Even pimiento cheese has become political.
Brian Henry, mayor of Pawleys Island and CEO of popular pimiento cheese brand Palmetto Cheese, made incendiary comments on Facebook in late August which linked a recent shooting in Georgetown, SC to the Black Lives Matter movement, referring to them as a terrorist organization. In a now deleted post, Henry wrote: “2 innocent people murdered. Not 2 thugs or people wanted on multiple warrants. 2 white people defenselessly gunned down by a black man. Tell me, where is the outrage? So why do we stand by and allow BLM to lawlessly destroy great American cities and threaten their citizens on a daily basis?”
It did not go over well among the pimiento cheese crowd.
Henry apologized shortly after taking the post down, and began a press conference the next day by apologizing for the post while doubling down and defending his company and his employees. Henry is entitled to his opinion and is well within his rights to post on his personal social media pages. What the man forgot is that he is a public figure and no matter what he posts, good or bad, could be disastrous for his company. He mentioned that a rebranding of the company is underway.
The most popular brand of pimiento cheese sold in the Southeast is owned by Henry and his wife, Sassy. By all accounts they seem to be a well-meaning white couple whose encourages people to email them at [email protected], who created a product label featuring a photo of an unsmiling black woman and created the company’s motto: “The Pimento Cheese with Soul.”
The whole façade is problematic because Black American faces, likenesses and depictions have been used to help white people profit off Black food for centuries. Recent changes in national brands such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth’s drive this point home. Despite the blasphemous use of Comic Sans font, the Palmetto Cheese label and its contents do not seem inherently threatening or divisive. Pimiento cheese is not historically classified as Black food, but the Palmetto Cheese brand’s success is linked to one black woman. Vertrella Brown, a longtime cook in the kitchen of the Sea View Inn on Pawleys Island — also owned by the Henrys — is the unsmiling woman whose likeness is used on the packaging and “added a secret blend of Lowcountry spices to give it an extra kick” according to a 2011 article in South Carolina Living magazine. Unfortunately, she passed away in April of this year. Perhaps the company already had a rebrand in mind because of this. Perhaps it’s time to cancel and denounce this brand in favor of a new one.
Pimiento cheese wasn’t always this complicated. There used to be a time when the only debate about pimiento cheese was whether to spell it with an “i” before the “e.”
At its most basic level, the stuff is made with shredded cheddar, mayonnaise and chopped pimentos or roasted red peppers. Variations sometimes include cream cheese, brined olives, bacon bits, pickle relish or jalapenos. At times it’s called “the caviar of the South” or Southern pâté alluding to style and sophistication, with an air of elitism. Really though, pimiento cheese is anything but.
Sandwiched between two slices of bread, slapped on hamburgers, melted in macaroni and cheese or simply scooped into a ramekin and served with crackers, pimiento cheese is best made at home but is perfectly acceptable to buy in-store. It’s for ladies who eat lunch (as well as attend them), and men who work on the line (as well as hold them). It’s one of those dishes that’s easy to make at home, where you can craft it to your liking, but you can’t resist picking one up when you see it on sale in the grocery store.
Whatever your thoughts on the cancel culture climate or free speech, plenty of local options exist so you can venture past Palmetto’s should you need your fix. Here are 10 Triad companies that offer the Southern staple.
Local options to try:
- Conrad And Hinkle (Lexington) – conrad-hinkle.com
- Jojo’s Homestyle Pimento Cheese (Winston-Salem) – jojoshomestyle.com
- Ms. Linda’s Pimento Cheese (Greensboro) – cornermarketgso.com
- Musten And Crutchfield (Kernersville) – mustenandcrutchfield.com
- My Three Sons (Greensboro) – mtsgourmet.com
- Red Clay Gourmet (Winston-Salem) – redclaygourmet.com
- Stan’s Pimento Cheese (Burlington)
- Star’s Pimento Cheese (Burlington) – starfoodproducts.com/products.html
- Uncle Chris’ Pimento Cheese (Winston-Salem) – facebook.com/unclechrispremiumpimentocheese
- Wolf Daddy (Greensboro) – wolfdaddyfoods.com