The pimento cheese sandwich at the Augusta National has become as much of a tournament staple as the famed green jacket or the blooming azaleas, but patrons peeling open its familiar green wrapping this year have uncovered an unmistakable change.
Wright Thompson, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, broke this so-called “sandwich stumper” story after noting this year's recipe had a bit more spice, maybe more mayo and even a different consistency than in the past.
But this pimento cheese conundrum is no mystery to Aiken resident Nick Rangos. Unlike the current chefs at the Augusta National, he knows the secret because he actually whipped up the fillings for the famed sandwich for decades.
Rangos' recipe was used in the sandwiches for more than 40 years, but it was dropped by Augusta National a few years ago after the club decided to switch contracts for the legendary menu item.
He estimated that millions of sandwiches were made with his recipe, but he couldn't exactly put his finger on what made it such a favorite at the tournament.
“I don't really know. There's no secret to it,” he said, adding coyly that he couldn't reveal the ingredients, especially to the Augusta National.
When he first began making the sandwiches, demand was actually relatively low. But over the years, he said, it skyrocketed.
“We used to practically give the sandwiches away back when I started, but after awhile, I couldn't make enough of it,” he said of the pimento cheese.
Rangos' granddaughter Nicole Cook said the sandwiches were made by her granddad and his crew at Owens Corning in Aiken and then transferred to the family's church in Augusta before being transported to the Masters.
“Unfortunately, I haven't had one in years,” she said. “But they're worldwide known, and lots of people who know me or know him comment on how delicious they are.”
Despite the popularity, the club eventually dumped him and gave the contract to fried chicken chain Wife Saver, the company in charge of making the club's chicken sandwiches for nearly 25 years.
Wife Saver owner Ted Godfrey said after the Augusta National decided to swap contracts, he set his sights on replicating the original pimento cheese sandwich.
His mission was made easier after he found out that a woman who worked in the tournament's kitchen had frozen a batch. However, after some trial and error and then ultimately finding the right kind of cheese, it still wasn't completely right.
Finally, he had an epiphany in the middle of the night and realized exactly how to reproduce the original sandwich.
About three or four years later, however, Augusta National switched again, deciding to go in-house with concessions, Godfrey said.
“It just kind of all worked out that they left the local people and went to a national chain,” he said.
He understood the club's reasoning behind it, especially with the need for oversight, but said nothing can match the handmade flavor.
“Anytime you do something by hand and you do it fresh every day, it's going to be better than if you mass produce it,” he said.
Of course, he added, they're missing one other key aspect that Masters patrons fell in love with years ago: The original recipe.