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Eatymology: Cheese Dip

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Eatymology: Cheese Dip
Written by Erica Sweeney | Photography by Sara Reeves

 Cheese Dip 

[chēz-dip]

n: A gooey, melted snack claimed by central Arkansas 

Cheese dip is a big deal in Arkansas—just don’t call it queso. The origins of the Ark-Mex staple are largely traced to Arkansas restaurateur Blackie Donnelly and his wife, who started serving it at Mexico Chiquito in the mid- to late-1930s. So what’s the difference between Arkansas cheese dip and its Texan cousin? In a word, consistency. While queso clumps as it cools, cheese dip stays dippable because it combines natural cheese with the processed stuff. The two are melted and flavored with peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and spices like cumin and chili powder. Though recipes vary, cheese dip is served everywhere in Arkansas—in bars, pizza joints, and even from drive-thru windows. And, most home cooks have perfected their own recipes. It’s a comfort classic for Scott McGehee, executive chef and partner at Yellow Rocket Concepts, a Little Rock restaurant powerhouse that includes a brewery, burger shop, and modern-Mexican eatery. He serves four different versions across his five establishments, but the cheese dip at Ark-Mex spot Heights Taco & Tamale Co. in Little Rock is quintessentially Arkansan. He dubs it the “Five Families” dip, a melting pot that draws inspiration from central Arkansas’ five most legendary cheese dips, including one crafted by McGehee’s father, also a chef and restaurateur. While the native Arkansan keeps the signature recipe close to the chest, he shares an adaptation here.

Arkansas Cheese Dip Recipe