John Morgan is a renaissance man of sorts. An art teacher by day, Morgan is also a musician, second-place Jeopardy finalist and the fierce Queen City patriot who started the We Bee-lieve campaign in 2010 to bring the Charlotte Hornets back. His next quest for greatness: making pimento cheese. This March, Queen Charlotte's Pimento Cheese Royale came out swinging, backed by Jeopardy winnings and copious amounts of Charlotte pride. The cream cheese-based condiment is thick and rich, with coarse shreds of cheddar, pepperjack cheese and enough Duke's mayonnaise to keep them honest, says Morgan. We sat down with this friendly gentleman, who has a penchant for unbuttoning his shirt to questionable depths, to discuss how he got started, what he loves about our fair city and what's in a logo.
Creative Loafing: OK, so why pimento cheese? How did this all start for you?
John Morgan: I didn't like pimento cheese growing up. When I went to college, I started toying around with all these foods I never got into as a kid. I started making pimento cheese for the love of making it and for the sheer gluttonous pleasure of having a big bowl of ooey, gooey cheese. I scoured old cookbooks for every recipe I could find, tried every restaurant's version of it.
People would say, "You gotta package this stuff, man." I thought, if I have the time and the money, then I'll do it, but when is that ever gonna happen? When I was on Jeopardy last year, they ask you during the audition, "What are you going to do with your money if you win?" They got to me and, sort of off the cuff, I said, "I'm going to start a pimento cheese company." You don't lie to Trebek. The Jeopardy winnings were enough to get us rolling.
The cheese is quite Charlotte-centric. It seems like you have mad love for our city.
At a base level, there's the whole town pride thing. From a personal perspective, after all this Hornets stuff, I've seen this community come together. I think Charlotte gets a bad rep for being so transient or it's perceived that so many people use it as a stepping stone. There's a generation of people, specifically people who have grown up while Charlotte has become a major city, that really care. I love seeing this growing movement of local pride. It's not something that existed five or 10 years ago.
Tell me how you came up with your awesome logo.
There is no quintessential pimento cheese that says "This is Charlotte." On the logo, we've got the skyline on it. There are textiles represented by cotton blossoms and axes for the mining past. We added the hornet's nest of rebellion from the Revolutionary War, and our Panthers, Queen Charlotte and the state. The Queen's crown, which is our take on the municipal crown, is a hornet's nest made of cheese. The goal is to make something that looks familiar and fun. It should look like the Queen made this, Charlotte made this, you made it if you're Charlottean. I want it to be iconic.