A Guide to Understand Mexican Cheese Types

One common trait shared by quesadillas, tacos, and chile rellenos, is that these dishes are incomplete without cheese. But if you can't tell one Mexican cheese type from another, don't lose heart. You will be dishing out one delicious cheesy recipe after another, once you go through this Buzzle article.
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Fact about Mexican cheeses
Did you know?
Edam cheese is rumored to have been used as cannon balls by ships in historical times! Whether this is true or not, Edam was definitely the most popular cheese in the world between the 14th and 18th centuries.
Before the European settlers arrived in Mexico, the Native Americans consumed fruits, vegetables, and wild game. Dairy products did not form a significant portion of their diet. But the Spaniards brought with them a lot of livestock, and soon, cheese-making became an part towards their diet and culture. The cheese was modified to suit the mixed European-native palate. In modern times, as Mexican cheese find their way to American stores, it's quite handy to know beforehand their different varieties and uses, along with their nutritional properties.

INDEX

Fresh Cheese
Soft Cheese
Hard Cheese
Semi-soft Cheese
Semi-hard Cheese
Creams


Fresh Cheese

Fresh cheese is wet, mild tasting, breakable in texture, and on heating becomes soft and creamy, but does not melt. These are eaten with freshly-cut fruits. They are not aged. Fresh cheese is used as an ingredient or for garnishing dishes like enchiladas, chile relenos, and tostadas. Fresh cheese can be used without heating as well.

Fresh Cheese

Queso fresco
Queso fresco is the most widely used Mexican cheese. It is a fresh, unaged, and creamy cheese. The name queso fresco means 'fresh cheese' in Spanish. This cheese is generally made from a mixture of cow's and goat's milk, but sometimes, it may be made from cow's milk alone. It has a mild, peppy, milky flavor, that can balance hot dishes like enchiladas, tortillas, quesadillas, salads, chili chorizo, tamales, and so on.

Queso blanco
This is a mild, even flavored fresh cheese, that is commonly made from fresh cow's milk. This is the difference between queso fresco and queso blanco. The name queso blanco means 'white cheese' in Spanish. It can even be prepared at home by simply boiling fresh milk, acidification of the milk, and then draining the liquid away using a cheesecloth. It is a smooth flavored and breakable cheese, that doesn’t melt when heated. It can be used with salads, chutneys, sauces, rice and beans, fresh fruits, marmalade, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, and other hot, spicy dishes.

Queso panela
This is a white-colored cheese with a smooth, mild, and milky flavor. The cheese can be grated and does not melt on heating, but softens. It breaks easily, and is crumbled over dishes or fried in a pan and eaten as an appetizer. It can be sliced and used in meat sandwiches. It is prepared in a basket and has an attractive outer basket-like texture. This cheese is crumbled over quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, tacos, salads, guacamole preparations, etc.

Requesón
This one is yellow to white in color, and prepared using whole cow's milk. The cheese is creamy, curdy, slightly strong to mild flavored, and should be consumed while fresh. It is similar to ricotta or cottage cheese. It was commonly sold while covered in corn pods. Requesón cheese is used in recipes like enchiladas, tostadas, cheese spreads, quesadillas, cakes, and so on.

Queso Para Freir
This is a white-colored cheese that is a variation of the queso blanco variety. The cheese is dry, has a low melting point, and can be used for frying. On heating, it will retain its shape and not melt away. It is also used for baking, and has a salty, creamy flavor, and hard, fine-grained, breakable or elastic texture when fresh. It is used in grilled dishes, beans, quesadillas, and salads.

Nutrition Queso fresco Queso blanco Queso panela Requesón Queso Para Freir
Calories 80 80-87 80 60 80
Calories from Fat 54 61-72 63 15-26 50-54
Total Fat 6 g 6-8 g 7 g 3.5-4 g 6 g
Saturated Fat 4 g 4 g 4 g 2 g 4 g
Trans Fat 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g
Cholesterol 15-20 mg 15-20 mg 20-21 mg 20 mg 15-20 mg
Sodium 210-220 mg 180-210 mg 170-180 mg 170 mg 210-220 mg
Potassium 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates < 1 g 1 g 0-1 g 1 g 1 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g 0 g
Sugars 0 g 0-1 g 0 g 1 g 1 g
Protein 5-6 g 6 g 5 g 3-8 g 6 g
Vitamin A 4-6% < 4% 6% 2-4% 2-6%
Vitamin C 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Calcium 16-20% 20% 20-25% 2-6% 20%
Iron 0% 0% 0% 0-2% 0%


Soft Cheese

Mexican soft cheese have two uses–either as melting cheese or for making cheese balls/strings. When heated, they melt without separating into solid and oil. They have a rich, creamy, acidic, mellow flavor, and can even be eaten directly as a snack. They give a cheese-like flavor to American-favorite dishes like pizzas and cheeseburgers, and not an oily one like cheddar cheese. These are used in hot Mexican dishes like quesadillas, burritos, tacos, nachos, and chile con queso.

Soft Cheese

Queso añejo
Queso añejo is an aged variety of cheese that melts well, and is thus used in baked and grilled food items. It has a slightly tangy, salty flavor, and is prepared from goat's or cow's milk. After preparation, the cheese is rolled in paprika to complement its saltiness. Depending on its age, it may be soft and easily breakable when young, and can be hard when mature. Queso añejo is used in burritos, salads, enchiladas, tacos, and so on. It is regarded as an aged version of queso fresco.

Queso oaxaca or quessilo
Queso oaxaca is a white-colored, string-like, mild flavored cheese, similar to mozzarella cheese. Cheese prepared from cow's milk is pulled in strings, and then knotted or rolled into a ball to be prepared. It has a slightly salty and buttery flavor, which makes it popular with kids. It is used in quesadillas, empanadas, baked recipes, chile rellenos, pizzas, nachos, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Nutrition Queso añejo Queso oaxaca or quessilo
Calories 104-106 90-100
Calories from Fat 73-76 60-70
Total Fat 8.5 g 6-8 g
Saturated Fat 5.4 g 4-6 g
Trans Fat 0 g 0 g
Cholesterol 29-30 mg 25-29 mg
Sodium 321 mg 180 mg
Potassium 24-25 mg 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 1.3 g 1 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g
Sugars 1.3 g 0-1 g
Protein 6.08-6.1 g 6 g
Vitamin A 1-1.1 % 1%
Vitamin C 0% 0%
Calcium 19% 15-20%
Iron 0.7-1 % 0 %


Hard Cheese

Mexican hard cheese is firm, crumbly, and can be grated or sliced. These have a bold flavor, and can be used to finish a dish. In earlier days, they were prepared by salting normal cheese, followed by further aging in the sun. They are used for garnishing dishes like tacos, fried beans, salads, grilled dishes, soups, pastas, and tortilla chips.

Hard Cheese

Queso enchilado or añejo enchilado
This is a version of añejo cheese that has been pressed into rectangular blocks and then coated with paprika, chile powder, or chile paste. Though the exterior of the cheese looks red and hot, it is a mildly spicy cheese that can be grated, shredded, or simply crumbled over various dishes. It is used in enchiladas, tacos, nachos, salads, beans, chile rellenos, pizzas, and soups.

Queso cotija
This type is a white, salty variety of cheese that is fresh when made, and becomes grainy or breakable with age. It is similar to Parmesan cheese, and is made from cow's milk. Being a dry cheese, it is used for grating, shredding, and direct crumbling over various dishes. It has two main varieties―one that is grainy, while the other is wetter, milder, and has more fat content. It is used in burritos, beans, tacos, tostadas, salads, soups, casseroles, chile, enchiladas, and even topped on fresh fruit.

Queso manchego viejo
Manchego cheese is made from unpasteurized milk from sheep of the manchega species. This cheese is characterized by a cylindrical shape, and a distinct zig-zag basket pattern on its outer rind and a wheat ear pattern on its top and bottom surfaces. When manchego cheese is aged for a year, it is called queso manchego viejo cheese. It is a yellowish to whitish, mild to slightly tangy flavored, hard, crumbly, and has a butterscotch color inside. It can be grated or eaten as tapas. It is used in salads, desserts, chorizo, membrillo, pizzas, beef burgers, with olives, and can even be eaten directly with bread or fresh fruit.

Duro Blando
This is a white, hard, dry, breakable cheese, with a strong spicy, slightly smoked flavor. It is prepared from cow's milk. It can be crumbled, but is mostly grated and used in toppings. It is used in quesadillas, tostadas, salads, re-fried beans, baleadas, pupusas, chili, enchilidas, and pasta.

Nutrition Queso enchilado Queso cotija Queso manchego viejo Duro Blando
Calories 90 90-100 130 90
Calories from Fat 70 51-70 90-108 60
Total Fat 7 g 5-6 g 10-12 g 6-7 g
Saturated Fat 5 g 5-5.67 g 7 g 4-4.5 g
Trans Fat 0 g 0 g 0-1 g 0 g
Cholesterol 20-25 mg 20-25 mg 25-29 mg 15-20 mg
Sodium 200 mg 390-480 mg 200 mg 380-520 mg
Potassium 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 0 g 0 g 2 mg 1-3 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g 0 mg 0-1 g
Sugars 0 g 0 g 0 mg 0 g
Protein 5-7 g 6-7 g 7 g 5-9 g
Vitamin A 4% 0-4% 8% 4-6%
Vitamin C 0% 0% 0% 0%
Calcium 15-20% 20% 26-30% 15-20%
Iron 0% 0% 0% 0%


Semi-soft Cheese

These have a mild flavor and are wet cheese.

Semi-soft Cheese

Queso jalapeño
This is a white, creamy cheese, with an evenly spicy flavor due to the jalapeños mixed in it. It is elastic and becomes soft when heated, but does not melt, thus, it is good for frying. It can be grated, shredded, or made into strings. Queso jalapeño is used in burritos, enchiladas, rellenos, quesadillas, tacos, nachos, and egg dishes.

Queso chihuahua or queso menonita
This is a yellowish, semi-soft cheese, with a mild, buttery taste, that was originally produced by the mennonite farming community of Mexico. Hence, also called queso mennonita. It is used as a melting cheese in quesadillas, casseroles, fundido, nachos, chilaquiles, chili con queso, pizzas, and sauces.

Nutrition Queso jalapeño Queso chihuahua
Calories 73-90 105-106
Calories from Fat 49-60 73-76
Total Fat 5-7 g 8.3-8.4 g
Saturated Fat 4 g 5.34 g
Trans Fat 0 g 0 g
Cholesterol 25-30 mg 29-30 mg
Sodium 140-230 mg 173-175 mg
Potassium 0 mg 14-15 mg
Total Carbohydrates 0-2 g 1.5-1.6 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g
Sugars 0-1 g 1.5-1.6 g
Protein 4-7 g 6-6.112 g
Vitamin A 0-4% 1%
Vitamin C 0% 0%
Calcium 10-15% 18%
Iron 0% 1%


Semi-hard Cheese

These are more aged than softer cheese, and have less wetness.

Semi-hard Cheese

Queso Edam
Edam is a semi-firm cheese which has a red wax coating and is pale-yellow from inside. It is made from whole or partially skimmed cow's milk. The cheese has a mild, nutty flavor when fresh, but it becomes hard and sharp-tasting with age. Due to its dryness, it can be used in sandwiches and with fruits like peaches, apples, apricots, cherries, and melons. It was originally a Dutch cheese, named after the town of Edam. It is generally available in a spherical shape, and is much lower in fat than other cheese varieties. It is used in pizza toppings, soups, sauces, queso relleno, roulades, and casseroles.

Queso Criollo
Criollo cheese is one of the few yellow-colored Mexican types of cheese, and has a mild, salty flavor. The flavor becomes stronger with age, and the cheese can turn extremely hard. It is generally used for grating and has a low-fat content. It is used in tortillas, quesadillas, beans, rice, and with bacon. It can also be directly crumbled over recipes. It is prepared from fresh, raw milk, and can be substituted by Munster cheese.

Nutrition Queso Edam Queso Criollo
Calories 101 110-112
Calories from Fat 69 90
Total Fat 8 g 8-10 g
Saturated Fat 5 g 4-5 g
Trans Fat 0 g 0-1 g
Cholesterol 25-27 mg 25-30 mg
Sodium 261-274 mg 80-350 mg
Potassium 48-53 mg 0-15 mg
Total Carbohydrates 0-0.4 g 0 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g
Sugars 0-0.4 g 0 g
Protein 7 g 6 g
Vitamin A 0-5% 0-6%
Vitamin C 0% 0%
Calcium 0-21% 0-20%
Iron 0-1% 0%


Creams

Mexican creams are not cheese but simply thick, creamy, rich, curd-like creams that have various uses, like ingredients of quesadillas, enchiladas, dessert topping, garnishes, and so on. These creams have a cooling effect, which balance the spiciness of hot dishes. They have a mild to sour taste.

Creams

Crema Mexicana
This is a white, fresh cream cheese, with a mild to sour flavor, and gives a rich feel in the mouth. It cannot be whipped. It finds application in tostadas, soups, sauces, chile rellenos, dressings, tacos, nachos, dips, enchiladas, tamales, flautas, and gorditas.

Crema Agria
Crema agria is a white-colored, sour cream cheese, with a rich, creamy feel in the mouth. It is prepared by fermentation of cream made from fresh cow's milk. It is generally used in dips, sauces, garnishes, savory dishes, candies, desserts, casseroles, picadillos, and tacos.

Nutrition Crema Mexicana Crema Agria
Calories 50 -70 57
Calories from Fat 61-70 43
Total Fat 6-8 g 4.7-4.79 g
Saturated Fat 4-5 g 3.3 g
Trans Fat 0 g 0 g
Cholesterol 21-30 mg 19 mg
Sodium 15 mg 128-129 mg
Potassium 0 mg 0-48 mg
Total Carbohydrates 0-2 g 1.9 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g 0 g
Sugars 0 g 0-1 g
Protein 1 g 0-1 g
Vitamin A 6% 4%
Vitamin C 0% 0%
Calcium 2% 4%
Iron 0% 0%

One common property of most of the Mexican cheese varieties is that they are prepared from fresh, raw milk. Also, the same cheese type may come in different names depending on which region of Mexico it was prepared. It's important to know the characteristics of each type of cheese before using them in a dish, since they taste different than the American or European ones.
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Published: July 30, 2014
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