In one of my favorite Better Call Saul scenes, the ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut is with two other men awaiting the arrival of a drug dealer, who will select one of them as his new bodyguard. One man asks Mike what he’s packing.
“Pimento sandwich,” Mike replies.
“No,” the man says. “What’s the make?”
Mike sighs. “Pimento is a cheese. They call it the caviar of the South.”
The man scoffs. Mike disarms both men and secures the bodyguard position.
I don’t know the moral of the story—pimento gives you super strength? Maybe. Pimento trumps guns? Probably. Don’t get between a man and his pimento? Definitely.
In Cary this Saturday, everyone will be packing pimento cheese. At least, the eight local restaurants competing in the second annual Pimento Cheese Festival will be. Festival-goers will vote on their favorite sample. The winner gets a ceramic pimento cheese sandwich.
The competitors include Postmaster, Tribeca Tavern, and Crosstown Pub, which won last year’s festival, as well as the local chain Ruckus Pizza, which will be serving cheese unadorned with toppings between two slices of bread.
“You don’t really top pimento cheese with anything. You just let the flavor soak in there, baby,” says Dave Beecher, owner and manager of the Ruckus in Cary.
Ruckus held a contest between its four locations to see which one gets to compete. The Morrisville location prevailed. The chef declined to provide the recipe, but I imagine it’s fairly standard: grated cheddar, cream cheese, pimento peppers, mayo.
You’ll find more offbeat takes among the more than twenty food trucks and vendors serving pimento-cheese-centric dishes at the festival. Though the cheese is a Southern staple, it will be incorporated into foods from a variety of cultures: crab rangoon at Umami on Wheels; ropa vieja melts at Spanglish; and even deep-fried pie, a classic Greek dessert at Gussy’s Greek Street Food.
Over ten thousand people came to the 2018 festival, says organizer Ryan O’Quinn. He expects an even larger crowd this year. To entertain the masses, this year’s festival will feature new attractions, most notably the professional cheese sculptor Sarah Kaufmann—one of few people who can lay claim to that job title—who will be creating a sculpture inspired by Cary’s public art.
“I’m gonna focus on those hot-button pieces of art that are important to the city of Cary,” Kaufmann says. “It’s going to be abstract. Your art is nice and modern and forward.”
Kaufmann will soon hold the Guinness record for the world’s largest cheese sculpture. She recently carved a 3,462-pound cheese replica of a crocodile. (In 2011, she set a previous Guinness record with a 925-pound cheese carving; the current record, set in 2015, is of a 1,524-pound cheeseburger.) The festival’s sculpture will be smaller. Kaufmann will use a 40-pound block of cheddar as the base, but she plans to integrate pimento into the work as well.
Festival attendees can also try their hand at cheese sculpting in an amateur competition. Mitch Samples, a local chef, will provide a sturdy, Play-Doh-like variation of pimento cheese that holds better and won’t melt in the heat. Two groups of participants will have three minutes to sculpt an item chosen by festival organizers, and the top two from each faction will battle for the title.
Kaufmann won’t judge the contest, but she says she’s willing to offer tips.
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