From Cabrales to Cotija, get ready to learn about Latin American cheese with Jamie Ditaranto. Starting with Spain and Portugal, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, along the Gulf of Mexico, through the Amazon, and down the Andes, we’ll learn about the history, styles, flavors, and textures of Latin American cheeses in all their delectable glory. So, grab a cerveza and settle in for some mouth-watering reading on Cheeses of Latin America. Missed last week’s post on Venezuelan cheese? Read it here.
Brazil may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about cheese, but actually Brazilians incorporate queijo throughout many of their traditional dishes.
Cheese is a breakfast food, a lunchtime snack, a barbecue necessity, and the perfect beach food. Even some desserts are made with cheese, like Romeu e Julieta, which pairs certain types of soft white cheese with sweet guava paste. Within Brazil, and particularly within the state of Minas Gerais (the country’s cheese headquarters), there are many different kind of cheeses being prepared with artisan techniques.
The passion for tasty cheese is strong in Brazil, and today I’ll be covering the cheesy staples of this beautiful country.
Pão de Queijo
Pão de queijo, or cheese bread, can be found freshly baked in any Brazilian café or bakery, and it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy this cheesy bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now, you might have had some sort of bread with cheese baked into it before, but what sets this recipe apart from any other kind of cheese-infused baked good is the tapioca flour. Tapioca is typically grown in the north of Brazil and is sold throughout the country, making its way into much of Brazilian cuisine. The tapioca flour used to make pão de queijo is slightly sour and gives the bread its signature chewy texture. The savory flavor of the flour nicely complements the cheese that is baked into the bread, and since it’s made with tapioca flour,pão de queijo is gluten-free!
To give the bread its cheesiness, the dough is typically mixed with queijo minas, which I’ll cover more of soon, but can also be made with parmesan depending on what you’re in the mood for.
Brazi Bites—a Portland, Ore., cheese bread manufacturer—tells the story of how cheese bread originated from scraping together leftover flour from tapioca plants, rolling it into small balls, and experimenting with milk and cheese. From there the recipe took hold throughout Brazil:
“The result was a snack food so irresistible that it quickly spread throughout the country, generating a sort of ‘cheese bread culture’ that has evolved for centuries as the legend of pão de queijo has gone global.”
The “cheese bread culture” is strong in Brazil, and pão de queijo can be found wherever you go. If you want to try making your own cheese bread, you can find tapioca flour and other ingredients in Brazilian specialty stores. Or if you walk into any Brazilian bakery, or padaria, they will be sure to have some freshly baked and ready to go.
Catupiry is a brand of soft cheese that falls under the category of “requeijão,which is a general term for the ricotta-like creamy cheeses used to make cheese spreads in Brazil. It was developed in Minas Gerais by Italian immigrant Mario Silvestrini in 1911 and named for the indigenous Tupi word meaning “excellent.” It’s a rich, smooth cream cheese with a flavor that will remind you of Brie or Camembert. It often comes packaged in piping bags in order to spread it evenly and create delicious-looking designs.
This white cheese is made with cow’s milk and is very creamy. Most kinds of requeijão are usually found on Brazilian breakfast tables, but Catupiry is widely used in a variety of ways: spread over a cracker, or as a topping for pizzas or sandwiches.
My personal recommendation for enjoying Catupiry is to use it to make stuffed-crust pizza.
Queijo minas is a mild white cheese named for the state in which it originated, Brazilian cheese central: Minas Gerais. It has a similar texture to buffalo mozzarella and can be spread easily over bread and enjoyed with cold cuts. Though it is traditionally mild and soft, it can be found in many different variations, including unsalted, lightly-salted, semi-soft, and firm cured.
This cheese holds great cultural weight in Brazil and is regarded with pride. In May 2008, the original firm-ripened cheese was declared a part of “Brazilian Immaterial Cultural Heritage.” The cheese can be traced back to the Portuguese region of Serra de Estrella, of which the mountains are similar to the mountains of Minas Gerais. The photo below is from a 2012 festival, during which Brazilian cheesemakers beat their own record for the largest queijo minas ever made, weighing in at 1,480 kilos, or over one and a half tons.
There is strict legislation regarding each step of queijo minas cheese production, from the hygienic conditions of the cows to the packaging process. Though there are many variations of queijo minas, there is a lot of protocol to follow when producing it. Some cheesemakers even go so far as to say that the corrals where the cows are being milked must be tranquil places with not too many workers. Otherwise, the cheese will just not come out right. In Minas Gerais, cheese is very serious business.
This browning beauty is called queijo coalho, which literally translates into “Curd Cheese.” It’s a semi-hard, yellowish-white cheese that is very rubbery in texture. Typically sold prepackaged on skewers, because queijo coalho is meant to be roasted. Instead of melting, it browns when put over a fire to create a warm, gooey cheese-on-a-stick. The taste is slightly acidic and reminiscent of cheese curds, but it’s often cooked with oregano and other seasonings to add more flavor.
In Brazil, this cheese is readily available in grocery stores, barbecue restaurants, street vendors, and even on the beach! It’s very common to see beaches in Brazil with people walking around a cooler full of cheese and a portable grill. Just flag one of them down and they’ll grill some freshqueijo coalho right in front of you! What’s better than a warm squeaky cheese as you relax and watch the waves?
It would be very difficult to find this cheese in the US, but you can replicate a similar taste and texture by skewering and grilling Bread Cheese or Cheese Curds. This style of grilling cheese makes an easy addition to any barbecue and the perfect party snack.
Comment to Win
What is your favorite Brazilian cheese? Do you have a favorite cheesy Brazilian recipe? Tell us what it is in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of culture’s Best Cheeses of 2014 issue. Post your comments by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, November 10, 2014 for a chance to win. You must be located within the continental US to be eligible. Good luck!Photo Credit: Featured image courtesy of RQ-mentary