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Substitutes for queso fresco cheese
Caution!
A number of Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks have been attributed to queso fresco and other Mexican soft cheeses. It is, therefore, essential that you consume this cheese before its expiry date and buy such cheese from reputable dairies only.
Fresh, milky, mildly tangy, and slightly salty can be used to describe the flavor of queso fresco. The texture of this cheese can be described as firm and crumbly. It doesn't melt when heated, but some melting variants of this cheese are being made. It is a soft, creamy, unaged white cheese that is a staple in Mexican cuisine. It makes a creamy addition to some hearty, spicy Mexican dishes like empanadas, quesadillas, and enchiladas. It may sometimes be added to desserts and is ideal for salsas and can be added to soups.
This cheese is usually made from raw cow milk or a combination of goat and cow milk. This milk is first heated until it has almost boiled, then an acidifying agent like vinegar (or lemon juice) is added. Then, it is continuously stirred and the milk is allowed to curdle. These curds are drained through a cheesecloth for a few hours to separate the whey from the curds. In just about a few hours and a few simple steps, queso fresco can be made at home.
Just in case you're not looking forward to making cheese at home or can't find the cheese in the supermarket, here are some alternatives that would make your life a little easier.
Queso Fresco Substitutes
Feta Cheese
feta-cheese
This is a brined, cured, and aged cheese made exclusively in Greece. It is made either from sheep milk only or from a mixture of sheep and goat milk. The taste of this cheese is slightly more tangy and saltier than queso fresco, so it has to be soaked in water for a few hours before using. The texture of this cheese is firm and crumbly as well. This cheese goes really well in salads, sandwiches, and along with grilled foods. Its tangy, salty taste would go well with spicy Mexican dishes.
Ricotta salata
This is a pressed, dried, salted and aged version of ricotta cheese. This cheese is made from the whey of sheep milk. Sometimes, it is made from cow or goat milk too. It is slightly salty and milky to taste, and sometimes, it has a nutty flavor. The texture of this cheese is firm. It is ideally grated over salads, pastas, and other vegetables. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels and are decorated with a basket-weave design.
Paneer
paneer
This cheese is an iconic ingredient of Indian cuisine. It is an acid-set, unaged, non-melting version of farmer's cheese. It is made of cow or buffalo milk. The flavor of this cheese can be described as milky and slightly sweet. Its texture is chewy, slightly crumbly and firm. It is used as a core ingredient in a number of Indian curries and also in Indian desserts. It is sometimes grated over spicy curries and would go really well with Mexican dishes.
Farmer Cheese
farmer-cheese
This cheese is quite similar to cottage cheese. The process of making this cheese is almost the same as queso fresco (rennet and bacterial starter culture is used here). It can be made from goat, cow, or sheep milk. The texture may vary depending on the type of milk used. The flavor of this cheese can be described as milky with a slight tang. The texture is firm, dry, and crumbly. It is used as a filling in blintzes or in stuffed pastas.
Pot Cheese
pot-cheese
This cheese, once again, is quite similar to cottage cheese. The curds used to make this cheese are drained and not pressed. As a result, this cheese is more moist and soft as compared to other cheeses. It is a soft, slightly crumbly, and unaged cheese. The texture of this cheese can be described as dry and crumbly. Its taste is very similar to that of ricotta and is usually used as a spread.
Monterey Jack
monterey-jack
Some people recommend Monterey Jack as a substitute for queso fresco. This is a semisoft aged cheese made with skimmed or partly skimmed cow milk. It has a pale yellow to deep golden color, depending on how aged the cheese is. The flavor also varies from mild to a rich almost caramel flavor with age. This cheese is widely used in Mexican and Spanish cuisines due its mild flavor.
Tofu
tofu-cheese
Tofu can be a good vegan alternative and is primarily made from the pressed curds of soy milk. Sometimes, it is known as bean curd and is extensively used in Southeast Asian cuisines. It can be made soft, firm, or extra firm. It is very versatile and can be used in sweet as well as savory dishes. It can absorb flavors really well and can be used in just about anything. Other variants of tofu include almond tofu and peanut tofu.
Other Mexican cheese such as queso aƱejo are a good substitute for queso fresco.