Author Notes: Throughout much of the southwest, queso is a prerequisite to any party. As with all venerated dishes—and 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, plus three variations—a zesty, spicy, jalapeño-ranch version using chopped jalapeños, white cheddar, and Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning; a pimento cheese version featuring pimento cheese, orange cheddar, and chopped roasted red peppers; and a French onion version with caramelized onions and Gruyére—all below. —Ali Slagle
Serves: 6-8 as an appetizer.
clove garlic, grated
cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
pound white American cheese, cubed
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
- In a skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then sauté the onions and garlic until translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the milk and cream. Once the dairy is warm, add the American cheese and stir to melt. Then add the Monterey Jack.
- Once fully melted, garnish with any toppings you like and serve with cumin-dusted tortilla chips.
For Jalapeño-Ranch Queso:
4 cups grated white cheddar instead of Monterey Jack
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning
Pickled jalapeños, parsley, Hidden Valley Ranch-seasoned tortilla chips (for serving)
In a skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then saute the onions, garlic, and jalapeños until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the ranch seasoning. Then proceed with the recipe as written above, garnishing with pickled jalapeños and parsley. Serve with ranch-dusted tortilla chips.
For Pimento Queso:
1/4 tablespoon celery salt
4 cups grated orange cheddar instead of Monterey Jack
1/2 cup drained roasted red peppers, finely chopped, plus more for garnish
Crackers and crudité (for serving)
Follow steps 1 and 2 as written above. Once the dairy is warm, add the American cheese and celery salt. Once melted, add the cheddar and red peppers. Once melted, serve with more red peppers for garnish. Serve with crackers and crudité.
For French Onion Queso:
2 tablespoons butter (instead of 1)
2 onions, thinly sliced, instead of 1 diced onions
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons white wine
4 cups grated Gruyère instead of Monterey Jack
Apples and toast (for serving)
In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the onions and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized, at least 30 minutes. Add the garlic, then deglaze the pan with the white wine; scrape up any fond that may be on the pan. Once the liquid has been absorbed, follow steps 2 through 4 as written above, using Gruyère instead of Monterey Jack. Garnish with chopped herbs and serve with apple slices and toast points.