Certain choices are too personal to mess with: Religion, politics, and pimento cheese. A number of years ago, I did a pimento cheese tasting and I swore I'd never do it again. The pimento cheese you like is the one your mother made, and I never argue with a person's mother.
But never say never. I've been hearing about a couple of newcomers in Harris Teeter recently, Charlotte-based Augusta's and the cleverly named Palmetto Cheese from Pawley's Island. When co-worker Shannon Crisp stated ranting about her addiction to Palmetto, I thought it was time to give them a try.
I arranged a blind-tasting of Palmetto, Augusta's (both in the original or non-jalapeno form) and the venerable Ruth's Pimento Spread, made in Chester, S.C. Then I pulled together two avowed 'minter cheese addicts, Crisp and writer Olivia Fortson. As the person who covers parties, Fortson knows her way around a dip tray. We put out number-coded plates of all three, along with celery and crackers, and got to work.
All three of us choose the same favorite and the same second favorite. We also were able to identify the three correctly. The spreads were that different in taste, texture and appearance.
The unanimous favorite: Palmetto Cheese. Besides having a little peppery kick, the shredded-cheese texture impressed us all. That texture made it seem the closest to homemade. "It tastes like my mom made it in her kitchen," said Crisp. "I want to grab a recipe and make things with that."
A close second: Augusta's. The texture, we all agreed, was too smooth and creamy. But we all liked the flavor, which was a little sharper with a bit more bite. It would make the best party dip, especially for spreading on celery sticks.
Third place: Ruth's, which was declared "too orange and too sweet," with a flavor that reminded us of Kraft Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise. But Ruth's wasn't necessarily a loser. Crisp noted that it was the kind of pimento cheese she grew up with, and she knows for a fact "it makes the best grilled pimento cheese sandwich."
If you still have a beach-house week ahead of you, I'd recommend packing along a tub of both Pawley's and Augusta's. Take plenty of crackers and do your own tasting.