Nowadays Mexican cuisine is inherently linked with cheese and below we have showcased all the varieties available from fresh and soft cheese to semi-hard and hard varieties. Whether you are looking to make use of your new quesadilla maker or you have other dishes in mind, our list will provide you with a wide variety of options.
A brief history
While nowadays to think of Mexican cuisine without cheese may sound ludicrous, before the Spaniards introduced cows and goats, the inhabitants relied heavily on a diet of fruits and vegetables, fish and fowl, and occasionally wild game.
It was the arrival of milk-producing animals that changed the diet of Mexico forever and now there are dozens of different types of Mexican queso (the Spanish word for cheese), and each one has its own charm that is well-worth exploring.
The types of cheese you can find in Mexico are very diverse and you should not think of them as the nacho cheese or cheese dip you can now find in any supermarket. While they can be delicious when used in certain contexts, these are not Mexican at all.
If you want to get authentic Mexican cheeses it is well worth your time to search for a Hispanic store since only there you will be able to find a rich variety of Mexican cheeses. In the meantime, we have gathered some of the most well-known and delicious types of Mexican cheese in the list below.
Queso blanco is a creamy, white cheese that is made from skimmed cow milk and it has long been described as a sort of a cross between mozzarella and cottage cheese. The traditional recipe says it needs to be coagulated with lemon juice since it helps give it a fresh and distinctive lemon flavor.
You can still find this original recipe in Hispanic stores or farmer’s markets but nowadays manufacturers use rennet to coagulate the milk. Queso blanco softens easily when heated but it does not melt and that makes it a perfect choice for stuffing enchiladas.
Queso fresco translates to fresh cheese and it is made using whole milk which gives it a soft and almost spongy texture. It crumbles easily which allows it to be crumbled over snacks as well as on taquitos and enchiladas. This cheese has its origin in Burgos, Spain and it was first introduced to the Mexican cuisine by the Spaniards.
It is also common to use a combination of goat’s and cow’s milk. Queso fresco can be found in both salty and non-salty varieties and in Mexican markets, it is often sold wrapped in corn leaf or in a banana leaf.
Queso panela can also be called queso de canasta (basket cheese) because it carries the imprint of the basket in which it is molded and this type of cheese is white and soft and it is often served as part of a snack tray or appetizer. It is made with skim milk and that makes it more flexible but firmer than queso fresco.
You can cut it easily without it crumbling and its rubbery texture makes it squeak a bit when you bite into it. Panela is also saltier and a preferred choice for sandwiches or fried cheese since it does not melt when heated.
The last type of fresh cheese is Requesón. This variety is a loose and ricotta-like cheese that is used mainly to fill enchiladas and to make cheese spreads. It is most often sold in markets, and it can be used as a substitute for ricotta.
Queso añejo is the aged version of queso fresco and while it is classified as soft cheese, it can actually become very firm and salty as it ages. Just as its fresh version, añejo is white and crumbly and it is often sprinkled over beans, salads, antojitos and a variety of other dishes. Añejo can also be used as a substitute for Romano cheese.
Oaxaca is a type of string cheese that is also known as quesillo and it is the most popular variety of cheese for making quesadillas. Its name comes from the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico and this cheese is moderately soft and creamy white.
The unique look of this type of cheese owes to the production process. Once the milk curdles, many strings are formed and they are wound in such a manner to form a ball of cheese. Since it melts very easily and it has a chewy texture, it is very popular in dishes where you need melted cheese that is not runny.
Queso doble crema (double cream cheese) is one of the softest cheeses you can find in Mexico and it is traditionally made with additional cream so that it becomes even softer. It is very smooth and rich which allows it to be used for spreading and in dessert-making since it is not salty.
Queso asadero is a melting cheese commonly used to make queso fundido, which is a famous and tasty Mexican fondue. This is a dish that is usually eaten as a late-night supper. Since it melts beautifully, it may also be used to make quesadillas, pizzas, or for other cheese-topped baked dishes.
Queso chihuahua or menonita, after the Mennonite communities that first produced it, is a variety of semi-soft cheese that has a pale yellow color instead of white and it can vary in taste from mild to an almost cheddar-like sharpness.
It is generally used to prepare a variety of dishes and is especially used in making a breaded and fried cheese dish called queso fundido. Chihuahua cheese is widely available outside of Mexico so you should not have any major difficulty in finding it at your favorite shop.
Queso jalapeño is a soft and smooth cheese that is made with cow’s milk and jalapeño peppers. The taste is very well balanced since you can feel both the creamy milk and the pepper flavor. It can be melted, shredded, or even pulled in strings to use in spicy dishes such as tacos, rellenos, enchiladas, nachos, scrambled eggs and more.
Queso criollo or criolla, as it is also known as, is made from fresh, raw milk and it is produced mainly in Taxco, Guerrero. It is one of the only few types of yellow cheese in Mexico and its flavors are mild and salty and as the cheese is left to age, they can become very strong. If left to age, the texture becomes very hard.
This variety is typically grated over quesadillas, beans, rice, or tortillas. One substitute for this option, if you find that it is unavailable near you, is Muenster cheese.
Although most people don’t consider Edam a Mexican cheese, queso edam has indeed become very important in the Mexican cuisine which is why its inclusion here is warranted. The Mexican variety has the cheese round scooped out and filled with a seasoned meat picadillo and then steamed in the oven until it gets the texture of custard.
Queso manchego is similar to the famous Spanish cheese with the main difference being that it is made of cow’s milk instead of goat’s milk. It is a light yellow cheese and it can be used as a snack or appetizer. You can also shred it and melt it easily.
Queso manchego is a buttery yellow cheese that is very popular outside of Mexico and it is very good for melting and for serving with fruits or crackers.
Queso añejo enchilado is the Añejo soft variety with a spicy red coating but aged to the point that it can be served as a condiment. It can be a bit more difficult to find and if you need it in a recipe you can substitute it with strong feta cheese.
Another variety of firm cheese is queso cotija which in Mexico is considered as the alternative to aged parmesan. This cheese takes its name from the town of Cotija in Michoacan state and it is a salty, aged, and strong-smelling and tasting cheese. It shreds and crumbles easily and it is used as a flavor-adding topping for pasta, beans, salads, and antojitos.
Finally, there’s the queso manchego viejo which is an aged manchego to the point that it has a much harder texture and more intense flavor. It is generally shaved over botanas.