By now, most college students in the US know Cinco de Mayo as the perfect day to go out and drink margaritas. If you asked a group of people about the significance of the day, you’d probably get mostly blank stares. To set the record straight—Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day (that’s in September) but a celebration of the Battle of Puebla, when a small Mexican army defeated the larger occupying French army. Everyone knows a lot about French cheeses, but today is a day to put those aside and instead lift up the victorious Mexican cheeses. Below, you’ll find some great ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Mexican cheeses and recipes made from those cheeses (with a drink thrown in for good measure).
Cotija is one of the oldest cheeses to come out of Mexico. Traditionally made in the mountains as far back as the 1500s, Cotija is produced seasonally from cows who feed on mountain vegetation. As the cheese was intended to be preserved in the days before refrigeration, Cotija is salty. It’s also dense and crumbly, which makes it perfect to scatter on top of any dish you want! The small-production mountain Cotija is difficult to find outside the US, but other Mexican cheesemakers produce pretty great versions.
Queso de Oaxaca
This isn’t your ordinary string cheese. Made in the pasta filata style, Oaxaca is stretched into long ribbons and then rolled up into a ball. If you’re having trouble picturing what it might look and taste like, a close cousin is fresh mozzarella. The nature of the cheese means you can peel it off in strings, making it a great throwback to your childhood while also introducing you to new cheese! Various cheesemakers in the US have tried their own Oaxaca-inspired cheeses that should be easy enough to find.
Change up your typical chips and salsa routine by making your own chips… out of cheese. These crispy cheese bites should be made with Mexican manchego to have the full effect. Add some onion and cilantro into the chips and then dip ’em in salsa or guacamole. Easy.
In addition to making your chips out of cheese, you can make a loaded cheese dip and double your cheese intake. This particular take features Oaxaca queso in addition to chilies, onion, and chicken. There couldn’t be a more perfect potluck addition to your Cinco de Mayo party.
Make a basic soup, mix in salsa, and you have yourself a dish! It might sound a little odd, but the result is a beautiful mix of colors. Plus, you get to put avocado on top. The cheese featured in this dish is panela, a creamy and crumbly Mexican cheese. Add as much as you want.
I have to admit: The original version of this recipe does not call for a Mexican cheese, but the offering itself is too perfect to pass up. Mix in chorizo with your beef for the meat and throw in chili powder and jalapeño. It’s a must dish for all spice lovers. Instead of cheddar, try to find Chihuahua, a semi-soft Mexican cheese similar to a mild cheddar.
No Cinco de Mayo list would be complete without a margarita. This simple recipe forgoes the sugar and mixers for pure simplicity. The best part? It goes great with sheep’s milk cheese like manchego. If you can hunt down the Mexican version, even better.