I know three things about Mexican cheese:
- When they say Manchego, it’s not what you think. This is processed, white melting cheese like a plastic Jack or salty Kraft. It has nothing to do with sheep or Spain, but it makes a damn fine quesadilla.
- Oaxaca is fun to pronounce. Whah-ha-ka! It’s wound in a ball, begging for a delicious unraveling. It also works well in melting situations, including, but not limited to the do-not-let-linger bowl of queso fundido (melted cheese, meant for fondue-like dipping).
- Panela is elusive, moist, and mysterious. It can be mild and sweet, while some brands – I’m looking at you, Lala – have a funky, fetid quality. I have seen it compared to fresh mozzarella, but I’m afraid poor Panela cannot compete, though I learned to like it a lot during our time in Mexico.
I don’t think I had much fresh farmer’s cheese, or queso blanco, when I lived in Yucatan, nor would I care to. Who wants curdled dairy in the tropical heat? Not me; no way, Jose. But back home, reminiscing about the flavors of sidewalk taco stands and late night snacks on the Paseo de Montejo, I found myself wishing for something creamy and salty to sprinkle on tostadas, or on top of a torta. In the spirit of Mexico, I wanted to make my own home kitchen a cocina economica for the day. It’s a relatively simple process to make your own queso blanco. A good afternoon project. Here’s how to do it:
Homemade Queso Blanco
- 1/2 gallon (8 cups) whole milk
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Step 1: In a large pot, slowly heat whole milk to between 185 and 190 degrees. This took me about 25 minutes, because I wanted it to go low and slow, stirring often.
Step 2: When the milk is up to temperature, incorporate the vinegar, turn off the gas, and let sit for 10 minutes. At this point curds are forming, separating from the weigh.
Step 3: With a slotted spoon, remove the curds to a sieve placed over a bowl; discard any liquid in the bowl. In another bowl combine the curds and salt, gently.
Step 4: Place the loose curd ball into cheesecloth, tie up the ends and let drain over the sink (we secured it to the faucet) for 45 minutes.
Step 5: Canning the cheese. (Do this in advance!). To make a makeshift cheesepress, open a 28 oz can ( I used beans) and remove the food to a storage container and rinse with soap until odorless. Open the other end of the can, carefully. On a cutting board, place a clean kitchen towel. Set the cylinder over its bottom and drop in the curds.
Step 6: Place the can top in and press. I used a glass bottle filled with water for a weight, and let sit for 4 hours.
Step 7: Remove the cheese from its can. Admire its form.
Step 8: Store your queso fresco in wax paper in the refrigerator for a few days, no longer. It’s fresh! (but salty).
Now, how else to enjoy it?
I have seen it suggested that a slice pan-fried in olive oil is delicious. Cheese that doesn’t go gooey is compelling, despite my complete devotion to meltiness. [Aside: Haloumi. Am I right?] But eaten plain in salty slivers or as a garnish for your favorite tacos is also, always recommended.