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What’s the difference between pimento and palmetto cheese?

Pimento cheese and palmetto cheese are two Southern cheese spreads that are often confused with each other. Though they share some similarities, there are distinct differences between these two types of cheese that set them apart. In this article, we will compare pimento cheese and palmetto cheese side-by-side, looking at their ingredients, texture, taste, origins and uses. Read on to learn all about what makes these cheese spreads unique!

Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese is a Southern staple that has been around since at least the late 19th century. It is a spread made from aged cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos (sweet red peppers), and seasonings. The ingredients are blended together into a smooth, spreadable consistency. Pimento cheese has a creamy texture with a sharp cheddar flavor and flecks of diced pimento peppers throughout. It has a vibrant orange color from the red peppers.

Some key facts about pimento cheese:

– Main ingredients are aged cheddar, mayonnaise, pimentos, salt and black pepper. Sometimes Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce are added.

– Has a smooth, creamy texture when blended fully.

– Flavor is tangy, savory and mildly spicy.

– Bright orange color comes from diced pimento peppers.

– Originated in the Southern United States as a delicious way to use up extra cheddar.

– Often used as a sandwich spread, on crackers, in dips and on vegetables.

– Also known as Southern pâté.

Pimento cheese has been a staple of Southern cooking for over a century. The simplest recipes just call for grated cheddar, mayo, pimentos and seasonings. But many cooks put their own spin on it by using different shredded cheeses, spices, or extra ingredients like Worcestershire sauce. The basic ingredients and method have stayed the same over the generations. Pimento cheese remains a delicious and versatile staple in Southern pantries today.

Palmetto Cheese

Palmetto cheese is also a Southern cheese spread, but it has different ingredients that give it a unique texture and flavor. Palmetto cheese contains aged cheddar cheese, cooked rice, olive oil, jalapeño peppers and spices. The rice gives it a chunkier, semi-soft texture, compared to the creamy smoothness of pimento cheese.

Some key facts about palmetto cheese:

– Main ingredients are aged cheddar, cooked rice, olive oil, jalapeño peppers, garlic and spices.

– Has a chunky, semi-soft texture from the rice.

– Flavor is spicy, herby and savory.

– Often has flecks of green jalapeño visible.

– Originated in the South Carolina Lowcountry in the 1980s.

– Commonly used as a dip, spread, omelette filling or burger topping.

– Also known as “paw paw cheese” for the pawpaw tree leaves used historically.

Palmetto cheese was created more recently than pimento cheese, sometime in the 1980s. It was invented by a South Carolina cheesemaker seeking to create a product representative of the Lowcountry region. The use of cooked rice gives it a distinct texture, while jalapeños bring the heat. Palmetto cheese is still made in South Carolina and is popular throughout the South as a unique, spicy cheese spread.

Nutrition Comparison

Nutrient Pimento Cheese Palmetto Cheese
Calories 123 cal per 2 tbsp 70 cal per 2 tbsp
Total Fat 10 g 3 g
Carbohydrates 1 g 4 g
Protein 3 g 4 g

When comparing nutritionals, palmetto cheese is lower in calories, fat and carbs than traditional pimento cheese. Palmetto cheese has extra protein from the cooked rice. Pimento cheese gets most of its calories from cheese and mayonnaise. Both spreads offer nutrition in small servings.

Ingredient Differences

Let’s take a closer look at how the key ingredients differ between pimento cheese and palmetto cheese:

Main Cheese

– Pimento cheese is made with aged cheddar cheese. Traditionally the cheddar is grated or shredded, but some recipes may use cheese curds.

– Palmetto cheese also uses aged cheddar as the main cheese. The cheddar is shredded into small chunks rather than fully grated.

Added Ingredients

– Pimento cheese uses mayonnaise as the main dairy component, which creates a creamy texture.

– Palmetto cheese uses cooked rice and olive oil instead of mayo. The rice gives it a chunkier texture.


– Pimento cheese uses jarred pimento peppers, which are sweet and mild. This creates the orange color.

– Palmetto cheese uses fresh jalapeño peppers, which have a spicy bite. Flecks of green jalapeño are visible.


– Pimento cheese favors classic Southern flavors like Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, black pepper, and paprika.

– Palmetto cheese has a more herby flavor, with garlic, oregano, basil and other spices.

So in summary, the main differences in ingredients are mayonnaise versus rice, sweet pimentos versus spicy jalapeños, and traditional Southern versus herby Lowcountry seasonings.

Texture Comparison

Texture is another major difference between these two cheese spreads.

Pimento cheese has a smooth, creamy, spreadable texture when made properly. The mayonnaise acts as an emulsifier to blend the cheese into a luxuriously soft paste. It should easily spread onto crackers and bread.

Palmetto cheese has a chunkier, semi-soft texture from the rice. Shredded cheese curds remain in small chunks rather than blending fully. The rice grains also remain intact, creating a discernible crunch. Palmetto cheese is more scoopable than spreadable.

So pimento cheese will have a velvety, buttery texture ideal for spreading, while palmetto cheese is thicker and chunkier, meant for scooping with crackers or vegetables. The rice makes it retain a bit more shape.

Taste Comparison

In terms of taste, pimento cheese will have a sharper cheddar flavor because aged cheddar is the main ingredient. It will taste noticeably tangy, savory and cheesy. The mayo lends a creamy, rich mouthfeel. Pimento peppers add a sweet, mild heat. Classic Southern seasonings like paprika, Worcestershire and hot sauce round out the flavor.

Palmetto cheese also highlights aged cheddar for a robust cheese flavor. But the rice mellows out the sharpness. The overall flavor is mildly spicy from jalapeños, herby from oregano and garlic, and enriched from the olive oil. The cheddar still takes center stage but shares the spotlight with the other ingredients.

So in summary, pimento cheese delivers that nostalgic sharp cheddar taste with jolts of Southern flavors. Palmetto cheese has a more nuanced flavor with the cheddar, rice, herbs and jalapeño heat all discernible. The textures also affect the eating experience – pimento cheese is velvety smooth while palmetto cheese has more pronounced chunks.


Pimento cheese has a much longer history than palmetto cheese. It dates back to at least the late 1800s and originated as a way to use up extra cheddar cheese in the South. The first published recipes appeared in the early 1900s. It became more popular across the South during the Great Depression as an inexpensive meal.

Palmetto cheese is a relatively new creation, invented in the 1980s by a South Carolina cheesemaker. It was likely inspired by traditional pimento cheese but with regional Lowcountry ingredients like rice, jalapeños and olive oil. The name comes from the palmetto tree which grows across the South Carolina coastline.

So pimento cheese has an established Southern culinary history, while palmetto cheese is a modern twist using Lowcountry flavors. But both cheeses are now considered Southern classics in their own right.

Cost Comparison

Pimento cheese is typically the more affordable option between the two. Since it just requires basic ingredients like cheddar, mayo, pimentos and spices, it’s simple and inexpensive to make at home. Premade pimento cheese sells for $3 to $6 per 8-ounce container at the grocery store. High end and artisanal versions with specialty ingredients may cost more.

Palmetto cheese often costs a bit more, ranging from $6 to $12 per 8-ounce container. The rice and olive oil raise the price slightly. It also has a more complex flavor profile from the fresh jalapeños and herbs, so it is viewed as a more gourmet product. However, you can find some budget-friendly mass market palmetto cheeses too.

Here is a cost comparison:

– Kraft Pimento Cheese: $3.99 for 8 oz
– Cracker Barrel Pimento Cheese: $5.99 for 8 oz
– Publix Palmetto Cheese: $5.99 for 8 oz
– Pimento Cheese Shop Palmetto Cheese: $11.99 for 8 oz

So palmetto cheese is typically a dollar or two more expensive than mass market pimento cheese. But for some artisanal brands, palmetto cheese can cost nearly double.

Nutritional Comparison

Calories and Fat

Pimento cheese packs more calories and fat than palmetto cheese. A 2 tablespoon serving of pimento cheese has about 123 calories and 10 grams of fat, while the same amount of palmetto cheese has 70 calories and 3 grams of fat. The mayonnaise adds considerable fat and calories to pimento cheese.

Carbs, Protein and Sodium

Palmetto cheese has a few more carbohydrates and a bit more protein than pimento cheese. The cooked rice adds some additional carbs and plant-based protein. Palmetto cheese has 4 grams of carbs and protein per serving, versus 1 gram of carbs and 3 grams of protein in pimento cheese. However, pimento cheese is lower in sodium at around 200-300mg versus 500-700mg per serving of palmetto cheese.

Vitamins and Minerals

Pimento cheese provides more calcium at 14% DV compared to 4% DV in palmetto cheese. The larger quantity of cheddar cheese boosts the calcium content. Palmetto cheese contains 2% vitamin A from the jalapeños, versus none in pimento cheese. Both provide vitamin C, folate, iron and other micronutrients.

Overall, those looking to limit calories, fat or sodium may prefer palmetto cheese. But pimento cheese offers more calcium for bone health. Both make a tasty snack in moderation.



Both pimento cheese and palmetto cheese make excellent sandwich spreads. Slather them between slices of bread or on a roll to add flavor. Pimento cheese is a key component of the classic Southern pimento cheese sandwich. Palmetto cheese also shines in sandwiches with its spicy kick.


A dollop of either cheese on a burger adds a punch of flavor. Pimento cheese gives you that nostalgic cheeseburger taste, while palmetto cheese pairs nicely with spicy burgers. Both melt nicely over the hot patty.

Crackers and Snacks

It’s hard to beat the combination of pimento cheese or palmetto cheese on top of buttery crackers. Both also work well with pretzels, pita chips, celery, carrot sticks and other snacks. Palmetto cheese tends to hold its shape better for scooping.

Baked Dishes

Both cheeses can be used to add flavor in cooked dishes like dips, omelets, grits, stuffed peppers, or mac and cheese. Pimento cheese gives a creamy texture, while palmetto cheese adds spice and texture.

Grilled Cheese

A grilled cheese sandwich gets taken up a notch with a spread of pimento cheese or palmetto cheese on the bread before grilling. The cheeses melt beautifully into classic comfort food.

So in summary, both pimento and palmetto cheese can be used in similar ways as sandwich spreads, burger toppings, salad mix-ins, and for snacking. Pimento cheese has a slight edge in baking or grilling, while palmetto cheese is better for scooping.


Pimento cheese is found across the South, while palmetto cheese originated in and is still most popular in South Carolina. However, palmetto cheese has expanded beyond South Carolina and can now be found throughout the South in stores.

Here is a breakdown of where the cheeses are most prevalent:

Pimento Cheese

– Georgia
– Alabama
– Mississippi
– Louisiana
– North Carolina
– Virginia
– Arkansas
– Tennessee

Palmetto Cheese

– South Carolina (originally from Pawleys Island)
– Georgia
– North Carolina
– Florida
– Alabama

So while pimento cheese dominates most of the South, palmetto cheese holds its own in the eastern half between the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama. Both can be readily found in the South.


Pimento cheese is easier to find than palmetto cheese. Pimento cheese can be found premade or homemade at delis, restaurants and potlucks across the South. Major stores like Walmart, Publix, Kroger, Whole Foods and others carry pimento cheese in the dairy section.

Palmetto cheese is becoming more widely available but is still harder to find than pimento cheese. Your best bet is checking cheese shops, gourmet grocers or regional chains like Piggly Wiggly or Lowes Foods. Smaller towns may only carry it at indie stores. But it can now be ordered online as well.

Here are some places you can typically find them:

Pimento Cheese

– Grocery store chains
– Walmart
– Local delis
– Amazon / online

Palmetto Cheese

– Specialty cheese shops
– Gourmet markets
– Regional grocery chains
– Amazon / online
– Direct from South Carolina producers

So in summary, pimento cheese is widely available both nationwide and in the South. Palmetto cheese will take more hunting to find locally but can easily be bought online.


Pimento cheese remains more popular and beloved than palmetto cheese. It has long been a staple in Southern cooking and entertaining. Southerners grow up eating pimento cheese sandwiches, spreads, and dips at home. Almost every cook has their signature pimento cheese recipe that’s been passed down. It evokes nostalgia and tradition.

Palmetto cheese is gaining popularity but still trails behind pimento cheese. Since it was only created in the 1980s, it doesn’t have the generational love yet. But its popularity is growing beyond South Carolina as people discover its unique, spicy flavor. It’s often seen as a gourmet twist on pimento cheese.

So while pimento cheese reigns supreme for now, palmetto cheese brings an exciting new take on the concept. There’s room for both in the Southern cheese spread canon!


Pimento cheese and palmetto cheese share similarities, but each has distinct qualities that set them apart:

– Pimento cheese is smooth and creamy, while palmetto cheese is chunky from rice
– Pimento cheese uses sweeter pimento peppers; palmetto cheese uses spicy jalapeños
– Pimento cheese has classic Southern flavor, and palmetto cheese has Lowcountry flair
– Pimento cheese has an old-fashioned vibe, while palmetto cheese is more modern

The next time you reach for a cheese spread, consider whether your tastes run more classic or contemporary. Do you prefer sweeter and smoother, or spicier and chunkier? Let your flavor preferences guide you towards pimento cheese or palmetto cheese for a tasty Southern treat. No matter which cheese spread you choose, you can’t go wrong with two Southern favorites.