Imagine if you could eat, research, and cook your favorite food every day without ever getting tired of it. Sounds like a dream, right? This was my life last year when writing, Queso! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip. I became a full-time queso eater.
For the uninitiated, chile con queso, also known as just queso, is a smooth and spicy hot cheese dip studded with chile peppers, hence the name. The most popular style of queso is Tex-Mex queso, which has a processed cheese (hello, Velveeta) base that’s used for its superior melting abilities. At home, you might also throw in a can of diced tomatoes and green chiles. While this is what most people think of when they think of queso, there are many other styles, too, depending on where you are in Texas.
And yet a book had never been published on the subject. I decided to correct that oversight, and began my writing journey at the library, where I paged through cookbooks, newspapers, and magazines to chart the dish’s history and evolution. Field research was also in order, so I spent a month driving around Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas, eating queso and talking with home cooks and chefs about how they prepare the dish. After visiting nearly 100 restaurants and reading hundreds of cookbooks and articles, I had a spreadsheet with over 215 queso recipe ideas.
My typical day on the road would begin with a tasteless iceberg salad at my hotel’s breakfast bar (eating plenty of vegetables is key when you’re consuming quarts of liquid cheese every day) that I’d enliven with a scoop of salsa, then I’d hit the first restaurant on my list and order whatever queso was on offer in the morning. In El Paso, I ate queso huevos rancheros, which is fried eggs smothered in a yellow queso instead of the usual tomato salsa. In Laredo, I had a choriqueso breakfast taco oozing with melted Monterey Jack at Yoly’s, a friendly café filled with locals beginning their day over plates of eggs, beans, and mariachis, the name that Laredoans use for their morning tacos.
After breakfast, to let my first meal settle I’d write or research for an hour then go out for lunch and dinner, ordering all the quesos so I could sample everything. When I was alone, I got plenty of funny looks from servers. “That’s a lot of food,” they’d say. “Do you really want all that?” I’d assure them I knew what I was doing. When I was able to connect with friends and family on the trail, I’d invite them to join me in the queso quest. Because everyone loves queso, I was very popular.
Most of the quesos I ate were delicious and the challenge usually was restraining myself from inhaling the whole bowl. Though there were a few that gave me pause—my first impulse after eating some of the vegan quesos was to spit. Then there was an odd queso in West Texas that was unappealingly sweet and thick, and I still shudder when I think about one South Texas queso that clearly had been poured out of a can…
After my trip, I returned home to New York and began developing recipes. Every day, I’d walk to the grocery store and buy pounds of cheese, primarily American cheese from the deli counter, but also bricks of Monterey Jack, Muenster, Asadero, and Velveeta, along with cream cheese, cottage cheese, and almond-milk vegan cheese. The staff was friendly and never questioned why I was buying enough bricks of cheese to build a house. In fact, when I was away for a week, one of my counter guys asked where I’d been, saying he’d missed me.
Lisa Fain(@homesicktexan)님의 공유 게시물님,
As I tested and refined my recipes (my publisher requested I narrow my final count to 50 from 215, which was a challenge), I had a large amount of molten cheese dip on my hands. I shared it with others, though I also ate my fair amount. While I was still eating queso all day, I’d supplement my diet with lots of beans, salads, and grains high in fiber. My preferred queso dipper is tortilla chips, which I usually fry myself. But pickled carrot sticks also made excellent vehicles, as there’s plenty of crunch and the acid balances out the cheese. Strangely enough, I somehow lost 10 pounds! Perhaps it was all that walking and cheese lifting when I shopped for supplies, though my doctor noted it was probably due to less carbs.
It’s said that the proteins in dairy have opioid qualities and chile peppers also make you feel good, so I reckon it makes sense that queso would become addictive. Even on my days off of recipe testing, I’d find myself craving queso and I’d make a batch anyway. It’s been almost a year since I turned in the manuscript and I still keep my refrigerator stocked with cheese. I’d estimate I make queso at least twice a week, and I’m not sick of it yet.