnaise they picked.
When the votes were revealed, Hellmann’s bested Duke’s, the sentimental favorite in the South.
Of course, an outcry followed. The chefs must have been from the North. (A few, but most were Southerners.) How could anyone be fooled? (I was, I admitted: While I second-guessed myself after I tasted my choice on a sandwich, I had picked Hellmann’s in the tasting.)
The vote was 28 to 13, although a few voters said later that they picked Hellmann’s because they honestly prefer it, while others admitted they were trying to pick which one was Duke’s, their favorite, and they simply got it wrong.
My email, social media feeds and voicemail quickly filled up: How could you? How could they? How could anyone?
The debate continued at an all-tomato dinner Tuesday night at The Asbury with guest chef Miriam Rubin, the author of “Tomatoes.” (That’s in the same “Savor the South” series that includes two of my books, on bourbon and pecans.) Rubin quickly took a side, noting that while an amuse-bouche that started the six-course dinner – a sample plate of tomato sandwiches – had been made with Duke’s, she prefers Hellmann’s.
She lives in Pennsylvania, after all, not Duke’s prime territory. And, she was quick to point out, “Bill Smith (of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill) uses Hellmann’s. Did he tell you that?”
It went like that through the week, with Hellmann’s lovers crowing and Duke’s loyalists questioning everyone’s sanity. One caller left a message that envoked jury rigging and called us all stupid – several times. Others were more polite, but still adamant that they would never, ever choose anything but Duke’s.
A girl can only take so much. On Friday, I packed up samples, labeled only A and B, and paid visits to a few people who had registered strong opinions: Adelaide Davis and her neighbor, Sarah Bee Johnson in Eastover; Charlotte magazine editor Michael Graff; and Mary Ann Peel, the aquatics director at the Dowd YMCA, who had hollered at me across the pool after my Thursday night water aerobics class.
The result? This time, hands down, they all picked out the Duke’s from the Hellmann’s.
Still, Graff admitted it was tough. He was close to being tripped up, he said with relief when I revealed his choice.
“It was the last little bit, the aftertaste,” he said.
By the end of the week, one thing was clear. There is only one thing that unites the Duke’s and Hellmann’s camps:
Fear of Miracle Whip.