You’ve probably heard by now that Chipotle has been experimenting with queso, that beloved Tex-Mex cheese sauce, and it’ll most likely be rolling it out across all locations within the next month. We sampled the stuff (for now, it’s only available at one New York location), and deemed it perfectly fine, if a little gritty; it’s not going to be the beleaguered chain’s savior, but it’ll probably sell just fine.
The thing is, it’s not queso. You can call it cheese sauce, but not queso. The fact that it (like everything else on Chipotle’s menu) is made with all-natural ingredients puts it squarely in the “not queso” camp. This is because queso — real-deal Tex-Mex queso — isn’t all-natural. One of queso’s indispensable ingredients is processed cheese (usually Velveeta), and that’s on Chipotle’s no-no list.
Queso can trace its origins to Mexican queso fundido, made with fresh green chiles and Oaxaca cheese. Neither of these foods were available to the Mexican immigrants who arrived in Texas in the first decades of the twentieth century, but Velveeta (which first hit the market in the 1920s) was, along with canned chiles and tomatoes.
Head to Austin today on a quest for queso, and you’ll find that the recipe is different at just about every restaurant that offers it. There’s one thing that they all have in common, however: an unapologetic use of processed cheese. It’s so standardized that any “queso” that doesn’t contain it can’t even really call itself queso — and Chipotle’s version falls squarely into that camp.