We are a family of queso lovers. No, really, G & I have a serious (love) issue with queso.
It all started when we were shopping for some football munchies last year at Target. G picked up a jar of Target brand queso and said something to the effect of, “I know you’re judging me, but I’m getting it anyway. You don’t have to eat any.” I was judging him and it did look gross.
But then I read the label–no weird ‘cheeze’ ingredients (you know, the non-vegan but non-cheese stuff), no questionable preservatives or sweeteners or what have you, just a normal list of cheddar cheese and spices and peppers, etc. Ok. So I tried a bit of it.
I’ve never looked back since.
While G may eat more of the gooey, liquid cheese dip than I do, know this: never stand between me and a bowl of cheese dip at a local Mexican restaurant.
Last week when I was in Atlanta grabbing lunch with some fabulous bloggers at Dough Bakery, I noticed an array of vegan quesos in the Gutenfleischers to-go fridge. Oh, you know I bought one. Deciding which was tough–mild, medium, or super spicy (it had glowy red streaks from peppers in it)–but I erred on the side of caution and went with the medium. For anyone who eats the queso at your local El Rodeo (or whatever it’s named in your town), it’s hard not to notice the visual similarity: a soupy white dip flecked with jalapenos. Plus 1 for looks. In terms of ingredients, it’s a a little freaky-long, but only because it lists all the ingredients in the vegan cheese. Without that list it’s simply: vegan cheese, jalapeno pepper, tapioca flour. WHAT THE WHAT?! I’m guessing it’s Daiya given the tapioca in the vegan cheese ingredient list, so my question is this: how the heck do you get a block of Daiya to stay all melty when your only ingredients are Daiya, jalapenos,and tapioca flour?! I don’t get it. It’s magic.
After carting the queso home without trying it (I had to open it first with G), I decided that a vegan queso-off between it and the other vegan queso I had in the house–Food for Lovers–was in store. Now, Food for Lovers is most definitely not available in Roanoke. The jar is actually a wee bit on the old side and was purchased during Food For Lovers’ Christmas Box Set deal. While you can now order jars of the queso on various online vegan groceries’ websites, a year ago you couldn’t and the Christmas special was the only way a jar of their much lauded queso was going to land in my house. So order away I did. (I also got the cutest little knitted queso jar warmer & a TX pepper tree ornament to boot!)
Food for Lovers Queso is a nutritional yeast based queso with a pretty small ingredients list: water, chopped green chili peppers, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, unbleached flour, salt, distilled vinegar, mustard seed, citric acid, calcium chloride, and spice. A fair bit of controversy swirls around the queso recipe, but plenty of positive non-recipe-stealing news led me to a need to try the queso.
So how did they stack up?
The first one I tried was Gutenfleischers. Blown away by the visual similarity to restaurant-style queso, I was super excited to taste it. Smooth, a hint of jalapeno, and tangy like a regular queso, it was pretty good. But not amazing. It just seemed a little bland. Not inedibly bland, just not authentic queso. It kept its texture well after being microwaved and, while maybe a bit too runny, I enjoyed being able to coat each chip in the cheeze.
Food for Lovers, on the other hand, was not particularly smooth or viscous, rather it was lumpy and thick. Not to say that thick is bad–just different. After I pulled it out of the microwave, I was a bit turned off by the off-color harder coat it had formed on top, but I was interested to see how the nutritional yeast and visible tomato and pepper pieces flavors worked. A much different style than Gutenfleischers, it was more like the Target brand in color (yellow-orange) and add-ins (chili peppers, tomatoes), and, overall I enjoyed the flavor. Strangely, though, I found it to have almost too much flavor, and wanted it toned down a notch. But the main detractor from the taste was the texture–more the texture of a refried bean dip, it clumped on the chips and, after it cooled slightly, looked incredibly unappetizing. I would have a hard time selling this queso to non-vegans.
So was there a clear winner? Definitely not. Each had their own appeal–Gutenfleischers’ reminded me of going to a Mexican restaurant, ordering a margarita, and talking the night away, Food for Lovers’ made me think of football nights and dark beer. Taste-wise, they hold different appeals: Gutenfleischers is smooth and creamy, Food for Lovers jam packed with spicy, rich noochy flavor. I think for a crowd, I’d want to go with both to please every side of the queso spectrum. For myself? I’ll admit: the best chip was one I dipped first in Food for Lovers and then drenched in Gutenfleischers. Total vegan queso heaven.