It would seem that homemade pimiento cheese—the classic Southern spread made with cheese, mayonnaise, and jarred pimientos—would be hard to mess up and even harder to differentiate between a good one and a bad one. Oh, but bad ones there are. Goopy, mushy, too much mayonnaise, not enough pimientos, and the most royal misstep of all: zero seasoning.
While the best pimiento cheese will inevitably always be the one you grew up eating, my grandmother's recipe has garnered quite the compliment from crowds. One weekend when I was young, she helped me set up a table at the neighborhood antiques and yard sale. Just for fun. All we sold were those pimiento cheese sandwiches—most likely for only $1 or less!—and we continuously sold out. There were lines. People came back for more. Others came by solely because they heard about the delicious sandwiches while shopping about or manning their station.
Once, her local deli even asked if she'd be interested in making big vats of it for their ready-made section after she gifted the owner a batch for Christmas. And every holiday season, transient guests are enamored with the stuff and request the recipe. Little do they know, it's shamefully easy. Her trick? She doesn't go light on the seasoning. She goes the opposite way. Just like her jewelry and lipstick preference, more is more.
My grandmother's secret ingredient might come as a surprise, and it's ridiculously simple: garlic salt. Preferably, Lawry's Garlic Salt. It's the course-ground one with parsley that comes packaged as a shaker with a bright lime-green top. She loads that into the classic combination of grated sharp Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and diced jarred pimientos. She also adds very generous shakings of black pepper—not the prettiest, but it's essential to master her blend.
The best way I can put it: If you think you've added enough garlic salt and black pepper, you probably need to add more. A lot more. It sounds silly, but with a recipe that thrives on being simple, it's the small things that make the difference between a ho-hum pimiento cheese and one that people remember. No need for anything fancy or complicated.
While my grandmother doesn't measure and relies on her taste buds—as well as, I'd like to think, her inherent Southernness—you can follow her ingredient list (grated sharp Cheddar, diced pimientos, small scoop of mayonnaise, black pepper, and garlic salt) for yourself or try one of our classic pimiento cheese recipes. Grab the crackers and sliced bread, and don't forget to give that garlic salt a good shake.