The 2024 Hot List: Jessica Fernandez Lopez | culture: the word on cheese
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The 2024 Hot List: Jessica Fernandez Lopez

This story is part of culture’s 2024 Hot List. Click here to learn more about the selection process and to see the entire list of recipients.

Jessica Fernandez Lopez

President, Mexican Coalition of Cheese Cheesemonger,
Founder, Lactography, Mexican Mongers Cheese Specialist and Fortuitous Cheesemaker

Jessica Fernández López began her career as a cheesemonger 10 years ago after studying media and communications. Lactography hired López as an administrative assistant, and her curious, oftentimes obsessive nature quickly became her driving force to discovering the vibrant world of cheese. She snagged every opportunity to engage in production, sensory analysis, and quality assessment, and in 2019, she began judging cheese competitions. As the only Latin-American woman invited to judge the World Championship Cheese Contest, López knows representation is important. “My dream is one day to see Mexican cheese valued as much as other cheeses in the world. That’s why I started the Mexican Coalition of Cheese—an effort to bring the artisanal industry together and elevate it,” she says. López continues championing Mexican cheese year after year, including hosting a panel solely dedicated Mexican cheese at the American Cheese Society conference in 2023.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the cheese world?

All the women cheese professionals. All the moms who go out there to do incredibly hard work and still be a mom for their kids. I am not a mother, but I remember my mom having a full-time job and always making time to take care of me.

What was your big “aha moment” when you entered this industry?

My first time judging a Mexican regional contest, when I saw a sample perfectly finished in technique and wrapping. I was in awe of the care and time someone took to make this beautiful product. Mary, the cheesemaker, is an amazing master—I didn’t know who she was until we discovered who won the contest, and it was that perfect cheese. I still remember the creamy, salty paste and the aromatics: banana, passion fruit, and green apple. For me, it’s important to highlight artisanal cheesemaking, and the next frontier is to talk about food sovereignty and self-determination regarding cheesemaking regions and processes. The most important thing is to respect my values in my work.

Pair a celebrity with a cheese.

Salma Hayek and Queso Bola de Ocossingo.

What is an underrated cheese that everyone should know about?

Washed rinds—when you’re unfamiliar with this style, they might come with very strong personalities and can be intimidating, but these are my favorite style of cheeses and are very underrated. Because of their versatility, you can eat them at different stages of aging. And, they’re fun to make. Also, cheeses with mites—It’s a whole world on its own, but I think it’s worth it. It might not be for everyone, but I think some flavors need to be explored. These cheeses can be a little unsavory at the beginning, but once you move past the initial taste, you end up wondering “how is it that milk can have those flavors?” It’s like eating a spoonful of MSG.

What is a pairing you’re ashamed to love?

Pabst Blue Ribbon and flaming hot Cheetos. Though, lately I am not drinking too much alcohol, so a Busch NA and Cheetos.

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