The Masters inspires images of green jackets, Augusta National Golf Club's manicured grounds and ... pimento cheese sandwiches.
Pimento cheese, the classic southern spread traditionally made of cheese, mayonnaise and pimento (or pimiento) peppers, has become an absolute must-have sandwich filling at Augusta National for patrons and golfers alike. But how exactly did this simple dish become synonymous with a prestigious golf event like the Masters? And why, after decades on the concession menu at the famed golf course, do these popular sammies still only cost $1.50?
Gina Dickson, the Georgia-based recipe developer and writer behind food and entertaining blog Intentional Hospitality, says she considers herself an expert on the Masters' famous pimento cheese sandwich.
Dickson has lived in Augusta, Ga., since she was a young child, and says since her family always had badges (Augusta National's word for tickets to their golf tournaments) for the Masters, she would spend her spring break there with friends who were working at the event ... all while feasting on pimento cheese sandwiches.
"Their concession stands back then were in tents and you'd walk from one end to the other like a cafeteria line," Dickson recalls. "To this day, nothing about it is fancy. Everything is served in plastic biodegradable bags. It's not about being precocious — it's just about classic Southern-type food."
According to Dickson, the pimento cheese sandwich is a big deal in Augusta. And, she says Augusta National developing their current recipe for pimento cheese caused quite a stir in the small southern town. "For forty-five years, a caterer named Nick Rangos from nearby Aiken, S.C., made the Masters' famous pimento cheese," says Dickson. "This is the pimento cheese sandwich I grew up loving every spring break I spent on the course."
In 1998, however, for reasons no one seems to know for sure, Augusta National changed the catering company for the event. Instead of Rangos, local fried chicken restaurant chain Wife Saver, who already made the fried chicken sandwiches for the Masters, began making the pimento cheese sandwiches as well. As it turned out, says Dickson, this was no easy feat as they struggled to find a way to mimic the much-beloved original.
Rangos refused to share his recipe, which was dearly missed by locals and fans of the event.
"Wife Saver began to try to recreate Rangos' pimento cheese," says Dickson. "The owner and his team presented several batches to Augusta National but just could not get it quite right."
"Something was missing," she continues, "and luckily, a woman who worked for the tournament had frozen a batch of the original.”
Dickson says Godfrey and his team used this frozen batch to taste and adjust new batches until they finally found the perfect match. It's this hard-won recipe that's still served on the course today — and still costs just $1.50.
Michael Collins is a professor at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., founder and CEO of WinCap Financial and an avid golfer and Masters fan. At a sporting event the size of the Masters, Collins says it's definitely possible for Augusta National to keep their food the same low price year after year.
"One of Augusta National's goals is to offer an affordable experience to its fans," Collins tells Yahoo Life. "Since tickets are incredibly hard to come by and especially expensive, the club emphasizes its goal to offer an enjoyable experience that allows fans to simply focus on the golf. It makes sense why the sandwich goes for only $1.50, especially when considering this goal and the simple ingredients."
"Plus, the high-ticket costs are another reason why the Masters can afford to charge such low prices on their food and beverages," he says. "Another possible reason may be Augusta's constant drive for tradition. Why change the prices if it's tradition?"
According to Dickson, tradition is of the utmost importance to Augusta National. It's what she has seen make this event — and especially this sandwich — so special.
"It's a big deal here, and the reason the sandwich is so good? I have no idea," she says. "I don't know why people love it. It's just that it's pimento cheese and we're southerners. Everybody wants a piece of that feeling of true comfort food when they come to the Masters."
Never tried pimento cheese before? Dickson describes the mixture as "a savory spread with a hint of sweet pepper that is creamy."
"It's really just cheese, mayonnaise and a few little seasonings," she says.
Inspired by her love for the sandwich, Dickson has created her very own version of the famed Augusta National pimento cheese recipe, staying as close to the ingredients and flavors used at the event as possible. Her biggest advice for home cooks looking to serve the Masters tradition at home? The sandwich has to be served on basic white sandwich bread, just like on the golf course.
Although making it at home will certainly afford you a similar taste, Dickson explains there's nothing quite like the original experience.
"When you go and eat it, it's not necessarily that it's this great pimento cheese sandwich, which it is, but it's that you are at Augusta National, eating in one of the most gorgeous places on earth," she says. "Everything tastes better. The beer is better, the food is better — and it's because you're standing there in this gorgeous place."
Masters Pimento Cheese
Courtesy of Gina Dickson at Intentional Hospitality
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4-ounce jar pimentos diced in jar, drained
1 tablespoon onion, very finely minced
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow to firm.
Serve on white bread.
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