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 Mexican cheese? Read it here.
First let me begin this post by breaking some bad news to Monty Python fans: there is no such thing as Venezuelan Beaver Cheese. However, Venezuela still has a rich cheese culture and some of the cheesiest dishes.
In Venezuela, cheese is not only a valued accompaniment to crackers and plantains, but also a way of life. Cheese is a critical ingredient for the filling of Venezuelan Arepas, which are sandwiches made with cornmeal flatbread, and is extremely popular within the country. In 2013, producers of artisan cheese held an impressive 31% of total Venezuelan cheese sales. Venezuela is a country whose cheese is meant to be cooked with.
There are many different companies making cheese in Venezuela, such as Queso Palmita, as well as Venezuelan-influenced farms in the US like Dos Lunas in Texas, which crafts raw-milk queso fresco and sells them at farmer’s markets. Joaquin Avellan, the founder of Dos Lunas, describes how his time spent making cheese on his father’s farm in Venezuela inspired him to get his start in the states:
“Everything from the smells and tastes of my homeland, to the hard handwork itself, to the sweet healthy cows in a sweet grassy pasture, to a food that is a living thing, growing and changing and a gift of health and happiness.”
While it’s good to know that cheeses with that kind of Venezuelan passion can be found here in the states, let’s get back to Venezuela. There are two kinds of cheeses I’d like to introduce you to today and one extremely tasty appetizer.
This semi-hard cow’s milk cheese originates from the Guayanes region, but it is found throughout Venezuela, and no restaurant would be foolish enough to omit it from its menu. The flavor is strong, milky, and salty, but the character of the cheese completely changes when encountering colder temperatures and should be consumed rapidly. It’s typically a softer cheese, but when the cheese is fresh, it is especially delicate and easily spreadable.
Queso de Mano
The name of this soft cheese that is kneaded by hand translates as “Handmade Cheese.” For this reason, it is usually produced on a smaller scale, but that doesn’t make it difficult to find. It is the soft version of Guayanes cheese, but the flavor is milder and less salty. This pasta filata cheese is elastic, creamy, and typically made with raw cow’s milk. It’s traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and, though the flavor may seem a bit bland, it can be added to sandwiches and salads to add texture and tanginess.
This cheesy dipping snack is uniquely Venezuelan: Squeaky queso fresco wrapped in a buttery dough and then fried for 2–3 minutes. Taking its name from its city of origin, Los Teques, it’s believed this irresistible snack came about when there happened to be some leftover dough from the pastelitos. The flaky texture and buttery flavor of the dough accompanies the light, fresh flavor of the queso fresco cheese in its warm fried deliciousness. Tequeños are great on their own or with any sort of dipping sauce, from spicy salsa to cool and creamy guacamole. They’re also incredibly simple to make. Here’s some recipes for Tequeños and the Guasacaca dip featured in the image above.
Comment to Win
What is your favorite Venezuelan cheese? Do you have a favorite cheesy Venezuelan dish? Tell us what it is in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of culture’s upcoming Best Cheeses of 2014 issue. Post your comments by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, November 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 Criollo Cookbook