Noah Brier | June 13, 2023

The Enchilada Edition

On San Antonio, lunch, and the magic of melty cheese

Noah here. I very much did not grow up in Texas. But I do love Tex-Mex food. Which, of course, includes enchiladas. But talk to a Texan about enchiladas, and you’ll quickly be put to shame by the seriousness with which they approach the subject. One ingredient in particular—the cheese—surprises many. Many of the most committed enchilada enthusiasts are American cheese purists—swearing by its meltiness for topping a perfect recipe. 

Why is this interesting?

While food snobs may scoff at the idea of American cheese, they would be even more taken aback when they hear what kitchen many San Antonians consider to be the finest enchilada maker on earth: the San Antonio public schools cafeteria. According to an amazing Texas Highways article, the history of the school favorite likely goes back seventy years:

A woman named LaVerle Billingsley, the longtime manager of North East ISD’s school kitchens, added them to the district’s menu in the 1950s, probably to take advantage of cheap, subsidized American cheese (read, “government cheese”). Thanks to its meltiness, it just so happens to be the perfect cheese for enchiladas. And so, recognizing the love San Antonians had already for cheese enchiladas, Billingsley made it a Wednesday staple, trusting the cooks in the district’s kitchens to come up with the recipe for the sauce and the chili gravy on top. Which they did.

Three things: first, I didn’t know anything about “government cheese.” Second, according to one San Antonio native interviewed for the piece, “The enchiladas were so good, they would actually chart increased school attendance on enchilada day.” That’s amazing. And third, there’s a recipe in the article if you want to try it yourself. (NRB)

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