Mexico is known for many great things, and cheese (queso in Spanish) is one of them. You can find dozens of Mexican quesos, among which some are aged while others are fresh; some are creamy while others are dry and crumby.
Before Europeans arrived in Mexico, animals like goats and cows and their milk products were almost unknown there. Thanks to the Spaniards to bring these animals and other common livestock to Mexico due to which cheese making became possible.
So, let’s check out the best Mexican cheeses:
1. Queso Fresco
This one is a white, creamy variety of Mexican cheese that makes an amazing topping for sweet-tangy grilled corn, chorizo-studded guacamole, and you name it. You can simply call it fresh cheese. As it is made of whole milk, it can vary in saltiness.
Queso Fresco is most commonly sold in a corn husk or a banana leaf.
Cotija is another most popular variety of Mexican cheese that originated from the town of cotija in Michoacán. Due to its crumbly, fresh, and salty properties, cotija is usually compared to feta cheese. It doesn’t melt like other cheese; hence it is used on most tostadas, soups, and Mexican salads.
Although it adds a perfect cheese texture to your meal, its main purpose is to give that salty flavor to your food, just like parmesan does to pasta. And due to this fact, cotija is also referred to as the “parmesan of Mexico.”
3. Queso Manchego
Queso Manchego shares its name with a famous Spanish cheese, Manchego, made of goat’s milk. However, its Mexican version is most commonly made of cow’s milk. It is light yellow and can be eaten as an appetizer or a snack. Queso manchego easily melts and shreds; hence you can use it as a topping on your favorite meals.
Although it cannot be easily found in the United States, you can do so much with this multi-purpose Mexican cheese if you manage to find it.
4. Queso añejo
Queso añejo is basically an aged variety of queso fresco. It has a hard and drier texture compared to queso fresco because of being aged. Therefore, it is usually sold pre-grated, like parmesan. You can usually find this type of cheese crumbled on top of enchiladas.
Panela is a white, soft, creamy cheese made of cow’s milk. It belongs to the cottage cheese family and is known for its smooth and mild taste and ability to blend well with sauces and pasta. Panela cheese comes in various names, such as queso canasta or basket cheese, which refers to the basket used to mould the cheese.
Although the origins of Panela are disputed, we cannot ignore the fact that this cheese is one of Mexico’s most beloved and used cheeses.
Panela is most commonly used in quesadillas and even served on its own with chili peppers and garlic.
6. Queso de Oaxaca
Also known as simply “Oaxaca cheese” or “Asadero,” this cheese looks like a ball of white string cheese. It belongs to, yes, you guessed it right, Oaxaca. One can compare it to young Monterey jack cheese in flavor and mozzarella cheese in texture. Like mozzarella, it is buttery and mellow and works great as a melting cheese. Therefore, it is commonly used in a quesadilla.
Moreover, since it has a mild flavor, Oaxaca cheese is known as a kid’s favorite as it compliments most dishes excellently without overpowering any flavor.
7. Chihuahua Cheese
Also known as queso menonita, Chihuahua cheese belongs to the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. It was first produced by Mennonite farmers. Like Oaxaca cheese, Chihuahua cheese also has a mild flavor similar to Monterey jack cheese. Therefore, you can use it as a filling for Chile Rellenos and tamales.
Chihuahua cheese can also be aged to give it a sour flavor.
This one’s the Mexican version of ricotta cheese. Unlike most cheeses that are made with curds, requesón is made with whey. It is so soft that you can even use it as a spread on bread. It is most commonly used for filling enchiladas and for gorditas and tlacoyos. In the markets, you can find it wrapped in a fresh corn leaf.
9. Queso Blanco
Also known as “White Cheese” in English, queso Blanco is another super white, crumbly cheese one can go for. It doesn’t melt completely upon heating; instead, it becomes creamy. Hence, it is a perfect choice for sprinkling over hot foods, such as enchiladas and refried beans. Moreover, you can also sprinkle queso Blanco on room-temperature foods, such as salads.
Consider crema as a combination of French crème Fraiche and American sour cream. It is naturally sourced, thickened cream typically used as a garnish in foods, such as soups, tacos, and veggies. It works great in adding a rich and tangy flavor to your favorite foods.
How is Mexican Cheese Different?
Mexican cheeses are a bit different. While typical North American cheeses are aged for weeks or even years, Mexican cheeses are aged for only some days or not aged at all. Hence, Mexican cheeses are served fresh, not washed or molded.
Moreover, most Mexican cheeses are made of raw milk.
In the past, Americans looking for Mexican cheese had only one option: to go to Mexico. However, times have changed now, and cheeses made in Mexico—along with domestic products made in the Mexican style—can easily be found nearby. You can look for these Mexican cheeses in Mexican grocery stores, specialty markets, and dedicated cheese shops.