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According to FDA standards, the sauce is technically not “cheese"
May 13, 2013 7:42 AM   Subscribe

The history of baseball stadium nachos.
posted by Chrysostom (58 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice article.

Oddly though, I love baseball and like nachos, I have never had ballpark nachos.
posted by jonmc at 7:54 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've encountered this before somewhere. It's a good food history story.

I'm kind of a serious nachos aficionado, but I'm more the Wisconsin-cheddar type than the cheez-whiz type. By far my favorite nachos in my long experience are served at The Grog tavern in Newburyport, MA. They are chock-full of veggies, including fresh crunchy quick-pickled jalepenos and the all-important black olives and small chunks of marinated tomato, and they come with three salsas: red, green, and a sour cream-cilantro concoction that is compellingly tasty. What's more, if you get them with chicken, they offer a slow-cooked, falling-apart shredded chicken gently spiced with cumin and cayenne. NOM. Want some right now.
posted by Miko at 7:55 AM on May 13, 2013


Every time I insist that I want tacos RIGHT NOW to the extent that my partner ends up shrugging and saying, sure, I'll change my plans, let's head out and get tacos... I get nachos instead. What's wrong with me?
posted by ardgedee at 7:59 AM on May 13, 2013


Be careful. Wrigley field food is apparently deadly.
posted by srboisvert at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2013


I've recently stopped eating carbs, which made finding food on a recent trip to Yankee Stadium difficult. I did not regret that I couldn't eat the "nachos" on offer.
posted by Jahaza at 8:05 AM on May 13, 2013


I get nachos instead. What's wrong with me?

You are a superior human being, prone to unpredictable fits of Being Awesome.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:07 AM on May 13, 2013


This post was a success: I now want a big plate of nachos.
posted by codacorolla at 8:08 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


MY WORK HERE IS DONE.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:11 AM on May 13, 2013


There's definitely rules on what can be called cheese. That's why those processed burger cheese slices are described as 'cheese food' on the wrapper in the UK. Don't mess with the Cheese Police.
posted by colie at 8:13 AM on May 13, 2013


For once, "don't read the comments" doesn't apply: three comments on the linked article, and three separate Alternate Nacho History theories. Hurray!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:18 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


My dad exports stuff, and a few years back he was doing land office business selling machines to heat up Nacho Topping to Tokyo movie theater operators. He also sold them one-gallon, soft-sided plastic packs of Nacho Sauce and -- worst of all -- jalapeno oil to go into the melted not-cheese-stuff.

I warned him that having that nasty crap around was like living atop an Indian graveyard, and I think he has since moved on to selling them popcorn. Better for the soul, and waaay less scary should a package leak.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's why those processed burger cheese slices are described as 'cheese food' on the wrapper in the UK.

So wrong on two counts, then?
posted by 1adam12 at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Alternate Nacho History

Well, now that Community is maybe coming back, I've got a spec script title.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:25 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've always wondered about ballpark nachos. I didn't really remember getting them at Indian's games growing up. Then it seemed like one year they were everywhere and had become this iconic ballpark concession.
posted by slogger at 8:26 AM on May 13, 2013


A fair amount what is labelled as cheese in the US doesn't qualify as cheese.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:28 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I warned him that having that nasty crap around was like living atop an Indian graveyard, and I think he has since moved on to selling them popcorn. Better for the soul, and waaay less scary should a package leak.

It's like this trailer, but instead of blood it's nacho 'cheese' product.
posted by codacorolla at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm a little weird, but my reaction to the article has nothing to do with food. I was thinking, "How cool to work for the Oxford English Dictionary and get an assignment like that."
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:31 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's odd that this article doesn't mention chile con queso, also Tex-Mex, and which surely has a very strong bearing on this subject.

Also, I'd always thought that nachos were sold at the stadium of the the Albuquerque Dukes, a AAA baseball team, at least from the 70s onward. But Liberto introduced them in DFW in 1978, so maybe what I'm remembering was after that? I'm not sure that I attended any Dukes games before the summer of 1982.

Anyway, nachos had to have originated as Tex-Mex because of the jalapeños — the only chile that Texans are aware of. (Because it's ostentatiously hot, see? Which also explains that, contrary to my previous assertion, you will encounter habeneros occasionally in Texas, too. But habeneros have a really good flavor independent of their heat. Jalapeños are mostly just hot.)

That said, nachos are among the few foods within which I enjoy jalapeños, as opposed to other varieties of chiles. All of which is odd and interesting because I moved to Dallas from New Mexico in 1983, just a few years after Liberto introduced them there at those stadiums†, and most of the places that served nachos provided jalapeños optionally.

As I was nineteen and a New Mexican mexican food snob who found Tex-Mex amazingly anodyne, places serving tortilla chips with chile-less cheese sauce epitomized to me everything that was wrong with Tex-Mex. So I'd sometimes sarcastically gripe (again, I was nineteen) that had I wanted chips with cheese sauce, that's what I'd have asked for. But nachos are Tex-Mex and jalapeños were always essential to them!

Of course this was DFW in the early 80s, which was undergoing a oil boom while the rest of the US was in recession, and almost everyone I met then had moved there from elsewhere, lots of people from the midwest and the rust belt, so it's likely that these folk were being catered to.

I frequently get powerful cravings for elaborate nachos, the more ingredients, the better. I don't know why. We have a family recipe of queso with green chile and sausage, which we all eat often, and everyone in my family goes through chips and salsa constantly. But sometimes I just have to have a huge plate of nachos.

Nachos aren't regional anymore, they're not an ethnic food. Like pizzas and tacos, they're a fully Americanized food that originated as an immigrant food but have moved far outside that context. They ought to include tortilla chips and cheese, but other than that you can pretty much put whatever you want on them. Like pizza. Go nuts. It's all good. But keep in mind: chiles are good for you!

† I'm writing in English. Sorry, peevers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:41 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nachos have to be the worst ball park food to accidentally step on.
posted by orme at 8:43 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Cheese food" is what you feed to cheese. "Cheeze Whiz", well...



(And because I'm from St. Louis: provel is lower than either of those.)
posted by Foosnark at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2013


Due to the general suckage of the Cubs these past few years, my number on the season ticket waiting list got called this year (after only waiting 7 years!). I'd always been a casual baseball attendee before, maybe 10 games a season. When you're going a handful of games per season, you can spend $30 at the concession stand and it's not that bad. When you're going to 80 games, that gets pricey.

Luckily, Wrigley Field has a pretty liberal picnicking policy, so we've been replicating ballpark favorites at home and just trucking them in. Serious Eats' stadium style nacho cheese sauce recipe is phenomenal. I mean, genuinely fantastic.
posted by hwyengr at 9:03 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's an art to ballpark nachos, a very small window of enjoyment between when the cheese has cooled to sub-lava temperature, and before it cools enough to get that "skin" and congeals to something resembling caulk.
posted by xedrik at 9:08 AM on May 13, 2013


Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in the early 80s, my uncle beguiles me with visions of the stadium nachos we're going to get in the old Tampa stadium. Soooo tasty, he says.

I got them and I was like, this is cheez whiz, what the fuck is wrong with you people, and why are your goddamn uniforms orange?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 AM on May 13, 2013


colie: “There's definitely rules on what can be called cheese. That's why those processed burger cheese slices are described as 'cheese food' on the wrapper in the UK. Don't mess with the Cheese Police.”

That may be how you do things over there. Over here in the US of A, we believe in freedom, specifically freedom of speech. And when we say we believe in "freedom of speech," we basically mean we think it's okay to paint blocks of fetid wax a dismal yellow and sell them with a label that says IMPORTED EUROPEAN CHEDDAR™. God bless America!

(Also, here in the US those single-wrapper processed slices are generally referred to as "American cheese." Apparently we are so very proud of those tacky gelatinized slabs of yellow goop that we see fit to denominate them with the name of our nation.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2013


Serious Eats' stadium style nacho cheese sauce recipe is phenomenal. I mean, genuinely fantastic.

It also makes a decent Mac & cheese in the time it takes to cook the noodles. So, about as fast as the blue box, but tastier.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:17 AM on May 13, 2013


That's not really accurate, koeselitz.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:29 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A fair amount what is labelled as cheese in the US doesn't qualify as cheese.

Some may not even qualify as food.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"A fair amount what is labelled as cheese in the US doesn't qualify as cheese."

Meh. I see a lot of industrialized cheese stuff the way I see mexican fast food (or similar) — it's its own thing, not to be judged by the standard of the Real Thing. Or Hollywood blockbuster action films. On their own terms, all these things can be good.

I love cheese so much, that even actual quality cheeses are insufficient to sate my craving. So I eat processed cheese, too, just because pretty much everything is better with some cheese added to it. I don't eat any of this processed cheese alone, though. Yech.

Cheese sauces are a bitch to make, however. You know, the sauces that are emulsifications using real cheese. At least for me — my attempts have all been dismal failures. I don't want to eat Velveeta as opposed to real cheese, but it's darn handy.

Dammit. First I was craving nachos, now I'm craving cheese. Time to run to the store to buy some maytag blue and water crackers. (Or some Stilton! OMG!)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:49 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least for me — my attempts have all been dismal failures.

Take it slow over low heat. You're just trying to melt the cheese into the sauce, not cook it.
posted by hwyengr at 10:09 AM on May 13, 2013


There is a notch down even from 'cheese food', which is labelled as 'American Slices', 'Slices' or 'Singles.' As a copywriter, I salute the ingenuity.
posted by colie at 10:11 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jalapeños are mostly just hot.

I disagree.
posted by glhaynes at 10:16 AM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I personally notice a big difference between "regular" American slices and Velveeta. I'm not going to compare Velveeta to a fine pecorino, but it's fine for grilled cheese. Regular American is pretty nasty.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:16 AM on May 13, 2013


Shredded mild cheddar is the secret to grilled cheese that no 3 year old can resist. So much better than the chemical tang of velveeta or the bland-yet-unpleasant goo of melted american cheese.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:22 AM on May 13, 2013


Thanks, Smithsonian. I want some gooey cheeze-product nachos so bad right now. There's a Mexican grocery a block from where I sit that sells stadium-style nachos alongside elotes made with fresh corn from a cart outside the front door. I think today's lunch is going to be so unhealthy it'll make jonmc drool with envy.
posted by item at 10:27 AM on May 13, 2013


I am a major cheese lover, smelly blue French and everything, but Kraft's sort-of-processed Cracker Barrel is addictively good.
posted by colie at 10:27 AM on May 13, 2013


'Sort-of processed'???
posted by item at 10:28 AM on May 13, 2013


As a veteran of the Texas bar and restaurant business in the 70's and 80's I feel I must make a distinction. Nachos are served by the plate. Each nacho is a tortilla chip spread with frijoles and topped with shredded cheese and a single large slice of pickled jalapeño. They can be cooked either in a microwave or under a broiler. The glop being referenced here however is similar to what we normally gave away for free at Happy Hour. A big can of "cheese" sauce mixed with Ro-Tel in a crock pot and ladled liberally over a basket of chips. Queso was the generic term. Great drunk food: salty, filling and cheap...
posted by jim in austin at 10:59 AM on May 13, 2013


Nacho "cheese" is great. For me, it's way more satisfying than whatever actual shredded cheese or real-cheese bechamel sauce I've had. I'm under no illusion that I'm eating food when I eat this.

Nachos are not a thing that should be eaten by humans. But if you're going to do it, you shouldn't dilute the experience by trying to elevate it. It's not a culinary experience at all, but rather a celebration of self-degradation and poor impulse control.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:10 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jalapeños are mostly just hot.

I disagree too. I grow them, and their flavor and texture is irreplaceable, even before you pickle them. They're grassy, firm and crisp with a low to medium heat (they're quite variable). Some have no heat to speak of at all, as mild as a green bell pepper.
posted by Miko at 11:16 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Artificial Processed Cheez-Flavored Food-Product Substitute.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:21 AM on May 13, 2013


Anybody know why jalapeños vary so much in temperature? And: if I pick one from the field and it's super-hot, should I expect the one right next to it to be, too?
posted by glhaynes at 11:42 AM on May 13, 2013


As it happens Texas A&M has done a ton of study on jalepenos and I read about somewhere in the past. The deal is that the capsicum (the hot compound) is concentrated mostly in the membrane and seeds of the jalepeno, and only in the parts of the flesh nearest the membrane. The amount of membrane and the size and number of seeds vary due to the development of the pepper itself - climate and moisture, ph of the soil, amount of sunlight they get (so a shady-side pepper can be different from a sunny-side pepper the same age), age of the pepper at harvest, etc.

Jalepenos are not a very hot pepper on the Scoville scale, even at their hottest.

A friend sent me some of these 'ghost peppers'/Bhut Jolokias from her garden last year. Man their heat is otherwordly. You pick it up on your hands just from touching the things, not even slicing them. Yowza!
posted by Miko at 11:51 AM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Awesome, thanks Miko!
posted by glhaynes at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2013


"I disagree too. I grow them, and their flavor and texture is irreplaceable, even before you pickle them. They're grassy, firm and crisp with a low to medium heat (they're quite variable). Some have no heat to speak of at all, as mild as a green bell pepper."

Heat of chiles varies by growing conditions and subvariety, but jalapeños are usually toward the hotter end of the spectrum among chiles that are commonly used in North American cooking, as you can see in the Scoville scale, where they place it equal to McIlhenny's original Tabasco sauce.

For a while in the early 90s I was the assistant manager of the "general store" associated with Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, and we stocked a huge variety of chiles and salsas and chile products. I was able to sample hundreds of chile varieties and salsas from around the world. My own impression was and is that jalapeños lack nuance in flavor and they're imbalanced between flavor and heat. This was the consensus of the chefs and other experts I've read, including Miller. That's why you don't really see much interesting cooking that uses jalapeños. Chipotles, though, are quite good because the smoking adds a whole bunch of complexity.

If you look at authentic Mexican cooking, you find that while jalapeños appear, they're not a staple the way that anchos and serranos and some others are. Jalapeños call attention to themselves, and not because of the heat. But also because North American cuisine tends toward the milder chiles, then as jalapeños are hotter then they call attention to themselves doubly so.

I've eaten chiles my entire life and since adulthood a reasonably large variety. Heat isn't a problem for me, per se, just when it calls attention to itself without any other corresponding virtues in flavor. There really are many chiles that do what jalapeños do, only much better, except maybe in nachos. Or on pizza, if that floats your boat. It's true that in a few contexts, the weaknesses of the jalapeño are its strengths. If you like the way that jalapeños announce themselves and overpower other flavors, then, yeah, you'll find them irreplaceable. Mostly, I don't. But I know people with wide experience with chile who like jalapeños, including family.

My complaint is mostly that the jalapeño is ubiquitous and exclusive in much North American mexican-influenced cooking where other chiles would work better.

On Preview: per Miko's comment, growing conditions make a huge difference, which novice chile growers discover (or don't discover and wonder what the hell is going on with their chiles). In all chiles the capsicum is concentrated in the seeds and membrane (which makes evolutionary sense) and for this reason heat can vary a great deal by storage and preparation. Freezing, in particular, will make chiles hotter.

And, yeah, in the grand scheme of things jalapeños are mild. But, again, if you restrict the range to only include the chiles that are commonly found in NA cooking, jalapeños are relatively hot.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:13 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A friend sent me some of these 'ghost peppers'/Bhut Jolokias from her garden last year. Man their heat is otherwordly.


Dry them (outside), pulverize them in a blender (standard mason jar will work on the right blender) and people who won't eat 'em fresh or sauce have told me that it adds flavor to their food.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:19 PM on May 13, 2013


To clarify: chiles are hotter the less they're watered. Generally, the more stressed they are, the hotter they are. So a common novice mistake is to baby them and produce unexpectedly mild chiles.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2013


Jalapeños are kind of like lagers. Sure, in principle there's nothing wrong with them; but here in America they've been produced so poorly and have become so deeply associated with awful contexts that a lot of us have just given up and decided to avoid them altogether. Then again, I live in New Mexico, where jalapeños are pretty much never used in cooking. Also, we don't have nachos here; we have frito pies.
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 PM on May 13, 2013


Well, there really are nachos in northern New Mexico. :)

I'm trying to recall, koeselitz, when the Woolworth's on the Plaza finally closed. That was basically the end of the Plaza's existence as something other than one big tourist attraction. Wasn't that after you moved to NM? I confess I never had the famous frito pie there, myself. Seems like there was a place in Las Vegas (NM) that was also known for serving frito pie.

I actually grew up eating frito pie for elementary school lunch. It wasn't really my favorite thing. Not that anything at elementary school lunch was my favorite thing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:33 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"For someting to be labeled cheese food, it must contain a minimum of 51% natural cheeses."

It would seem that 'American Slices' can legally be quite simply anything.
posted by colie at 12:39 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This post makes me sad. Something terrible happened to my body around age 38. I don't know what happened, but the result is that I can no longer eat corn. If I have so much as a single corn tortilla chip, I will look forward to spending the rest of the day curled up like a boiled shrimp wishing that I hadn't done eaten that chip.

This is sad. Very sad. Tortilla chips are my favorite vehicle for salsa or guacamole. I loved a big ol' plate of nachos with heaps of cheese, jalapenos, black beans, sour cream, salsa, and so on.

Corn on the cob is out. Flipping fresh butter and sugar corn from the local farm - I'll gladly shuck and cook it for my family, but it can't cross my lips. I can also tell when a restaurant puts corn oil in its fryer, so much so that I've given up on anything put in a fryer.

I would cause small, cute, animals grievous physical harm in exchange for a pain-free serving of nachos. Even if it is a bright orange polymer over stale, palate-impaling chip shards.

I miss corn.
posted by plinth at 2:10 PM on May 13, 2013


Ivan Fyodorovich: “I'm trying to recall, koeselitz, when the Woolworth's on the Plaza finally closed. That was basically the end of the Plaza's existence as something other than one big tourist attraction. Wasn't that after you moved to NM? I confess I never had the famous frito pie there, myself. Seems like there was a place in Las Vegas (NM) that was also known for serving frito pie.”

I'm pretty sure that was just right before my time here; I moved here in 1998, and as far as I can recall it's always been "Five & Dime" there, but from what I've heard it changed some time in the late 1990s. (That link there, incidentally, is to a New Mexico food blog which I highly recommend, as it is generally encyclopedic, well-written, and well-illustrated.) I have never tried the frito pie there myself either; just one of those New Mexico things I've got to do at some point. (And, yes, you're right of course – we do have nachos here. Heh. I just like to think of frito pies as our local equivalent.)
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 PM on May 13, 2013


IF---You left out the reason I personally disdain juhlahpennos, which I think is the reason they work for nachos: They're generally pickled, not roasted. So they're not just heat, they're salt + heat.
posted by PMdixon at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2013


I didn't realize that Five & Dime place had a lunch counter and served frito pie. That makes me feel a tiny bit better about the Plaza.

I think the Woolworth's closed in 1997 when all of them everywhere went out of business.

PMdixon, good point.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:28 PM on May 13, 2013


Man, NM nostalgia all up in here... Frito Pies in third grade, that weird Five & Dime place in Sahn-ta Fey.

I would like a breakfast burrito with green and bacon, no egg, please. Also a Lottaburger. And those weird tater tot things Allsup's had for a while when I was a kid that had cheese and green in there.
posted by PMdixon at 2:36 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man, Allsup's prepared food. I practically grew up on hot links. I never saw the tater-tots you describe. They sound really good, though.

Speaking of convenience store prepared food, and back on-topic, that year or so I lived in Dallas in 1983-1984 was when 7-Eleven introduced nachos†. I was only eighteen when I moved there and then nineteen until I left, and even with the booming economy I had trouble finding work. I did a lot of "light industrial" temp work.

But I was unemployed and broke much of the time and so the unsupervised nacho machine at 7-Eleven was my great savior. I'd drench those suckers in cheese and jalapeños to get as much "food" as possible.

† Also, laserdisc and player rentals!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:47 PM on May 13, 2013


According to Mefi standards, these words are not technically a "comment".
posted by notme at 3:51 PM on May 13, 2013


I'm not going to compare Velveeta to a fine pecorino, but it's fine for grilled cheese.

Heh. I don't mind it for certain uses, myself. In my family, though, the younger generation actually thinks that Velveeta only means the Velveeta® Shells and Cheese. And so it goes.
posted by dhartung at 1:00 AM on May 14, 2013


Made from a non-toxic cheese-like substance.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:46 AM on May 14, 2013


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