A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of staying at Blackberry Farm, located in the rolling foothills of East Tennessee. It is a beautiful place, like an adult summer camp. But it is perhaps most famous for its food. And it lives up to its name. It is a functioning farm, and most of the ingredients are grown on the property—the dishes changing with the seasons.
After a long, hard drive up from Birmingham, which involved a 10-mile traffic jam in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that rivaled anything I’ve seen in L.A., we arrived just in time to watch the sun set over the Great Smokey Mountains. Because we knew we would be late, we had called ahead and moved our dinner reservations to later that evening. This gave us time to unpack, freshen up, and have a drink at the bar before heading to dinner.
Along with our drinks, we had some of Blackberry Farm’s famous pimento cheese.
With the exception of fried chicken and barbecue, nothing is more “suthern” than pimento cheese, though deviled eggs are a close second. Just about every southern boy and girl has grown up with a pimento cheese sandwich in their lunch box.
The late North Carolina writer Reynolds Price once said that pimento cheese was the “peanut butter of my childhood.” So true. Food and memory are tightly wound together; even more so in the South—it is the common bond between young and old; black and white.
I remember my mom making pimento cheese sandwiches that we ate in the car on the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my Dad driving through the nighttime darkness of the Great Dismal Swamp on a Friday night after a long day at work. Pimento cheese sandwiches were also a quick picnic lunch; a quick snack after school; and present many times at family reunions.
There’s just something relaxing about a pimento cheese sandwich. Maybe that’s why they serve them at The Masters, the epitome of Southern gentility. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed that pimento cheese during happy hour at Blackberry Farm.
But as I got up to stroll over to dinner, I realized that life is not always so gentile or so conclusive. Like many things in the South (or life in general), pimento cheese engenders some rigorous debate, everything from how it should be made to whether it’s any damn good. And then I realized that maybe we all like the idea of pimento cheese more that we like pimento cheese itself.