Food News

Great Moments in Cheese History: Chipotle Adds Queso

Here's something we never thought we'd see: queso at Chipotle.
Here's something we never thought we'd see: queso at Chipotle. Courtesy of Chipotle
The history of cheese in America includes many momentous occurrences. In 1831, Wisconsin’s first farmstead cheese factory was opened in the town of Koshkonong. In 1918, Velveeta was invented by Emil Frey of the Monroe Cheese Company in Monroe, New York. And in July 2017, Chipotle Mexican Grill reversed earlier corporate pronouncements that the company would never offer queso on its menu.

In 2016, Chipotle even released a humorous video mocking the possibility of an all-natural queso that included the question, "Do you think there's a magical cow that squirts queso out of its udders?" But the burrito chain recently switched gears and began letting customers sample a new queso formula at its public test kitchen in New York City earlier this month. In Colorado, we'll get to give the liquid gold a go at all Chipotle locations beginning Tuesday, August 1.

The main obstacle in creating a product that fits with the company's ethos — captured in the motto "food with integrity" — was coming up with an all-natural recipe that would maintain a smooth, thick consistency. Many queso products are made with American cheese or similar processed-cheese substances that melt without breaking, but Chipotle describes its newest menu addition as "a blend of cheddar cheese with tomatillos and chiles," and there's also adobo seasoning in the mix, which adds a slightly smoky flavor.

Chipotle has dubbed the product "Genuine Queso," and it will be available in several formats. For $1.25, you can add it to your entree order (burritos, bowls and tacos, for example). You can also get a four-ounce portion for $2.05 (for doing queso shots) or a small or large order of queso and chips, at $3.45 and $5.25. The latter comes with a generous eight-ounce portion of the molten cheese.

Necessity proves to be the mother of invention once again. Chipotle has struggled to regain its customer base over the past two years after a series of food-borne illnesses sickened customers in several regions. Stocks were beginning to recover from a dramatic drop after the incidents, but are now as low as they've been since 2013, dropping 8 percent on July 18 after a new norovirus report hit the news; the incident was isolated to one store, however, and second-quarter earnings are up on the whole, the company announced.

If there's anything that can cause a corporate stock surge, it's queso, especially one made without preservatives or artificial ingredients. But Chipotle is also toying with other ideas to draw more customers, including testing drive-up windows.

That's another great idea — unless you combine an eight-ounce tub of hot queso with a drive through Denver's construction-heavy streets.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation