Doodle by Isadora
Doodle by Isadora

By Isadora Pennington

I’m going to take a firm stand: cheese is one of the best things that has ever happened to humanity. Cheese can be many things, and comes in a variety of forms. Growing up, I mostly had cheese in the form of a grilled cheese sandwich, with the cheese acting as a great unifier between two pieces of buttery bread. It was, and still is, one of the only meals that I have actually mastered making on my own, save for that one time that I forgot I was making a grilled cheese sandwich at my grandparents house and nearly burned the house down (sorry, Granny).

And yet, despite my lifelong love affair with cheese, somehow I had never even heard of Pimento cheese until I moved to Atlanta as a young adult. In the years since, I’ve come to know and absolutely adore this bizarre, gooey cheese concoction as served in a variety of meals. The classic, a pimento cheese sandwich on white bread, is one of the most pervasive dishes to be found at weddings, church events and family gatherings.

But where, you ask, did this delectable cheese product come from? Surely, the South had a hand in its origins, right? I mean, look at its popularity here. It may surprise you, as it did me, that Pimento cheese was actually invented in the Northeast. Farmers in the 1870s in New York started making a soft cheese akin to French Neufchâtel, which evolved into cream cheese when mixed with cream. This newly available product was instantly popular, and chefs in the Northeast started experimenting with using it in a variety of dishes. Around that same time sweet red peppers started being imported en masse from Spain, and the Domestic Science (also known as Home Economics) women-led social reform movement began incorporating these two delicacies into plenty of creative concoctions, including the dish that we now know as Pimento Cheese.

So there you have it, the true origins of a Southern staple. New York farmers seeking to emulate French cheese manufacturers, imports of sweet peppers from Europe, and a bunch of highly creative and curious women seeking new combinations of foods with a scientific slant in their home kitchens. The dish has exploded in popularity since then, and can be seen incorporated into many different meals around this great city of ours. In this month’s article, I’ve sought out some of my favorite, most tasty Pimento cheese dishes from around town and documented them here for your review.

Sun In My Belly
Fried Green Tomatoes with smoky pimento cheese, $8.95. 2161 College Ave NE.

Sweet Auburn BBQ
Pimento cheese wontons with bacon marmalade served with sweet Thai chili sauce, $8. 656 N. Highland Ave. NE.

Victory Sandwich Bar
Pimento Jar with pimento cheese, bacon jam and toast slices, $6. 913 Bernia Ave. NE.

The Midway Pub
Pimento Cheese Fritters served with jalapeno bacon jam, $8. 552 Flat Shoals Ave. SE.

Little’s Food Store
A carton of house-made pimento cheese, $4.99. 198 Carroll St. SE.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.