No matter where you are from, chances are you often indulge in the warm, oozy, and comforting goodness known as a cheese dip… or queso dip...or is it chile con queso? That’s where the Great American Cheese Dip War begins: the interstate food feud over everybody’s favorite classic.
If you know some basic Spanish, you know that ‘queso’ means ‘cheese.’ And in this case, the debate might confuse you even more. What is there to argue about if it basically means the same thing? Both are served with tortilla chips, carrots, or celery (if you’re trying to stay on the healthier side of crunchy), or sometimes potato skins (highly recommended); both are absolute must-haves at a Superbowl Party or any low-effort friend gathering.
The truth is throughout the years, the popularity of this indisputably delicious cheesy dish with a disputable name has grown far outside its birthplaces (here’s your first clue, it’s plural). It’s made its way to menus at restaurants across the country, from Atlanta to New York City. And many of us (myself included) enjoy it immensely, all while being blissfully unaware of the debate simmering just below the surface.
As with most beloved foods and recipes (think Buffalo chicken), the origin stories are aplenty.
If, once again, using general common sense, you assumed the name ‘queso’ might lead to Mexico, you were wrong. Queso, or chile con queso (as Texans prefer), is as Mexican as our over-the-top Cinco de Mayo parties. The food Texas refers to as ‘queso’ is very different from ‘queso fundido’ commonly served as an appetizer in Mexico.
As we’ve already mentioned Texas, let’s start with the origin story they adamantly believe to be true. According to Texas food historian Robb Walsh in 1900, a restaurateur named Otis Farnsworth opened the Original Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio. It became the most successful Mexican restaurant in the state. Can you guess their top-selling item on the menu? Exactly! Chile con queso.
Unlike Mexico’s actual appetizer, ‘queso fundido,’ which is made using soft white types of cheese, Texan ‘chile con queso’ is traditionally made with processed American cheese, giving it the bright color we all know. The incredibly popular at the time Velveeta is usually the key ingredient if you look up some old-school queso recipes. There are way better options for killer homemade queso/cheese dips, but we’ll get back to it later.
We finally got to the exciting part. Back in 2016 WSJ article got many Texans all worked up and aggervated. Having been living in the shadow of Texas and its famous fajitas, Louisiana and its renowned gumbo, and don’t forget Tennessee and its Memphis-style ribs, Arkansas claimed cheese dip as their creation.
According to “In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip” by Nick Rogers, cheese dip was born and popularized in no other place but Little Rock, Arkansas. Apparently, cheese dip is a huge deal there. So big that Little Rock has been hosting “World Cheese Dip Championships” since 2010.
According to Arkansans, cheese dip was created by the owner of Mexico Chiquito restaurants, Blackie Donnelly, in 1935. They also claim to be somewhat superior to their Texas cousin queso because their cheese dip stays dippable as it cools thanks to a combination of natural cheese and processed stuff.
Not only that, but they also have Arkansas Cheese Dip Trail! And if you think it sounds like everything you have ever wished for, you are absolutely right. When everything around you is falling apart, and you’ve just had yet another portion of the anxiety-inducing world news, embark on a journey through the glorious cheese trail, and leave all your worries behind.
To say that this claim caused an interstate dispute would be an understatement… Texans were very passionate about their queso and came out with statements such as “It’s not called Ark-Mex but Tex-Mex for a reason,” “Queso is a Texan birthright,” going as far as saying, “When I die, drizzle queso over my grave.”
Such a commotion was caused; it prompted a cheese dip challenge in Congress! Remember how back in 2016, settling gastronomic debates was the main item on the Congress agenda? Ah, good ol’ times!
Senators from both Texas and Arkansas conducted a blind taste test to determine their favorite. Arkansas won. Their Texan counterparts responded with a graceful yet haughty invitation to “cross the border for some real cheese dip anytime.” Oh, the cheesy drama!
While we can argue and conduct cheese dip taste-offs, championships, and blind tests (which we wholeheartedly support by the way), it is doubtful we’ll ever decide on the best one ever. Can we at least agree that cheese dip, or queso dip, whatever name you prefer, is a dish that we all universally enjoy (yes, universally, there’s a dairy-free version for the lactose-intolerant cheese lovers as well)?
So shall we end this cheesy war and enjoy the creamy, gooey, cheesy goodness in all their forms, regional versions, and with all kinds of extras? There is no point wasting our time arguing when we can spend it making one of our all-time favorite cheese dips or perhaps trying out a new recipe. You can always say it’s just to prove a point at the interstate taste-off if you’re from the Bear State or keeping allegiance to Texas. We won’t tell anyone.
Here are some delicious cheesy dip ideas to start you off:
And, as promised, a cheeseless version for cheese lovers with lactose issues. Enjoy!