Some of our favorite recipes are the kind that can be endlessly riffed on to suit your tastes, the occasion, or what's in your fridge on a given night. We've partnered with Hidden Valley Ranch to highlight one such dish: addictive, melty queso blanco.
Here’s the baseline way to make queso: Chop up a pound of Velveeta, put it in a double boiler, add a can of Rotel, and stir on low until everything melts. That’s it. Oh, and eat greedily with chips.
This molten heap of cheese is addictive, yes—beloved, indeed—and in a lot of the Southwest, it's a prerequisite to your parties. There is no party without queso.
But as with all venerated dishes (especially hot cheese), variations abound. Lisa Fain had an original recipe list of 250 quesos for her book, Queso (yes, there’s a whole book on the topic). During her road trip around queso country, she found versions with everything from Indian chutney to plant-based cheese. Even so, Fain writes in her book “although this Tex-Mex bowl of gold, as it’s often called, is widespread throughout the rest of the state and beyond, there is still much room for innovation.”
We took that as a challenge: Find a master queso recipe that’s endlessly riffable. It was an easy job, and we did it. You can thank us later. Here are the basics of our queso recipe:
Velveeta is technically not a cheese, but it melts amazingly—so well that it doesn’t need any stabilizers to keep it creamy when melted. While its superpowers are not lost on us, our master recipe instead uses white American cheese and Monterey jack for a few reasons. Mostly, flavor: Because American cheese is a mix of cheddar and Monterey jack, it has a stronger, more pronounced flavor than Velveeta. Monterey Jack has a mild, milky creaminess, making it a nice counterpart to the American cheese.
They’re also easy to shop for and work with: American cheese is a processed cheese you can find at the deli counter; they’ll even slice it fresh for you, making prep a little easier. It has a low melting point, but does need some additional liquid to hold together in a smooth sauce (hence a mix of milk and heavy cream in the recipe). Monterey Jack is also fairly easy to find and melts well.
If you want to switch up the cheeses in the recipe, pick ones that melt smoothly, like Gruyere, cheddar, gouda, or muenster. We suggest always keeping some quantity of American cheese in the mix so your queso is silky-smooth no matter what. Be sure to grate your cheese at home, as some pre-grated mixes have a harder time melting evenly. If you want to use more of a crumbly cheese, like feta or cotija, use it as a garnish instead.
When it comes to queso, it’s really the cheese, and then everything else. For a more adaptable recipe, we decided not to include chiles—though you can add chiles to yours in many forms: rehydrated dried chiles; charred, chopped fresh chiles; powders; canned chiles; and so on.
Instead, we added sautéed onions and garlic, which are best friends to everything. Just see:
Queso aficionados and diehards will be unenthused by these variations. They likely will see no point in them, when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with old faithful (which is true!). But if you open your heart to all that cheese dip can be, you might find a version for every and all occasion. A pimento cheese variation garnished with chopped pimento. A rarebit version with mustard powder, Worcestershire, and stout; a buffalo version with hot sauce, shredded chicken, and ranch powder; an Italian sub iteration with Italian meats and pepperoncini. They sound good, huh? Want us to keep going?
Use the recipe below to follow some of our favorite variations, or make up your own. Be sure to let us know how it goes in the comments!
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 pound white American cheese, cubed
- 4 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
- Pico de gallo, chili powder, paprika, cilantro, scallions, sour cream, cubed avocado, and so on for serving
- Tortilla chips, for serving
You can use Hidden Valley Ranch for spicing up all kinds of dips, from beer cheese dip to cucumber dip to veggie dip. Keep an eye out for more great recipes featuring Hidden Valley Ranch that we'll be highlighting throughout the month.