Yo Quiero Queso! A Primer on Latin Cheeses

Love Mexican food, but wish you knew more about the culture's cheese legacy? So did I. At a California Milk Advisory Board cheese class, I finally had my opportunity to better understand the Hispanic cheese market when I got a crash course on it from cheese expert Juliana Uruburu.

Although semisoft, European-influenced cheeses like Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk get the most press, five percent of the cheese made in California is actually Hispanic-style cheese. As for getting to know them all, Juliana maintains it's not complicated: "There are about 30 different names, but only four different types of cheese. They vary in salt and texture." For the basic breakdown, keep reading.

  • Creams, such as requesón and crema Mexicana. Their consistency ranges from that of sour cream to a bit more curdlike, similar to ricotta.
  • Fresh cheeses, like queso fresco and queso enchilado. These cheeses have a soft, break-apart texture, but tend not to melt well. Queso fresco and queso blanco are very similar; both are unaged white cheeses with a slightly acidic flavor.
  • Harder cheeses, that are ideal for slicing or finishing a dish. Examples include enchilado, a salty and dry cheese reminiscent of Pecorino Romano, and artisanal panelas, which Uruburu describes as "buttery and simple."
  • Melting cheeses such as queso quesadilla or queso Chihuahua, have a string-cheese like quality similar to that of mozzarella cheese. Many of them, like Oaxaca cheese, are pulled, then decoratively braided.

Do you tend to buy Mexican and Latin cheeses? If so, what are your top picks?

Source: Flickr User ckelty