Main Course

Partying with Pimento: The ‘Comfort’ Cheese

Since the Atlanta Falcons have made it to the Super Bowl, we thought it was only fair to represent the team's hometown with a tasty twist on a cheesy ATL treat.

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This weekend’s Super Bowl showdown is between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. And since we featured a cocktail made for us at a Boston bar earlier in the show, Rico figured it’d only be fair to represent Atlanta on this episode as well, in food form.

So our producers Khrista and Jackson looked into the food culture of Atlanta and learned a big thing there — and throughout the south, actually — is what’s called pimento cheese. Which also happens to be showing up on menus near DPD’s Los Angeles headquarters right now. So, he went over to the restaurant Plan Check and spoke to executive chef Sean Yontz, who serves it in sandwich form. He kicked off the conversation by asking him to tell us the classic pimento recipe.
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Sean Yontz: It originally started with grated cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and chopped pimento.

Rico Gagliano: Now what, what is pimento? My whole life I’ve been eating pimento-stuffed olives…

Sean Yontz: Pimientos were a imported roasted red pepper. In the early, I don’t know, 1900s or so when imported pimientos from Spain started being too expensive, Georgia took on, they were farming red peppers and making pimientos. This is where the “I” kinda got dropped and it started to be pimentos.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, to distinguish it from the Spanish?

Sean Yontz: I’m not sure why. I’m not sure how that happened but that’s around the time that it started to happen.

Rico Gagliano: So you said the basic recipe of pimento cheese is shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimento. I’m assuming that it has changed since then. There a lot of variations?

Sean Yontz: Oh, I think there’s a ton of variations on it. Through the rest of the 1900s up until like the early ’40s or ’50s, I think, it was still kind of a classic home economic recipe. I can kinda remember growing up and my mom making pimento cheese for like parties. Or like, stuffing celery. You know, I don’t really remember the pimento cheese sandwich as much as the party favors.

Old school dish of celery sticks stuffed with pimento cheese mixture. (Photo Credit: Warren_Price / Thinkstock.com)
Old school dish of celery sticks stuffed with pimento cheese mixture. (Photo Credit: Warren_Price / Thinkstock.com)

Rico Gagliano: It’s like a dip almost or a stuffing.

Sean Yontz: Exactly. And it kinda went away for a while, I think, in the ’80s and ’90s.

Rico Gagliano: Sure, I mean, it’s, as you say, it sounds almost like a ’50s Betty Crocker Cookbook kinda thing.

Sean Yontz: Exactly. And then right around the 2000s again there was kind of this resurgence.

Rico Gagliano: Why do you think that is?

Sean Yontz: I think it started with Georgia, I was doing some research and I think it started back in Georgia again. The Georgia state cheese board or something like that brought up, “Hey, we should start this whole thing on the resurgence of pimento cheese.”

Rico Gagliano: It’s like a hometown pride thing.

Sean Yontz: Right, right, right. And, of course, that’s kinda something that chefs kinda dig on. If there’s something that was in the past, let’s do our version of it and let’s see how it works with our food.

Rico Gagliano: And what have you done with it? I’m sure all sorts of fancy things.

Sean Yontz: Well, we’re not a super fancy restaurant. We’re a comfort food restaurant. And pimento cheese is the quintessential comfort cheese, you know?

Rico Gagliano: It’s old, kind of, it’s like mid-century America at its height.

Sean Yontz: Yeah, exactly. So, one thing that’s perfect for us to use pimento cheese with is our fried chicken sandwich. It’s just a great condiment for the fried chicken sandwich.

Rico Gagliano: And it makes it a lot healthier. I think what you’ve done is doubled down on the unhealthiness of fried chicken, which sounds great.

Sean Yontz: After we found that our pimento cheese was so great, we thought, “Hey, why don’t we do a pimento cheese sandwich for our happy hour, for our bar.”

Rico Gagliano: So what is your recipe? Is it really just those classic three ingredients, just like shredded cheese, mayo, and some pimento?

Sean Yontz: No [laughs]. We use cream cheese, cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, miso, smoked salt, cayenne. And then instead of the traditional roasted red pepper pimentos, we do a green pimento, which is: green olives, jalapeno chilies, poblano chilies — roasted, of course. Some scallions and… I already said green olives, yeah. And that, that’s it, yeah.

Rico Gagliano: You said this was kinda simple, that’s like, you’ve got miso in it, I don’t think that’s in the original recipe.

Sean Yontz: Ours is not simple.

Rico Gagliano: Talking about this makes me desperately wanna try one. It’s about 11:00 a.m. and I haven’t literally eaten anything to prepare my belly for this.

Sean Yontz: Definitely.

Rico Gagliano: It looks, delicious. It’s actually, it’s nice, it’s a more diminutive sandwich than I’d expect. I spent some time in New Orleans and I don’t think I’ve ever had a sandwich this small in the South, but it is really beautiful looking, actually.

Plan Check's Pimento Grilled Cheese & Bacon sandwich before Rico ate it.
Plan Check’s Pimento Grilled Cheese & Bacon sandwich before Rico ate it.

It’s round, it’s nice and grilled and buttery on the outside. And it’s in this cast iron, a small cast iron skillet and, actually, it looks like there’s stuff on it or is that all mixed into the cheese in there?

Sean Yontz: The cheese is already mixed with all the green chilies and green onions and olives that I told you about before. This has our bacon and then a couple of little pickles on the side.

Rico Gagliano: ‘Cause it wasn’t rich enough with the cheese and peppers and miso.

Sean Yontz: No. Bacon is always better.

Rico Gagliano: All right, we’ll see. Here we go. Well, it’s not like I didn’t expect to love it. On account of it’s mainly fats and smoked pork product. But it’s really good. A little salty, is that pretty typical of pimento cheese?

Sean Yontz: It’s a little salty but nothing over the top.

Rico Gagliano: I’m getting the heat on the back end right now.

Sean Yontz: Yeah. That’s always good.

Rico Gagliano: I feel like, I feel like if the Atlanta Falcons are eating this… I don’t know, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? It might slow them down a little on the field.

Sean Yontz: I think that might slow them down. That’s definitely beer drinking food.

Rico Gagliano: This is for after the Super Bowl, guys.

  • Matthew Beckman

    Gimme a break, this was so poorly researched. The stuff has been popular in the South forever. Asking a chef from LA who is riding a trend to give the history of a food is like asking a radio host to describe how the mic works–outside their wheelhouse. And, just google Pimento Cheese and you’ll get a better description than Mr. Yontz provided. Also, just try a real Pimento Cheese sandwich, not one of these doctored and in-authentic versions made for the nouveau riche.

  • Shebupp

    It would be wonderful to make their version at home…or at least to give it a shot. Do you know if there’s a recipe available, anywhere?

  • Lisa Pfister Callaghan

    Thank goodness you had pictures. I’m finally listening on my ipod and came here hoping there was a picture of that sandwich!!