Grandma’s Queso

Queso might be directly translated as “cheese” in Spanish but it is so much more. Short for “Chile con Queso,” in our family, it was known as “Grandma’s queso” and it was sacred.

Comfort food hits the pleasure centres of our brain, often flooding us with memories that are cued by the sense of taste, smell, and texture. Comfort food can be vague, or it can be specific. It could be any Mac and Cheese, or it could be the specific Mac and Cheese from your favourite restaurant or family member. For me, comfort food is specific and that’s because everything my Grandma did was specific. She read specific books, watched specific shows, and she liked the specific shampoo (“You only need a dime-sized amount!”) and she liked the specific brand of potato chips and the specific bread. She would accept no imitations, and I loved this about her.

For this reason, it took her years to adjust the chile con queso ingredients in her recipe to achieve the ultimate specific balance between the smoky bacon flavour, cheese, and spice — all with the specific texture that unfortunately can only be achieved by invoking the naughtiest of ingredients: Velveeta. 

When Grandma passed away in August, I was reflecting on the subtle ways she influenced my love of food. A lot of people say their grandmothers are the best cooks, and of course, I’d like to think mine was exceptional.

This recipe is simple. You’ll not only enjoy making it but sharing it with others is part of the joy. 

You start with bacon and onion, then you add the secret ingredient probably not in your pantry: Velveeta. Then there is the added combination of spice (green chile) and a couple of specific types of cheeses. For my recipe, I prefer a combo of sharp/extra aged white cheddar and Monterrey Jack. Spice is also key - I used green chile I get from Costco in Kalispell but you can absolutely substitute canned green chile from local stores in Fernie. The cheese will mute the spice, so if you are keen for something with a kick, I’d recommend adding (seeds-removed) diced jalapeños (because the canned, local green chiles don’t have a huge kick). You can adjust the heat as you go, so keep some extra on the side in case you desire more. 

Chile Con Queso Recipe
Yields enough for a hearty appetizer to feed about 8-10 people. 
6 strips, raw, thick-cut bacon, chopped finely 
1 yellow onion 
3 small cans of green chile  
(Ortega brand is available in Fernie) 
2-3 seeded, diced Jalapeños
(optional for additional heat)
8 oz. Velveeta, cubed 
500 grams shredded extra aged cheddar  (I prefer white cheddar)
300 grams shredded or cubed  Monterey Jack cheese 
1+ cup of 2% milk 

Start with the diced bacon in a thick-bottomed saucepan/pot on medium heat. Let the bacon slowly cook and pour off the grease as it renders. When it’s crispy remove the bacon. Pat dry with a paper towel to remove additional grease. Without cleaning the pot, add the diced onion and let it cook on medium-high heat until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the green chiles and/or jalapeños and the cooked bacon back to the pot. Let it cook for an additional 2-4 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the Velveeta. You’ll be surprised by how perfect and fast it melts. (Is that why it says ‘liquid gold’ on the container?) Now you can add the other cheeses. As the cheese slowly incorporates, add half of the milk and stir constantly. Make sure to slowly fold all the cheese and ingredients together. In order to get an amazing consistency, you will likely need to add at least half cup more of milk, but sometimes it might be more. The milk helps to keep the queso from being too firm, which will break tortilla chips in half and could impede the queso consumption, which is sub-optimal. 

Ahh! Now you get to taste your creation and decide what it needs more of… More heat? More bacon? More liquid? Taste and adjust as needed. 

Check out my Instagram channel @clairesmallwood_ to see a video of me making Grandma’s Queso while camping.