With Labor Day signaling the end of summer, it seemed a good time to turn in an essay on my vacation travels. Each year, we drive our outdoors-loving daughter Emma to camp in Tuxedo, North Carolina. This year was extra special because it marks the last year we'll courier Emma. She'll drive herself when she returns to camp as a counselor!
To up the milestone ante, we coupled the drive with college tours as we meandered through Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. At each stop along the way, we sought out the local food scene, exploring downtown and the arts districts. That's when a pattern emerged: Pimiento Cheese and Sweet Tea.
I love pimiento cheese and whether I should feel proud or embarrassed about this all depends on who you ask. Foodies consider it passé. Folks not familiar (my mother would call them "out of towners") with this southern staple may consider the cheese-mayo combo unappealing. I'm not a foodie, and I'm decidedly from the south. Therefore, I say, "Pass the pimiento cheese, please."
My friend Maggie Heyn Richardson summed up the love for this orange-hued spread in her Spatula Diaries for 225 Magazine: "This is the stuff of a shadowy kitchen at midnight where nobody sees you unearthing forkfuls from a plastic tub to spread on crackers or force into celery stalks."
Preach, Maggie. Except for the celery. I'm a Ritz cracker girl.
Imagine my giddiness as I found pimiento cheese on just about every menu during our trip. I was even happier (possibly a sugar rush) to wash it down with syrupy-sweet tea, never being asked, "Sweet or unsweet?" From the sliders at Southern Ale House in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to the cocktail-hour cheese board at The Graduate Hotel's Foundry in Athens, Georgia, pimiento cheese was proudly presented on menus.
Our favorite was our lunch stop in Athens at Heirloom. The pimiento cheese with house-made crackers made for the perfect midday meal. Plus, their vegetarian options made Emma very happy.
Our final stop was Vidalia in Boone, North Carolina. Their pimiento cheese appetizer featured sorghum hoe cakes versus the traditional crackers, and their pimiento cheese ravioli was a treat.
With this trip marking our last drive to Emma's camp and her impending exit from our nest, I was experiencing all the feelings. Thank goodness for all that pimiento cheese and sweet tea for providing a little southern comfort.
Check out my recipes for Smoky Hot Pimiento Cheese and my favorite Vanilla Simple Syrup for sweetening iced tea.