by Ian Froeb
I don't know whether to be proud or ashamed of the fact that, before Super Bowl Sunday, I'd never knowingly consumed Velveeta. I don't admit it to gain snob cred. Store-brand yellow American was my cheese of choice growing up, except for a little Kraft Cracker Barrel-brand cheddar now and then.
At any rate, when my wife said she was going to make cheese dip for the Super Bowl -- that, really, the only reason she would watch even part of the game this year was to eat the cheese dip (and, OK, maybe moon a little over Tom Brady) -- my first reaction was, "Hell, yeah." Then, she made out the shopping list. For the dip, she needed Velveeta and Ro*Tel.
She nodded. "I ate it all the time growing up. All. The. Time. Don't you remember Velveeta's ads? 'Velveeta melts better than cheddar.' I think Velveeta maybe declared war on cheddar."
I vaguely remembered something like this. And I certainly wasn't going to press the point if it meant no cheese dip. So I resigned myself to eating Velveeta for the first time. Resigned -- but also, secretly, curious. Later, it occurred to me I might never have knowingly had Ro*Tel-brand diced tomatoes and chiles, either.
(My family didn't go in much for Tex-Mex food growing up.)
The game began. I cracked open a beer and watched the Giants driving and driving and driving. It lasted -- what? -- ten minutes? It seemed like two or three times as long, at least. I was already hungry (I had a pot of chili simmering, and every few plays I'd dash back to the kitchen for a taste -- just, you know, to make sure I had the seasoning right) and now I was starving.
"Should I make the cheese dip?" my wife asked.
The recipe is disarmingly simple. Cut a block of Velveeta into cubes, mix in the Ro*Tel and heat until warm. If my wife had started to make the dip at the beginning of that first Giants' drive, we would have been eating it before they kicked the field goal.
The dip was ready. I took a tortilla chip from the bowl, scooped up the medium-thick mixture and -- bang! That salty, tangy and, uh, cheesy flavor. Maybe I'd never had Velveeta before (I probably had), but I'd certainly enjoyed the hell out of some processed cheese growing up: Those cheese-and-cracker Handi-Snacks (you know, with the little red slab of plastic for spreading the cheese), and Combos, the little cheese-stuffed pretzels that claim to be made with real cheese. I must have eaten tens of thousands of those foul little fuckers during my adolescence.
Would I be overreaching to call that first bite Proustian? Yes. Yes, I would. But the first half of that game really did drag. And by the time the game turned exciting, the dip was gone.