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Latin American Cheeses: Introduction


Cotija and Corn Tacos with Lime and Mango

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.


 French bloomy-rinds and English crumblies get loads of press in the cheese world. It’s rare that we go a week without writing about Brie or Stilton here at culture. And American cheeses are more than coming into their own. American originals such as Colby and Monterey Jack are known round the world, and even artisan cheeses such as Rogue River Blue, Red Hawk, and Bonne Bouche are starting to get name recognition with cheese lovers around the nation. But what about Latin American cheeses? Do you know their names? Their styles? Their stories? Chances are, the answer is no. While Spanish and Portuguese cheeses such as Manchego or Azeitão are fairly well known, our southern neighbors who have been influenced by the cultures and cheeses from these countries labor in relative obscurity. And that’s a darn shame.

Origins

Whether we’re talking about queso or queijo, Latin American cheeses have been largely influenced by Spanish and Portuguese cheesemaking. It wasn’t until Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought over cattle from Europe and began their own dairy farms that cheese even existed in the New World. Of course, Latin American cheeses bear strong resemblances to their ancestral Spanish and Portuguese roots, but they are much more than copycats of cheeses you’ll find back on the Iberian Peninsula. 

Spanish Torta de Trujillo

Spanish Torta de Trujillo

Many factors impacted the evolution of Latin American cheese. One of the most important of these factors was the basic change in location. Mexico has a completely different climate from Spain; Brazil has a different temperature, elevation, and flora from Portugal. Techniques needed to be adapted. This also led to the blending of the traditions of European and indigenous peoples, as well as incorporating the new natural resources, such as plantains and peppers. Additionally, the influences of migrants from other European countries like France, Germany, and Italy are apparent in some cheeses, like the Parmesan-like Queso Cotija from Mexico. 

Hard, crumbly Mexican queso cotija

Hard, crumbly Mexican queso cotija via Lactography

 

 

In this blog series, I will highlight the most unique and prominent cheeses from the Caribbean islands, Central, and South America. Each week will feature a different country and their cheeses that you may or may not have heard of and where you can try some. It will be an exploration of the blended culture concoction of Latin America Cheeses and how they came to be.

So join me on this discovery tour around the Caribbean, along the Gulf of Mexico, through the Amazon, and down the Andes, as we turn the spotlight onto the cheeses of Latin America. 

Comment to Win

Do you have a favorite Spanish, Portuguese, or Latin American cheese? 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 Monday, October 13, 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 Kitchen Gardeners International

Jamie Ditaranto

Jamie Ditaranto is a senior at Emerson College and an online editorial intern for culture, who enjoys writing, photography, and travel. She finds a way to sneak cheese into just about every meal and is a sucker for free samples.

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