Food & Drink

The Mystery of the Masters’ Pimento Cheese

What made Masters pimento cheese so special?

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

One of Augusta National's famed pimento cheese sandwiches.

Made fresh daily and wrapped in fairway-green plastic bags, the pimento cheese sandwiches at Augusta National—which will only put you back $1.50, $3 if you add chips and a sweet tea—are nearly as iconic as the illustrious golf course’s pink and white azaleas. But since 2013, more than one sports writer has commented on the distinct difference in taste and consistency of the pimento-studded spread. Longtime patrons, too. And they’re not happy about the change.

A brief history: For forty-five years, a caterer named Nick Rangos from nearby Aiken, South Carolina, made the Masters’ famous pimento cheese. Then in 1998, the club switched contracts and began using Wife Saver, the local Augusta restaurant chain that had been responsible for making the tournament’s fried chicken sandwiches—which are back on the concessions menu. (To add to the confusion, they are no longer served hot, and they are not made by the fried chicken pros at Wife Saver anymore either.) Back in ’98, led by franchise owner Ted Godfrey, the folks at Wife Saver set out to recreate Rangos’ pimento cheese. Godfrey and team presented several batches to Augusta National, but couldn’t get it quite right—something was missing. Luckily, a woman who worked for the tournament had frozen a batch of the original, and after comparing it to his version, Godfrey finally hit on a formula that seemed right. For the next fifteen years he served this recipe at the course during Masters Week. Then in 2013, the tournament changed vendors again. This time, people noticed. ESPN even investigated.

A container of Wife Saver pimento cheese.

Photo: Courtesy of WifeSaver

A container of Wife Saver pimento cheese.

What made Masters pimento cheese so special? Rangos, who passed away last year, even admitted he wasn’t sure. Wife Saver is tight-lipped when it comes to their version, too. “There are definitely a couple things we do differently,” says owner Chris Cunningham, who began working for the company his father founded when he was just twelve years old. “Like our fried chicken recipe, it’s very simple,” he says. “Simple is better.” Whatever the secret is, though, Cunningham is not divulging it any time soon.

But if you’re in Augusta this weekend and the tournament pimento cheese still doesn’t live up to the memory of sandwiches past, you’re in luck. You can visit the North Augusta, Fury’s Ferry, North Leg, or Washington Road Wife Saver locations and pick up a container of the original stuff—or as close to it as you can now find. Does it taste as good as it did when you were sitting in the shade of a pine tree on Augusta National’s stunningly beautiful course? That’s for you to decide.

This story originally ran on April 7, 2016.