Pimento cheese is a popular Southern staple; it’s eaten on crackers, sandwiches and even your favorite vegetables. Fans of the classic spread can head on over to the Town of Cary’s festival, “Taste of Pimento Cheese” for a week filled with cheesy goodness.
The festival was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and makes its return this summer. Rather than a traditional street festival with food trucks, the pimento cheese festival looks a lot different this year.
The town teamed up with 12 local restaurants to serve dishes featuring pimento cheese, all from a diverse array of cuisines. Dishes include a pimento cheese omelet at Daybreak, a kimchi pimento cheese brisket bao bun by MC Restaurant, and a waffle topped with pimento cheese at Ashworth Drugs.
The town also partnered with nearby breweries and small business Grazin’ Gals to sell charcuterie boxes containing pimento cheese, crackers and various meats.
“It's a chance for people to still be able to enjoy the festival and be safe,” said Ryan O’Quinn, the Town of Cary’s outdoor arts events program specialist. “Next year, we are looking to return to the full-on street festival. So this is just like a walkthrough.”
The festival originally started in 2018, inspired by the town’s popular food truck rodeos and the urge to differentiate the town from other local municipalities.
“We were looking at food options and realized that there was no festival for pimento cheese, so we decided we would make one,” O’Quinn said.
The festival’s first rendition had over 30 food trucks and six breweries participating, with each food truck featuring at least one item with pimento cheese.
In 2019, the festival grew even bigger. Participating food trucks and restaurants had a much wider array of offerings in addition to a sculpture carved entirely from cheese and even a cheese sculpting contest.
“Instead of doing something like an eating contest — which we didn't know what the results would be like in the middle of June — with eating large amounts of cheese, we decided we'd go with a sculpting contest and have that playing with your food vibe,” O’Quinn said.
With the pandemic slated to be over by next year, 2022’s festival is anticipated to be even grander in size and celebration. Future ideas include a one-stop shop for pimento cheese alongside featured restaurants and food trucks. There's also talk of inviting celebrity chefs like Ashley Christensen and Thomas Keller.
O’Quinn said that the town had been overwhelmed and was surprised by the success of the first pimento cheese festival, with people driving from as far as the Outer Banks and even Virginia.
“This year, we're not necessarily expecting that much traffic, but it's a chance to kind of get people back in the restaurants,” O’Quinn said.
The pandemic has been a source of financial strain on many small businesses and restaurants in the past year, and the town hopes that this festival will help boost downtown Cary establishments.
“The whole service industry itself has struggled really this past year, so it's a way to kind of highlight them,” O’Quinn said. “That's kinda what we're hoping to be able to do this year is get people back out a little bit and help some of the local downtown businesses that have been struggling over this past year.”
Visit the Town of Cary’s Taste of Pimento Cheese festival this weekend as it runs from June 4 to June 13.