In Colombia, Cheese Is A Star Ingredient In Hot Chocolate

A traditional cup of hot chocolate is usually topped with marshmallows or whipped cream in the U.S., but if you're in Colombia, cheese is the standout ingredient. That's right — hot chocolate with cheese, called chocolate santafereño or chocolate caliente, is a comforting and integral part of Colombian cuisine. In fact, many Colombian households have a special pot called a chocolatera and wooden whisk called a molinillo in order to make this hot chocolate at home. The popularity of this beverage makes a lot of sense considering Colombia is a major manufacturer of cocoa, with cocoa consumption dating back to the pre-Columbian era. 

It's not just any cheese that gets dropped into a mug of hot chocolate in Colombia. The traditional recipe uses a soft white variety called queso campesino or queso doble crema; while the exact type is dependent on taste and availability, a soft cheese is essential because it needs to melt in the hot chocolate. For the chocolate itself, using an instant mix like the ones commonly found in the U.S. isn't unheard of — but to make it the Colombian way, you'd use a 100% cacao chocolate bar, especially one from brands like Corona (not the beer) meant specifically for making hot chocolate. Because dark chocolate is traditional, the beverage also isn't as sweet as the version you're probably used to drinking.

Making Colombian-style hot chocolate

Chocolate santafereño is made over medium heat in a chocolatera or other pot. Typically, milk, water, or a combination of the two are used for the base; some recipes might also use a dash of spices like cinnamon or cloves. Once the mixture is hot, the chocolate bars are placed in the pot before the whole mixture is briskly whisked into a delicious drink. The cheese is cut into chunks and dropped into the bottom of the drinking mug so it can melt. While you can easily scoop out the melted cheese later for a snack on its own, you're also likely to find this cheesy hot chocolate served with an arepa or bread for dipping.

Are you intrigued by this Colombian version of hot chocolate? You can find this beverage in various places across Colombia, but it's popular in Andean regions such as Cundinamarca. This is probably because the weather there is on the cooler side compared to non-mountainous parts of Colombia, and there are frequent rainstorms, especially during the wet season. If you find yourself in Bogotá, Cundinamarca, you can easily grab a mug of chocolate santafereño at many of the eateries in the area — for a pick in the historic sector that Anthony Bourdain visited, try La Puerta Falsa.