Today, we’re venturing into the heart of Mexico to unravel the mysteries of a cheese that has become a culinary symbol of its native land. This is not just any cheese; it’s Oaxaca cheese – a star in Mexican Cuisine.
With its stringy texture, mild yet savory flavor, and exceptional melting qualities, Oaxaca cheese has captivated palates far beyond its birthplace.
But what makes this cheese so special? How did it earn its place in the gastronomic tapestry of Mexico?
Let’s embark on a flavorful journey to unravel the story behind Oaxaca cheese – a humble cheese with a rich heritage.
Quick Facts About Oaxaca Cheese
|Origin||Originated in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.|
|Texture||Known for its stringy texture when melted, similar to Mozzarella.|
|Production||Made by stretching the cheese curd into long ropes and then wound into balls.|
|Taste||Mild, buttery, and slightly salty.|
|Use||Commonly used in Mexican dishes like quesadillas, tacos, and enchiladas.|
|Shelf Life||Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month.|
|Nutrition||High in protein and calcium but also in fat and calories.|
|Varieties||There are many varieties of Oaxaca cheese, including those flavored with spices or wrapped in leaves for added flavor.|
|Pairing||Pairs well with light red wines and beers.|
|Availability||Outside Mexico, it’s widely available in Latin American grocery stores and online.|
What is Oaxaca Cheese?
Oaxaca cheese, often referred to as “quesillo,” is a delightful treasure from the culinary world of Mexico. Originating from the southern state of Oaxaca, this cheese is a staple in Mexican cuisine and has garnered widespread acclaim for its unique properties.
The production process of Oaxaca cheese is quite fascinating. It’s made using a traditional method known as “pasta filata” or stretched-curd. The curds are heated until they become elastic, then kneaded and stretched into long ropes of cheese. These ropes are then wound up into a ball, creating the distinctive, round shape that Oaxaca cheese is known for. This method contributes to the cheese’s stringy texture when melted, much like mozzarella, making it a favorite for dishes that require a good cheese pull.
But it’s not just the texture that sets Oaxaca cheese apart – its taste is equally noteworthy. The flavor profile of Oaxaca cheese is mild, buttery, and slightly salty. Its creaminess makes it a versatile ingredient, enhancing the flavor of various dishes without overpowering them. From quesadillas and tacos to enchiladas and tlayudas, Oaxaca cheese lends itself beautifully to a variety of recipes.
In terms of nutrition, Oaxaca cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, although it’s also high in fat and calories. So, while it’s a flavorful addition to meals, it’s best enjoyed in moderation.
Despite its regional roots, Oaxaca cheese has found its way to grocery stores and kitchens around the world. Whether you’re a fan of Mexican cuisine or a cheese enthusiast, Oaxaca cheese is definitely worth a try for its unique texture and delightful flavor.
What Does Oaxaca Cheese Taste Like?
Oaxaca cheese is renowned for its mild, yet distinctive flavor profile. It has a delicate, buttery taste with a hint of saltiness. Its flavor is often compared to that of unaged Monterey Jack but with a creamier texture.
The cheese’s mild flavor means it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients in a dish, making it a versatile choice for many recipes. When melted, Oaxaca cheese becomes even more delicious, gaining a creamy, velvety texture that complements a wide range of flavors.
It’s important to note that the taste can slightly vary depending on the specific variety of Oaxaca cheese, as some versions may be infused with spices or wrapped in leaves for added flavor. However, the classic version of Oaxaca cheese is loved for its straightforward, subtle taste and creamy consistency.
Oaxaca Cheese Tasting Notes
- Appearance: Oaxaca cheese is typically white or off-white in color. It’s usually shaped into a ball that unravels into strings when pulled apart, due to the unique “pasta filata” production process.
- Texture: The texture of Oaxaca cheese is semi-soft and stringy. It has a similar consistency to mozzarella and can be easily pulled apart into thin strands. When melted, it becomes creamy and velvety, adding a smooth texture to dishes.
- Aroma: The cheese has a mild, milky aroma. It does not have the strong, pungent smell that characterizes many other types of cheese.
- Taste: Oaxaca cheese has a delicate, mild flavor. It’s subtly salty with a buttery, creamy taste. The flavor is not overpowering, allowing it to blend well with a variety of ingredients.
- Aftertaste: The aftertaste is light and lingers just enough to leave a pleasant, creamy note on the palate.
- Pairings: Oaxaca cheese pairs well with a variety of foods. It’s often used in Mexican dishes like quesadillas, tacos, and enchiladas. In terms of beverages, it goes well with lighter beers and white wines that complement its creaminess without overshadowing its delicate flavor.
The Different Types of Oaxaca Cheese
|Traditional Oaxaca Cheese||This is the most common type, known for its mild flavor and stringy texture. It’s produced by stretching the cheese curd into long ropes and then wound into balls.|
|Añejo (Aged) Oaxaca Cheese||This version of Oaxaca cheese is aged, giving it a stronger, sharper flavor compared to the traditional variety. It’s often used in dishes that call for a more pronounced cheese flavor.|
|Adobera Cheese||While not technically Oaxaca cheese, Adobera is a cheese from the same region that is often compared to it. It has a similar production process but is pressed into a brick shape and has a slightly tangier flavor.|
|Quesillo con Hoja||This is a variant of traditional Oaxaca cheese that is wrapped in leaves, which imparts a subtle, earthy flavor to the cheese.|
|Spiced Oaxaca Cheese||Some versions of Oaxaca cheese are infused with spices or chilli for an added kick. The type and intensity of the spice can vary greatly between different producers.|
Is Oaxaca Cheese Just Mozzarella?
Oaxaca cheese and Mozzarella share some similarities, but they are not the same cheese. Both belong to the “pasta filata” family of cheeses, which are stretched and kneaded during production, giving them a unique stringy texture. This process results in a cheese that melts well, becoming gooey and stretchy, which makes both Oaxaca and Mozzarella great for dishes like pizza or quesadillas.
However, there are distinct differences between the two:
|Milk Source||Cow’s milk||Traditionally water buffalo’s milk, but often cow’s milk in the U.S. and other countries|
|Process||“Pasta filata” method where the curd is stretched into long ropes and wound into a ball||“Pasta filata” method where the curd is kneaded and cut into small balls|
|Texture||Semi-soft, stringy, and stretchy||Soft to semi-soft, slightly elastic|
|Flavor||Mild, creamy, slightly salty||Mild, milky, slightly tangy|
|Appearance||Typically white or off-white, formed into a ball that can be pulled apart into strings||Typically white, formed into small balls or logs|
|Melting Ability||Excellent, becomes creamy when melted||Excellent, becomes stretchy when melted|
|Shelf Life||Short, best consumed fresh||Longer than Oaxaca, especially when stored in whey or brine|
|Typical Use||Used in Mexican cuisine, particularly in quesadillas, tacos, and enchiladas||Used in Italian cuisine, particularly on pizza, lasagna, and caprese salad|
What is Oaxaca Cheese Best for?
Oaxaca cheese is renowned for its excellent melting qualities, making it a versatile cheese for numerous culinary applications.
- Quesadillas: The cheese’s stretchy and creamy texture when melted makes it perfect for quesadillas.
- Tacos: Oaxaca cheese can be sprinkled on top of tacos or melted into the filling for a deliciously cheesy twist.
- Enchiladas: The cheese can be used as a topping for enchiladas, providing a beautiful melt that enhances the dish.
- Chiles Rellenos: This traditional Mexican dish often uses Oaxaca cheese as the stuffing for the roasted and peeled poblano peppers.
- Pizza: Its excellent melting quality and mild flavor make it a good substitute for mozzarella in pizza.
- Fondue: Oaxaca cheese can be used to create a Mexican-inspired fondue, paired with tortilla chips for dipping.
- Baked goods: It can be incorporated into breads or pastries for a savory, cheesy treat.
- Cheese Pull-Apart Bread: The stringiness of Oaxaca cheese makes it ideal for recipes like pull-apart bread.
- Casseroles: Oaxaca cheese can add a creamy, gooey element to various casseroles.
- Sandwiches: It can be used in sandwiches and melts easily when grilled or toasted.
How to Melt Oaxaca Cheese?
1. Shred or slice the cheese: Oaxaca cheese is string cheese, so you can pull it apart into thin strands. Alternatively, you can also cut it into thin slices or shred it using a cheese grater. The smaller the pieces, the quicker it will melt.
2. Choose your method: You can melt Oaxaca cheese on the stovetop, in the oven, or in the microwave.
- For the stovetop, place the cheese in a non-stick pan over low heat. Stir constantly until it’s completely melted.
- If using an oven, sprinkle the cheese over your dish (like a casserole or a pizza) and bake it at the temperature required by your recipe until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- For microwave, put the cheese in a microwave-safe dish and heat it in short intervals (about 20-30 seconds), stirring in between until it’s melted to your liking.
3. Monitor closely: Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to keep a close eye on the cheese. It can go from melted to burnt very quickly.
4. Use immediately: Melted Oaxaca cheese is best when used immediately. It can become hard and lose its texture if it cools and sits for too long.
Is Oaxaca Cheese Healthy?
- Protein Source: Oaxaca cheese is a good source of protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues in the body
- Calcium: It also provides calcium, which is important for bone health
- Keto-Friendly: Oaxaca cheese is minimally processed and free from non-keto sweeteners, highly refined oils, and food additives, making it a suitable choice for those on a ketogenic diet
- High in Sodium: Oaxaca cheese is high in sodium. Consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and other heart-related issues
- Calories and Saturated Fat: Cheese generally can pack a lot of calories and saturated fat into a small amount. A serving size of Oaxaca cheese (28.35g) contains around 80 calories and 15g of saturated fats
- Quality Matters: Not all Oaxaca cheese is created equal. Some versions of Oaxaca cheese have been flagged as potentially harmful to health. Always check the quality of the cheese and opt for reputable brands.
Where to Buy Oaxaca Cheese?
7 Best Oaxaca Cheese Substitutes
|Mozzarella||Mozzarella is a great substitute because of its similar melting properties and mild flavor. It may not have the same stringy quality as Oaxaca cheese, but it’s widely available and works well in most dishes1.|
|Monterey Jack||Monterey Jack is another good substitute due to its mild flavor and excellent melting properties. It’s commonly used in Tex-Mex cuisine2.|
|String Cheese||If you’re looking for the stringy texture of Oaxaca cheese, regular string cheese can be a good substitute. It’s usually made from mozzarella, so it has a similar flavor profile3.|
|Provolone||Provolone is an Italian cheese that melts well and has a slightly stronger flavor than Oaxaca. It can add a bit more depth to your dishes4.|
|Gouda||Gouda is a Dutch cheese that has a rich, slightly sweet flavor. It melts well and can work as a substitute for Oaxaca in many recipes5.|
|Asadero||Asadero is a Mexican cheese that is often used in baking because of its excellent melting properties. It has a mild flavor similar to Oaxaca6.|
|Chihuahua||Also known as queso menonita, Chihuahua cheese is a Mexican cheese that melts well and has a slightly tangy flavor. It can be a good substitute if you want something with a bit more flavor7.|
What Pairs Well With Oaxaca Cheese?
Food that goes well with Oaxaca:
|Breads and Grains||Tortillas, Baguettes, Crackers, Cornbread, Pita Bread|
|Meats||Grilled Chicken, Shrimp, Ground Beef, Chorizo, Pulled Pork|
|Vegetables||Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, Onions, Jalapenos, Avocado|
|Fruits||Apples, Pears, Grapes, Figs, Peaches|
|Nuts and Seeds||Almonds, Walnuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pecans|
|Condiments and Sauces||Salsa, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Sour Cream, Hot Sauce|
|Herbs and Spices||Cilantro, Cumin, Chili Powder, Garlic, Oregano|
|Desserts||Dark Chocolate, Fruit Jams, Honey, Dates, Fig Jam|
Also read: 11 Best Crackers that Pair Well with Cheese
Beverage that goes well with Oaxaca:
|Alcoholic Drinks||Champagne, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Tequila, Mezcal|
|Non-Alcoholic Drinks||Hot Chocolate, Atole, Tejate|
|Cocktails||Oaxaca Cocktail, Oaxaca Old Fashioned|
|Traditional Mexican Beverages||Tejate, Horchata|
The Fascinating History and Origin of Oaxaca Cheese
The story of Oaxaca cheese, also known as queso Oaxaca, Asadero or Quesillo, is a tale of tradition, innovation, and a touch of serendipity. This Mexican name for a semi-soft, white, string-type, Hispanic-style cheese originates from the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico, where it was first made.
The process of making string cheese was introduced to Mexico by Dominican friars, who brought with them the age-old techniques of cheese-making from their homelands. However, it was the locals who gave this cheese its unique twist and distinct identity.
One legend has it that Oaxaca cheese was invented by accident in 1885 by a 14-year-old girl named Leobarda Castellanos Garcia. The story goes that Leobarda was left in charge of cheese production at her home, and while the cheese was curdling, she accidentally let the curd over-acidify. Instead of disposing of the curd, Leobarda decided to knead it, and to her surprise, the curd became stretchy. This accidental discovery led to the birth of Oaxaca’s signature stretchy cheese.
Oaxaca cheese belongs to the pasta filata family, a group of cheeses that are stretched and kneaded during their production. This gives Oaxaca cheese its unique texture and stringiness. Its flavor is mild yet savory, with a creamy mouthfeel and a delicate aroma that is reminiscent of fresh milk.
In terms of culinary uses, Oaxaca cheese is extremely versatile. It’s a favorite in many Mexican dishes due to its excellent melting properties. From being used as a topping on pizzas to being a crucial ingredient in quesadillas, empanadas, and enchiladas, Oaxaca cheese is truly a staple in Mexican cuisine.
Culturally, Oaxaca cheese holds a special place in the hearts of the locals. It’s not just a food product; it’s a symbol of their heritage and identity. The process of making Oaxaca cheese is often a family affair, with techniques and recipes passed down through generations. This cheese is more than just a component of their meals – it’s a testament to their resilience, resourcefulness, and culinary prowess.
The story of Oaxaca cheese is indeed more tangled than its stringy texture suggests. It’s a tale that intertwines history, culture, and cuisine, resulting in a cheese that stands out from the rest. From its humble beginnings in the kitchens of Oaxaca to its current status as a beloved cheese worldwide, Oaxaca cheese has certainly made its mark in the world of gastronomy.
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