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 Argentine cheese? Read it here.
In Chile, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Andes Mountains that border the country, are fields of pasture perfect for animals to graze and for Chileans to make cheese. Though Chileans have long enjoyed incorporating cheese into their cuisine – some of the most popular cheese imports being Gouda and Parmesan – the culture of original Chilean cheese is just beginning to grow and develop. Until 2000, the country had always imported their milk, but now they are exporters. With over 6,000 milk producers, Chile produces 150,000 pound of cheese, and the average Chilean consumes 8 kg of cheese per year.
The capitol city of Santiago has become a cheese hub with more and more cheese shops opening their doors, displaying wedges of domestic cheese alongside imports. Today, I’ll be covering a few of Chile’s most distinct cheeses as well as a couple of Chileans specialty dishes that combine cheese with seafood.
Queso Chanco is a washed-curd cheese also known as Queso Mantesco, which literally translates into “buttery cheese.” This cow’s milk cheese is soft but firm enough to slice, and it’s great for melting with a texture comparable to Muenster.
Originating from the Maule Valley, a region of Chile also known for its wines, Queso Chanco is produced abundantly by industrial, homestead, and artisan cheesemakers alike and enjoyed throughout the country. What you’re looking for in the perfect slice of chanco is a glossy appearance, many holes, a soft texture, and of course a complex salty, sweet, and slightly acidic taste. According to Eating Chilean,
“The best attack the nose with a delicious buttery elegance; melt in the mouth with sweet, acid and intense tastes of milk and of the country.”
This is a semi-soft cheese produced in the Andes and one of the most popular cheeses in Chile. Made from cow’s milk, this semi-soft cheese is mild, creamy, and pairs very well with chardonnay. It is made in the Aconcagua Valley at the base of the Andes mountains, a region famous for its climate, citrus fruits, and avocados. Chilean cows are only fed from natural pastures, which contributes to the rich clean flavors of this cheese.
Named for the town of Panquehue within the valley, this cheese is famous throughout the country and often enjoyed with bread and jam or baked into a delicious empanada.
Combining Cheese and Seafood
Many people are under the notion that seafood and cheese do not go well together, but Chileans would strongly disagree! Since we’re dealing with a country that is mostly coastline, seafood is a way of life, and so is cheese. According to Chef Dennis Littley, cheese can actually enhance the flavors of a seafood dish. Here are a couple of our favorite Chilean seafood recipes using cheese that you can test out yourself!
Machas à la Parmesana
Traditionally this recipe is made with Machas (pink razor clams), but small, hard-shelled clams will work just fine. Chilean Parmesan is much milder than Parmiggiano Reggiano, so it would be best to use a younger Parmesan for this recipe.
Chupe de Jaibas
Unlike other soupier chupes in South America, Chilean chupes are heartier and dense. Imagine a crab cake casserole crusted in gratinéed Parmesan and you’ve got this deliciously cheesy and classic Chilean dish.
Comment to Win
What is your favorite Chilean cheese? Do you have a favorite cheesy Chilean dish? 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 24th, 2014 for a chance to win. You must be located within the continental US to be eligible. Good luck!Feature Photo Credit: Eating Chilean