Want to make the case that the best pimento cheese is made right here in the South? Start with these local dishes.
I’m not here to start an argument about where pimento cheese originated, but it wasn’t in the South. It was first created in New York.
Articles in “Serious Eats,” “Southern Kitchen” and “Southern Living” detail the spread’s history, beginning in the early 1900s. Initial recipes for pimento cheese started with cream cheese and pimentos which were new foods to the United States, at the time.
John Morgan, owner of Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale, a North Carolina-based company, is diplomatic when asked about the history of pimento cheese in the South. “I’m the world’s foremost authority and historian on the history of my company,” he says.
Pimento cheese typically includes a type of cheese, a brand of mayo (depending on what brand you pick, you could be in for a fight here), cream cheese (sometimes), and pimentos. Pimentos are small sweet peppers that surprisingly don’t grow inside olives like I’d thought.
“Even today, there are so many different varieties of pimento cheese,” Morgan says. “What constitutes pimento cheese? Would someone know they created it when they created it?”
Morgan’s company, which is headquartered in Charlotte, sells five pimento cheese flavors in 31 states. Locally, you can pick it up in grocery stores such as Food Lion, Harris Teeter and Publix. If you’re flying in or out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, try the Carolina Burger topped with Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese at 1897 Market.
You won’t be disappointed.
Now, if you’re out to prove that, regardless of its origin, the South has the best pimento cheese, here are our recommendations for the best North Carolina dishes to make the case:
Bang Bang Burgers
When Joe Huang, owner of Bang Bang Burgers and graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, added the pimento burger to the menu, he researched pimento cheese recipes. He combined canned pimento, shredded Swiss, Monterey Jack and American cheeses and Duke’s Real Mayonnaise and then added a few twists like jalapeño and sriracha. 2001 E. 7th St., Suite D, Charlotte; 235 W. Tremont Ave. #101, Charlotte
Jeff Burns brought his pimento cheese recipe from Montero’s (see below) to his new restaurant. Look for a Pimento Cheese Biscuit in the near future.
269 US Hwy. 158 East, Camden
Nothing basic about the pimento cheese options in this downtown Wilmington café. Start with the Southern Canape: pimento cheese (based on the owner’s grandmother’s recipe), cukes, deviled eggs and spiced pecans. The pimento cheese sandwich is chilled and served on warm bread. Pro tip: Sit at the bar and order the martini of the day. 319 N Front St., Wilmington
Conrad & Hinkle
This small country store in downtown Lexington has been making Florence Hinkle’s pimento cheese since the 1930s. It’s made with American cheese, Kraft Real Mayo and pimentos. The hot version includes less pimentos and American cheese and more jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. 6 N. Main St., Lexington
Good luck choosing which pimento cheese dish to order: Pimento Cheese & Chips, Pimento Cheese Sammy or the Pimento Cheese Burger. Dooley’s recipe uses shredded whole cheddar blocks with roasted red peppers, mayonnaise, cream cheese and house-made secret seasonings. All items are made from scratch and only served warm. 102 E Main St., Wilkesboro
Hubba Hubba Smokehouse
Double your pimento cheese pleasure with a grilled pimento cheese sandwich (add pork or chicken) and a side of pimento cheese grits–all made in house. 2724 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock
A homemade scoop of pimento cheese served with sweet and spicy pickles with jalapeños and warm pita rounds was developed by former employee, Jeff Burns. He’s since brought it to his own place, Belcrosse Biscuit Company. Burns takes pimento cheese back to its New York roots by adding cream cheese to the recipe. 414 N. McArthur St., Elizabeth City
Everything about this Pimento Sausage Biscuit is local: Eggs from Latta Farm in Hillsborough and pork from pasture raised pigs sourced by Durham’s Firsthand Foods. The homemade pimento cheese includes cheddar cheese, roasted red peppers, green onions, spices and housemade aioli and hot sauce. 1002 9th St., Durham
The Southerly Biscuit Co.
If your mouth isn’t watering after this: Melted pimento cheese, from Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, on a fluffy buttermilk biscuit with an egg and hot sauce is the local fave for breakfast. 1206 N. Lake Park Blvd., Unit D, Carolina Beach
Sweet Potatoes (well shut your mouth!!!)
The Davie County or DC Burger is topped with melted pimento cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickled onions. 607 North Trade St., Winston-Salem
[Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Lexington. Cardinal & Pine regrets the error.]