Pimento cheese—the heady blend of cheese, mayonnaise, and pimento peppers—is a thick, spreadable delicacy that’s known as the paté of the Southern United States. Like other patés, pimento cheese can be dressed up or down, but the classic recipe uses cheddar and cream cheese swirled with the mandatory mayo and pimentos. Slathered between two slices of white bread, the pimento cheese sandwich is a Southern institution, and at the Masters Golf Tournament held at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia each year, it’s a tradition locals take very seriously.
While the main draw to the Masters is arguably golf, the pimento cheese sandwich has been a quintessential part of the Masters experience for some time. The tradition began in the mid-1950s, when a South Carolina caterer named Nick Rangos began selling his sandwiches to hungry attendees, gradually cultivating a fanbase that came to associate the golf tournament with his signature sandwich. His pimento cheese reign lasted nearly half a century, when in 1998, the tournament gave the sandwich contract to a local fried chicken restaurant named Wife Saver. Rangos, jilted from his position, refused to give up his beloved recipe (in fact, he took it to his grave) and so Wife Saver set out on a long and ambling mission to reconstruct it. They ordered dozens of cases of cheeses for experimentation, and delivered many attempts to the tournament’s concession committee, who rejected them all. Eventually, a woman who worked for the Masters stepped forward to save them. She had been saving a batch of the original recipe in her freezer, and with this sample, Wife Saver was able to reverse engineer a pimento cheese that satisfied the golf fans.
But in 2013, the tournament decided to start making the sandwiches in Augusta National’s kitchen. The owner of Wife Saver, like Rangos, refused to surrender his formula. The club’s new pimento cheese sandwich, while still $1.50 and sold in the iconic green plastic wrapper, is decidedly different: more heavily spiced, some say looser with mayo. Though fans were shaken by the abrupt end to an era, nostalgic snackers can still get a taste of the earlier version by picking up a tub of pimento at any of Wife Saver’s locations.