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Sorry to Burst Your Bubble, But RO*TEL Plus Velveeta Does Not Equal Queso

Velveeta Party Dip

A recent post on Slashfood asks, “What the hell is that?” The author, Jose Ralat Maldonado, explored the “queso” that is Velveeta and RO*TEL prepared tomatoes and chiles (and that’s the last time I’ll use that silly trademark). One of his premises is that Texans love the stuff. Another is that this mix was invented in Texas. He even admits he’s risking being run out of town. (He’s right, too.)

Jose made a good start over at Slashfood.com, but this article’s a bit over the edge. (He even wrote a nice article proving that the best tacos in the world are found in Austin; but you already knew that.) Yeah, Texans eat their weight in Velveeta Party Dip, even if it’s made with a cheaper cheese food substitute simulacrum product than that. Especially as football season approaches. Then again, we’ll eat our weight (and then some) in almost any snack food placed within reaching, walking, running or jumping distance of us when the game’s on. It’s a fact that about 57% of all party snacks are consumed by Texans during those stressful times. (No, I did not make that up; but I did estimate the number a bit. Here’s one I didn’t make up, though: About 5% of the population buys about 75% of all Velveeta sold in the United States.) Unfortunately, Jose missed with his slights premises about Velveeta Party Dip. Texans aren’t the only ones who eat it; Texans didn’t even invent it. And no, it’s not Queso.

Of course, when it comes to authentic, restaurant-grade chile con queso, I defer to the family expert, the inscrutable chefette Jessica. Unlike others in the clan who may over-indulge in the yellow-white goodness, she has taste. And she’s not afraid to use it. She knows which restaurants in the region serve the best chile con queso, and if any of us are going within a few hundred miles of any of the good places, we have to bring her back some of the dip. With fresh chips. She’s a purist, though, and doesn’t like any extra goodies in the dish, like extra onions or peppers, or fajita meat, or even guacamole.

So what does the expert, Jessica, think makes a great queso? First, great cheese. Not processed cheese food. Cheese. The good, melting Mexican kind. Like Chihuahua, Asadero or Oaxaca. (Hint: Free Cooking Guide! Get your copy now!!) These are all pale white cheeses, so don’t expect that neon-yellow color when you make chile con queso with a good quality, Mexican melting cheese. Then the chiles have to be great too. Poblanos, freshly roasted, peeled, deseeded and minced work best. Anaheims (or Hatch chiles) are great too. There’s no need for red bits, but if you must have them, then try some chopped pimientos, or a bit of tomato if you like. Cilantro is good in there too, but don’t overdo it. Remember: This is about the cheese and the chiles. Everything else is simply window-dressing. Use a bit of milk to thin out the dip if it’s too sticky. (My mom uses soy milk, even; but you know how moms are.)

Some of the best restaurant chile con queso comes to your table on a hot cast-iron plate, known as a comal. If it’s done well, it’s really, really good. Pair it with fresh, hand-made guacamole and you don’t need any other items to make a great meal. Well, okay; you need chips. Baskets and mounds of chips. And cerveza. The large bottles, if they have them. But nothing more. Okay, maybe some sour cream. But that’s really all.

So why is Velveeta Party Dip so popular? That’s easy to figure out. It’s quick; you simply mix and nuke in the microwave. It’s the same wherever you make it: Velveeta and Rotel. This dip doesn’t separate into oil and solids like some other attempts can; it’s always smooth (unless you over-nuke it). And yes, it tastes good when it’s piping hot. If you like your dip on the zesty side, use the Rotel extra-hot version. They also make a milder version of tomatoes and chiles for you wimps Yankees folks who haven’t developed a refined palate yet. And yes, if you’re really brave, you can add other stuff, like minced olives, black beans, roasted corn kernels (I still don’t know how they keep them from falling through the grill), or even Wolf Brand Chili. If your party crowd doesn’t like their Velveeta dip messed with, you could be in a heap of trouble. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Just remember, it’s a party dip, not chile con queso…

Enjoy the (Party Dip) Heat!

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