Who invented cheese dip?

cheese dip with chips
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Have you ever wondered who invented cheese dip? And when? I don’t always ponder these things, but I did wonder why the World Cheese Dip Championship was held in Arkansas. So I looked it up.

Apparently cheese dip was invented in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1935 by the owner of Mexico Chiquito restaurants. It seems hard to believe, I suppose because it’s so common now (around here, anyway), and it’s the type of dish you just assume always existed.

Let me back up, though, because I realize not everyone knows what cheese dip is (and you should know!). It’s basically melted cheese with spices that you eat by dipping chips into it. It’s important to get the consistency just right so it sticks to the chip while being thin enough to dip into and staying that way throughout the meal. In its most simple form, you can make it with a pound of Velveeta cheese and a can of Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies. There are countless variations on this, adding various cheeses, spices, meats, chili, etc. The most common chips used are tortilla chips, like Tostitos, or Fritos Scoops. (Doritos works well, too.) Adding lots of spices and seasonings tends to lead to diminishing returns, where it becomes considerably more work while producing marginal gains (if any). At the World Cheese Dip Competition, there are many variations, usually mostly good, but when they try too hard it sometimes doesn’t work well.

At the World Cheese Dip Championship website, there is a video about the history of cheese dip. It is very much amateur in production, but it’s somewhat interesting if you’re interested in such things. (See what I did there?) It’s 19 minutes long, so below are a few highlights if you aren’t going to watch it.

In the video, you meet a chef who trained under Emeril Lagasse and opened a restaurant in central Arkansas after Hurricane Katrina. He said he never even thought of offering cheese dip on the menu because, in his words, “I just don’t even think of it as an actual dish.” Then he started to notice it on menus all over the place, and all his workers started asking about it, so in a staff meeting he asked, “Is there something I need to know about cheese dip?”, and everyone was dumbfounded that he had no clue, because all the regulars here took it for granted. But later on, the chef said he still doesn’t consider cheese dip a “thing”, that it’s just part of nachos. The film director exposed the chef’s ignorance, stating that nachos were invented in 1943 by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. (Side note: So it took people 8 years to pour the cheese dip over the chips and consider it a dish?) The story of how nachos were invented is at 14:20 in the video. Nachos aren’t the same thing, even if the ingredients are similar. If you also don’t “get it”, I encourage you to try it. It sounds simple (and it is), but it is awesome. And it complements many other foods well. (And by many, I literally mean many — that’s why most restaurants in Arkansas offer cheese dip.)

The editor-in-chief at the Arkansas Times said, “Cheese dip is the national food of Arkansas.” (Don’t think too hard about that… it just means it’s a big deal.) He also said the uniqueness of cheese dip in Arkansas is its ubiquity. (That’s an unusual way to put it.) Later he talked about which chip he prefers for dipping, based on the tensile strength for scooping up payloads of cheese dip (and chunks in some varieties). It does matter, and I have to agree that Fritos Scoops are my preferred choice, though many options are great (like Tostitos and Doritos).

Regarding the nutritional value of cheese dip, well, it doesn’t matter! 🙂 It’s one of those foods worth eating “right” even if you have to eat it less often than you’d like to. 🙂 Actually, you might be surprised to realize it has some healthy qualities to it. Rotel is basically a can of chopped up vegetables. Of course there’s cheese, but some nutritionists are saying the saturated fat in milk products is not as unhealthy as saturated fat in red meat. And if you use Fritos or Tostitos, those are vegetables. I know, no one believes me, but look at the ingredient list for yourself, and you’ll find: corn, corn oil, and salt. (In a discussion on this someone pointed out that corn can be a vegetable, fruit, or grain depending on what state it’s in, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.) So frame it from this angle and you’re dipping veggie chips into a cheesy veggie dip. (That doesn’t sound good at all, but remember we’re talking about cheese dip. I’m just trying to help you rationalize it in case you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy, like me.)

I saw a website that lists a “cheese dip trail through Arkansas” that features several restaurants which are “famous” for their cheese dip. I haven’t tried all of these yet, so it sounds like a great idea to do someday.

There are even annual awards for the best cheese dip in the state, and every year that category receives more votes than any other category. It’s a big deal, even though we might take it for granted here.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about it. Are you familiar with cheese dip? Do you eat it regularly? If not, are you going to try it? What state/area/country are you from?

2014 National Cheese Dip Competition

cheese dip research, 11-8-12, 2A couple of the Buffet o’ Blog staff attended the National Cheese Dip Competition this year.  Let me just say it was AWESOME!  And let me also add that next time attendance is required for all Buffet o’ Blog staff — just because you don’t want to miss it.

Perhaps I should quantify my opinion.  It wasn’t like a carnival or state fair — there were a few side activities and music, but the primary event was trying lots of different cheese dip recipes.  If that sounds like a good time to you, then you should definitely go.

There were around 15 entries in the competition, including both amateurs and professionals.  Fortunately, there was plenty of cheese dip to go around, at least while we were there.  And all but one of the cheese dips were good.  The one that failed was trying to be healthy — which may not have been the whole problem — but it was both too liquidious (runny) and grainy at the same time, somehow.  Perhaps just that one batch was messed up, because I can’t see them entering that.

I think the amateurs outperformed the professionals in the competition, and I even voted for an amateur group.  When the final results came out, my choice didn’t win, but I don’t think the voting results are necessarily fair.  Each person who attends the competition gets two votes.  However, additional votes can be purchased, which is where I think it’s not fair.  For a restaurant entering, it would be worth investing several hundred dollars for more votes, in the name of advertising.  Being able to display the championship logo and advertising that you won the National Cheese Dip Competition is a big deal!  That will result in more sales, no doubt.  For amateurs, a group with more money can sway the votes in their favor.  So I don’t pay much attention to who won.

Most of the entrants were from around this area, but one group was from San Francisco.  I learned that most people there don’t know what cheese dip is, but a guy from Jacksonville, AR, married a woman from San Francisco, moved out there, and told them they should sell it in their restaurant.  On a related note, all of the entrants were friendly, and it was just non-crowded enough that you could talk for a bit with them, which made the experience more fun.  We enjoyed asking them what made their cheese dip special, or what the secret ingredient was — we received some amusing answers.

Overall, I would give the event 4.5 stars out of 5.  The only real knock against it is that they didn’t have sweet tea.  (Hello, we are in the South here!  Besides, tea is very profitable.)  At least the bottled water and other beverages were affordable.

Speaking of profitable, all proceeds were donated to a group that performs medical services for those who can’t afford it.  That’s admirable.

Also, if you’re wondering why the National Cheese Dip Competition would be located in Little Rock, Arkansas, I’ll explain that in the next post.  🙂

Why is gas $9.99/gallon?

I saw this the other day while driving around central Arkansas.

gas prices 9.99 (not really) - July 2013

Fortunately it’s not true!  But that’s the actual sign — no Photoshop or other editing.  The gas station / truck stop has been completely demolished, to be rebuilt bigger and better.

They tore it down the old-fashioned way rather than blowing it up.  I can understand there being some logistical issues with exploding a gas station, but it would’ve been really awesome to see (albeit from a safe distance).  Plus there’s another gas station across the street, so you’d get a bonus two-for-one explosion!  There is also a nearby car lot, which would probably result in more explosions.  And there’s a large billion-dollar company close also.  So the collateral damage would get expensive really quick, and thus this cannot happen.

explosion, Gaza Strip, from Israeli F-16 jet, Jan. 3, 2009

I suppose that’s why we have movies and video games — so we can virtually experience such things.  But even with a large HDTV and nice surround-sound system, you still don’t get the full impact of a real explosion.  Besides the lacking bass, you don’t get to feel the resulting shockwave from a large explosion.  I wonder if movie theaters will ever be able to simulate that.  (There’s a project for our R&D department…)  🙂

burger challenge at Cheeburger

Last week the Buffet o’ Blog staff and a few friends met at Cheeburger Cheeburger in Little Rock, AR, to conquer their so-called burger challenge.  Their “challenge” is called “Our Famous Pounder”, and it starts with 20 oz. of beef plus whatever toppings you want.  It doesn’t sound too intimidating to me! If you eat it, they take your picture and put it on the wall with the other “Wall of Famers”.

Two of the guys in our group attempted and both conquered the burger, plus some fries and/or onion rings, and a regular milkshake.  While it’s an achievement worthy of recognition (hence the post), one of them requested his secret identity remain secret (probably so his wife wouldn’t know he ate the whole thing).

Of course more pictures could’ve been taken, but I had food of my own to eat, so this is all you get.  Besides, it’s not that much of a challenge.  I’ve eaten meals larger than that before.

About the food — the burgers tasted great.  There are many choices of toppings, including peanut butter.   None of us tried that, but one guy put pepperoni on his and recommended it.  We all added bacon to our cheeseburgers, which was good, but there were the usual comments of “needs more bacon”.  (For those not in the know, that is a recurring phrase on this blog. Just about any food could be made better with more bacon.)

The fries were average to me, but the onion rings left something to be desired.   (Maybe it was an off-night — I don’t know; this was my first time to this restaurant.)

The milkshakes were excellent!  Mine was chocolate with brownie batter, peanut butter, and Oreos.  They have a LOT of choices for milkshakes and malts — looks like around 70 options.  Someone at the table suggested a huge conglomeration of toppings, but it got to the point where there wouldn’t have been room for ice cream.  I suppose a line has to be drawn somewhere, unless they keep making the glass bigger as you add more toppings.

All in all, it was a great time.  It was a great choice for a guys’ night out.  Highly recommended!