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 Chilean cheese? Read it here.
I have a confession to make. Throughout this blog series, I have been skirting around one of the most notable and scrumptious cheeses of Latin America, the easy, squeaky, and delicious queso blanco. This fresh white cheese is a staple throughout all of the Latin American countries, often eaten plain with bread or cold cuts, but it’s also incorporated throughout many Latin American dishes. You might remember some of these dishes like Tequeños or Romeu e Julieta from my posts on Venezuelan and Brazilian cheeses.
That’s just a small slice of what Latin Americans can do with queso blanco. It is traditionally made at home and aged over a period of 1 to 3 days by following a very basic recipe and procedure for making cheese. The cheese is a crumbly rindless cheese with a taste that is salty, but slightly acidic. Its flavor is great for offsetting the heat of some of the chile spices commonly found in Latin American cuisine. Its rubbery texture makes it excellent for cooking. Because holds up under heat, it is the perfect cheese for deep frying, just as we saw with the mouth-watering Venezuelan Tequeños.
Much of the reason why this cheese is so popular throughout Latin America is because it’s very refreshing. It’s typically kept cold and the mild flavor of the cheese is the perfect thing to have on a warm day. There are so many different delicious ways to prepare and eat this cheese, but before we get to that let me clear something up that puzzle many people when encountering this squeaky delight.
Queso Fresco vs. Queso Blanco
What’s most confusing about this cheese is its name. Queso fresco (fresh cheese) and queso blanco (white cheese) are both fresh white cheeses. While the names are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two terms. Queso fresco is made with rennet and queso blanco is made from milk that has been curdled with an acid like lemon juice or vinegar.
It is very difficult to distinguish between the two in taste and many countries don’t bother with it at all. The difference would only matter if you shopping for a vegan cheese, in which case you should purchase queso blanco, but be careful to check the ingredient list to ensure neither rennet nor animal enzymes were used in the curdling process. Alternatively, you can take advantage about the best part of queso blanco – how easy it is to make yourself!
Jennifer Latham over at Serious Eats has a great recipe for making your own queso blanco at home.
Queso blanco is not uniquely Latin American, as this simple recipe is very old. It was brought over by the Spanish and Portuguese immigrants who had been making it for quite a long time. Over time, the cheese has stayed the same, however what has changed and evolved over time are the recipes this versatile cheese has inspired. To show you what I mean, I give you a list of delicious recipes using queso fresco from some of the countries I didn’t get a chance to talk about within this blog series.
Recipes from the countries I didn’t get to:
1. Colombian Arepas
These grilled Colombian corncakes are filled with meat and sprinkling of queso blanco.
2. Peruvian Cheese Sauce
This creamy Peruvian cheese sauce makes a great topping to any dish in need of some extra cheesiness. It takes it’s bright yellow color from other ingredients, but the cheese is queso blanco.
3. Guatemalan Corn with Crumbled Queso Fresco
Next time you’ve got some corn on the cob, try grilling it Guatemalan style – rolled in spices and crumbly queso blanco.
4. Paraguayan Cornbread
This recipe for Paraguayan cornbread has crumbled queso fresco baked right into the mix!
5. Ecuadorian Potato and Cheese Soup
Potato and Cheese soups are immensely popular throughout Ecuador for being affordable and delicious. Just check out those avocados slices!
6. Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Gallo Pinto
Being in close proximity to one another, Costa Rica and Nicargua share this recipe for Gallo Pinto. This rice and bean dish with a name that literally translates into “The Painted Rooster” is customarily accompanied with an egg a few yummy slices of queso blanco on the side.
7. Dominican Fried Cheese
Queso blanco is so easy to fry and with this recipe from the Dominican Republic, you can try the warm delicious cheese at home.
Each country’s spin on the traditional queso fresco of Spain and Portugal goes to prove the way cheese culture has developed throughout Latin America. It’s all about taking an old idea and putting a new spin on it based on the resources available like wrapping cheeses in plantain leaves or pairing it with guava paste.
Perhaps, what is most exciting about the Latin American cheese culture is how young it is. As we’ve seen with the Vaca Negra Dairy in Puerto Rico, cheese in Latin America is just coming in to it’s own. There’s always room for more innovation and of course, more cheese.
Comment to Win
Do you have a favorite Latin American Cheese? Or a favorite post from the blog series? 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, December 1, 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 Meta A Colher