Disney World's Holy Grail? It's Nacho Cheese

Finding nacho cheese at Disney World is surprisingly difficult. But, boy, is it worth it.

Disney World is known for its plentiful indulgences. Turkey legs with such heft, people whisper about them secretly being emu. Shapes so iconic, no one gives a second look to a chocolate-y — not chocolate, no no — hard-shell ice cream bar in the likeness of a nonagenarian cartoon mouse.

But for me, a grown woman whose job takes her to theme park resorts as often as some folks take meetings, there's only one holy grail, one liquefied altar of processed perfection at which I kneel: nacho cheese.

Totchos at Disney
The Walt Disney Company

For the uninitiated, it may sound trite. Delicious neon lava flows freely at baseball games, carnivals, even local pool snack stands all summer long. How could Disney World, the undisputed king of American leisure time, not be flooding the parks with cheesy goods? Though it's quite literally my favorite food in the world, you can't get true liquid cheese without knowing where to go, making it next to impossible to find while in the house of mouse.

Enter: our story's villain, a pre-sealed, pasty bastardization of the one true orange goo that came down from the heavens. This inferior dip isn't just sold throughout all four Disney theme parks — it comes with every Mickey-shaped pretzel sold, meaning you can't get true liquid cheese without knowing exactly where to go

Want a pretzel after riding Space Mountain? Garbage cheese. Want to dunk a salted Mickey Mouse snack into somethin' good? Trash cup. There are dunkable, delectable, Disney carbs, as far as the eye can see, but none with the dip you're looking for, unless you seek it out.

These sad, pre-sealed plastic cups filled with "cheddar cheese flavored pasteurized cheese snack" offer a chalky mouthfeel and variable consistency. Not always warmed to their preferred texture within pretzel carts, they can come out surprisingly dunkable or, at times, thick like paste, akin to Merkts cheese spread but without the richness. (For RunDisney races, wherein fans dress up in fun costumes and jog across Disney property, they're even provided in a room temperature snack pack with a bag of tortilla chips.)

There are plenty of people who enjoy the pre-sealed stuff. I hear from them constantly on the phone line for my podcast, Very Amusing. I'm even dragged for it online by friends and colleagues. But, alas, they couldn't be more wrong. Disney excels in snacking — there are accessories, jewelry, even themed Crocs honoring iconic Disney treats — and yet, finding the good cheese requires work.

It's no fluke that nacho cheese is somewhat missable on property at Disney World. These parks used to be awash in the hot dunkable goo, with Magic Kingdom eateries like the Tomorrowland space restaurant Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe and Frontierland saloon-inspired Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe once offering a self-serve pump of it on condiment bars in more prosperous times. Not only is nacho cheese no longer served as a sibling to ketchup, but it has been cast out of the family entirely, no longer on the menu at either location it once called home.

Where did it go, exactly? Fan lore leans into an unconfirmed theory that, following a 2011 lawsuit wherein a child burned himself, it was removed entirely, but I've never been able to confirm it. I still find myself struggling to find it at all sometimes, often dunking french fries into children's portions of macaroni and cheese to fill the nacho cheese cup-sized void.

Thankfully, I have a partner in arms. Disney Food Blog, a living encyclopedia for all things theme park food, doesn't just agree — they're also all in on the sauce, lovingly referring to it as "plastic cheese," even offering a best-selling sweatshirt oozing in its honor.

"I called it 'plastic cheese' when I started my blog because I was pretty sure there wasn't any real food in there," said AJ Wolfe, founder and executive editor of Disney Food Blog. "It's warm, salty, and relatively flavorless yet has the heroic quality of making everything it accompanies taste, like, incredibly rad. It can save your vegetables, your party, and your mood. How many things can do that?!?"

The site's "plastic cheese" news tag keeps fellow nacho obsessives like me up to date on where the superior sauce is currently located, given that it often bounces between snack carts and restaurant windows with no rhyme or reason.

These days, the good goo can reliably be found at Casey's Corner (served with fries and corn dog nuggets) and Friar's Nook (served with tots) at Magic Kingdom, and often along with pretzels sold at snack stands throughout Animal Kingdom. Yep — Disney's homage to the safaris of Africa and natural wonders of Asia holds it down on the dunk front due to its use of compostable packaging, considering its conservation ethos and proximity to animals. Paper straws, good plastic cheese, hey, whatever works, but if you're hoping to dunk one of Mickey Mouse's pretzel ears into a cup of cheese: be sure to plan for two stops, or scour the options over at that one Disney park. With so many dunkable cult-favorite snacks, it's worth the hunt.

So, while everyone else wistfully thinks of their next dinner at Disney's Contemporary Grill or biting into a Mickey Ice Cream Sandwich for the first time since childhood, I'll be here, pretzel-less, daydreaming of the next time I can simply dunk a Mickey Pretzel into some basic nacho cheese.

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