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Qué Es Queso and Why Are Texans So Enamored With it?


ro tel queso dip recipe
Ro*Tel's Queso Dip Recipe. Photo: ConAgra Foods
"What the hell is that?" is the first question many non-Texans ask when they see the goopy Southwestern cheese dip chile con queso (queso for short and pronounced "kay-so"). The prevalent and heralded form of queso is a mixture of Velveeta and Ro*Tel canned tomatoes and chiles. It's usually orange, flecked with red and green chiles, and a crust forms when the dip begins to cool. At the risk of being run out of town: What's so good about that?

When queried, this writer's wife, a Texas native, her relatives and friends answer along the lines of "it's just so good!" Queso is good; so is cow's brains. Queso is creamy and spicy and won't run off a tortilla chip like other salsas. Crucial to understanding the dip is the facility with which it is prepared. Ready in five minutes, it's a fiesta favorite. Are there Texans at a party you're hosting? Whip out the queso and welcome the adulation. "It's just so good!"

Another reason is Lone Star pride. "Texans have a special place in their hearts for queso and Ro*Tel. Both originated in the state," says Mike Locascio, vice president and general manager at ConAgra Foods, Ro*Tel's manufacturer.

It's also a staple at Tex-Mex restaurants, where the dish doesn't always come from a box or can. "Using Velveeta is against our 10 commandments," says David Joseph, owner/chef of El Patio, an Austin, Texas, institution since 1952.

"We use onion, tomatoes, sweated jalapeños, water and Extra Melt Cheese (like Velveeta, but richer)," says Parker H. Scott, Jr., director of operations at Casa Rio on San Antonio's Riverwalk. Asked why queso is so beloved by Texans, Scott suggests, "Because it's easy to eat with many foods -- chips, over hamburgers, over enchiladas..."

It's tasty, adaptable and multipurpose, but this Slashfoodie still doesn't get it. Give us your opinion in the comments below.

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