And what exactly is a pimiento?

It’s no secret that we love pimiento cheese here at MyRecipes. Here’s everything you need to know about our favorite versatile cheese spread:

What Is Pimiento Cheese—and How Do You Spell It?

Chipotle Pimiento Cheese
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Pimiento cheese is a spread made with cheese, mayonnaise, and pimientos. Most recipes call for grated sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, but you could easily modify them with another firm cheese.

Pimientos are large, red, heart-shaped chili peppers that measure about 3 to 4 inches in length. The pimiento’s sweetness is similar to that of the red bell pepper, but pimientos are more aromatic and flavorful. If you’ve ever seasoned your food with paprika, you’ve likely tasted dried pimientos.

There are two acceptable spellings for the word: “pimiento” and “pimento.” Both variations are correct, but “pimiento” is the older of the two. It’s also listed first in The Food Lover’s Companion, a dictionary devoted to food, so we’ve chosen to include the “i” whenever we refer to pimientos.

Pimiento Cheese History

You may be surprised to learn the pimiento cheese, sometimes called the “pâté of the South,” does not have Southern roots.

It was actually first produced in New York “as a result of industrial food manufacturing and mass marketing,” according to Serious Eats.

The earliest versions—which can be traced back to the 1870s—used Neufchâtel, a soft and crumbly French cheese. However, it was replaced in most recipes by the increasingly popular Philadelphia Cream Cheese sometime in the next few decades.

It was around this time that pimientos made their way from Spain to the U.S.

These two new and exciting products found each other and, by 1908, Good Housekeeping was publishing recipes for sandwiches “filled with a blend of soft cream cheese, mustard, chives, and minced pimentos.”

Then, manufacturers did what manufacturers do—they packaged the popular spread and started marketing commercially made pimiento cheese.

In March 1910, a Minnesota newspaper ran an ad that read, "Pimiento Cheese—Something New.”

So how did this cheese spread with decidedly Northern origins make its way down South?

Georgian farmers began cultivating domestic pimentos sometime in the early 20th century. They also invented a roasting machine that made peeling the peppers easier.

At some point before World War II, pimiento cheese became a Southern staple.

Over time, cream cheese was replaced by Cheddar and mayonnaise (some pimiento cheese purists say Duke’s, others say Hellmann’s) was added to soften and homogenize the mixture.

How to Make Pimiento Cheese

Prosciutto-Asiago Pimiento Cheese
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Making pimiento cheese is easy—all you need is a block or two of cheese, a grater, pimientos, mayo, and some patience. Read all about our best pimiento cheese tips here.

Ready to try your hand at the indulgent spread? Here are a few of our favorite recipes: