Since Nick Rogers' short film "In Queso Fever" was featured on the Oxford American's Web site this fall, he's been making the local talk show rounds, reminding fellow Arkansans that their beloved Velveeta and Ro-Tel delicacy isn't widely available beyond the state's borders.
"Everyone's just shocked that if they were to travel extensively throughout the U.S., they wouldn't be able to get cheese dip," says Rogers, who works as an attorney in Little Rock. "The reaction I get from everybody is we had no idea cheese dip wasn't such a big deal everywhere."
Cheese dip is such a big deal in Arkansas that the Arkansas Times includes a cheese dip category in its "best of" readers' poll – and regularly receives more votes in that category than any other. When Conway native Kris Allen was named as an "American Idol" finalist, his hometown Stoby's Restaurant awarded him free cheese dip for life -- a prize many Arkansans likely considered better than a record contract.
"Cheese dip is the national food of Arkansas," Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley tells Rogers in the film.
Loyalists pit the queso as being so irresistible that when Rogers, on-camera, asks his mother, grandmother and grandfather about the snack, the women spin theories about how the dip's goopiness brings people together, since they can't wander more than an arm's length away from the bowl. His grandfather, seated at the same table, spends the interview noshing on cheese dip.
According to Rogers, cheese dip was invented in the 1930s at the Arkansas restaurant Mexico Chiquito, where the proprietor's wife used her pantry of Mexican spices and traditional Delta sensibilities to devise the recipe. Like many classically Southern foods, cheese dip utilizes readily available, affordable ingredients.
"Cheese dip is a little bit of a departure from pre-Depression Southern cooking in that it uses processed foods," Rogers says. "But Southern cooking has always featured pimento cheese, so there is precedent for Southerners making unusual cheese choices."
Cheese dip -- which fans point out is not the same as nachos, since the cheese isn't poured over the accompanying chips -- may soon be venturing outside of Arkansas. Eager to find new buyers for their products, Velveeta and Ro-Tel are now pitching the preparation across the country.
"It's something they're increasingly trying to push," Rogers says. "They recognize that when people are introduced to cheese dip, they get hooked on it."