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Do we need Pimento Cheese Anonymous?

By Susan Shinn Turner

For The Salisbury Post

I did an informal pimento cheese poll on Facebook, and I’ll say it again: Rowan County has some big-time pimento cheese fans.

Tamara Sheffield likes Palmetto Cheese the best. It’s available at Food Lion, and, while it’s not a local brand, it’s also the favorite of David Whisenant, Kimberly Lentz, Amber Owen, Bishop Tim Smith, Margaret Basinger and Sharon Overcash Freeze. Sharon now lives in Harrisburg with her family but grew up in China Grove, and couldn’t resist giving her opinion, she says. Grove Girls are like that.

Faith native Kent Bernhardt admits, “I’ve been addicted to McCombs and Company pimento cheese for more than 50 years. If there were a PCA (Pimento Cheese Anonymous) I would be a recurring member!”

Melody Welch, who now lives near Asheville with husband Stan, always buys two containers of McCombs and Company pimento cheese whenever she’s in town. One of her sisters, Jill Fisher, says their family grew up two blocks from McCombs grocery store in Faith.

“Mom always bought a whole quart for our crew that Verne McCombs made. It’s the best there is,” she says. “My mom and I still make it together. It’s not McCombs, but we like it also.”

She adds, “We have tried other brands but no one, I repeat, no one makes it better than the McCombses!”

Julie Blalock, who took over making pimento cheese from her dad, Verne, says that business has been good this summer for McCombs and Company pimento cheese. It’s available at the Salisbury Farmers Market, Father & Son Produce, Simply Good, Tamarac Marina, A&L Mini Mart in Faith, Variety Produce in Rockwell, and its newest location, Patterson Farm in Mount Ulla. Julie adds that she’d like to find a distributor in China Grove as well.

Jason Brilliant likes McCombs and Palmetto. He says, and this is a direct quote, “I like both of those because they seem like they have actual cheese in them. The consistency is better. Not so goopy, with actual pieces of sharp cheese in them. I am just not a fan of imitation cheese, or any kind of cheese fakery!”

If she doesn’t make homemade, Rebecca Morton likes Conrad & Hinkle pimento cheese, which is made in Lexington. Truth be told, my mother makes the best pimento cheese around. But at age 86, she no longer wants to “mess with it,” she says, so she keeps a big ol’ container of Conrad & Hinkle in the fridge.

Which thrills Lee Hinkle to no end.

The owner of Conrad & Hinkle, he’s worked to expand the locations his pimento cheese is available, and locations now include Father & Son, McLaughlin’s, Farm Fresh Market in Kannapolis, the Stock Market in Concord, McCloud Organics in Huntersville, Fresh Market Produce in Hickory, Scott Meat Center in Statesville, Buffalo Shoals IGA in Denver, Southmont Grocery, Crossroads Mart in Linwood, and of course Conrad & Hinkle in Lexington.

“The months from May to September are our most popular months for pimento cheese,” Lee says, “with July being the peak month. As the temperatures rise, sales seem to go up, too. With the hot weather, people don’t want to cook.”

Lee says that people are pretty loyal to their pimento cheese brand. “Most people, when they try ours, they stick with it.”

On a typical week, he makes 1,800 pounds of regular and 300 pounds of hot pimento cheese.

It’s good to know if Mom doesn’t make pimento cheese anymore, Lee still does.

“If your mother or grandmother can’t make it, we’re a pretty good substitute,” he says.

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