At the El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia, you can tell you’re in a country of caseophiles before reaching baggage claim. Shop shelves in the international terminal are stocked with fresh cheeses in travel-ready packaging, from mild queso campesino to creamy quesito Colombiano layered with bocadillo (guava paste) or arequipe (dulce de leche).
And then there’s the coffee. One popular local style is spiked with cinnamon and cloves…and dosed with cubes of fresh cheese. Most Colombian cafés serve a version of this café con queso, as well as a hot chocolate version known as chocolate Santafereño or chocolate completo.
Whatever its base, the resulting drink is a beguiling balance of salty and sweet, creamy and bitter. The mozzarella-like queso, rendered molten at the bottom of the cup, is ideal for spooning atop small chunks of bread (dunking is also encouraged). Alternately, the beverages are enjoyed with arepas (griddled corn cakes stuffed with cheese, meat, or egg) or a cheesy cornmeal bread called almojábanas, usually at breakfast or as a snack.
On a recent stop at El Dorado—the fifth layover of my trip from southern Patagonia to Colorado—I tried café con queso for the first time. The spiced brew was poured into a to-go cup over cubes of queso blanco. I carried the elixir to the upstairs food court and ordered two cheese-stuffed arepas from my favorite eatery, a hole-in-the-wall called Kaori Bar.
While awaiting my next flight, I savored the hot, crumbly arepas, their edges crisped and golden, between leisurely sips of fragrant, slightly viscous coffee. I may not have had enough time to leave the airport, but sometimes—if you’re lucky—a layover can leave you feeling rejuvenated.