17 Nov What is Oaxaca Cheese? The Oaxacan cheese discovery guide
Have you ever wondered why you feel like you can’t stop eating cheese? What makes Oaxaca cheese so charming and irresistible? ❤
See, I don’t know if you know this or not, but cheese is addictive, sometimes, even more than drugs. I swear it! Some scientists from Michigan University got to this conclusion. The thing is that cheese contains casein, which has similar effects than opiates during digestion. So, this protein releases casomorphins into the human body, which causes a wellness sensation and leads to addiction to this product.
So, no matter what your favorite cheese is, as soon as this little fellow, the so known Oaxaca cheese [pronunciation Wuh-Hah-kuh], reaches your tongue, you’ll be all about it.
Let me just give the top 5 strings on Oaxaca cheese, telling this to your friends, even Mexican friends, will make you seem the smartest tool in the toolbox.
1. What is Oaxaca cheese?
It is one of the greatest accidents of Mexican cuisine. Yes, you didn’t misread, to clarify, it was an ACCIDENT! Its actual place of origin was Reyes Etla, Oaxaca.
♫♫♫ Yo listen up, here’s the story, about a little girl that lived in a small town, and all day and all night and everything she did was wrong…♫♫♫ Sorry, I lost my train of thought.
Well yes, as I told you, it was an accident. It was 1885, and the teen that made it possible was very distracted. Her name was Leobarda Castellanos and she was only 14.
She was to take care of the rennet (you know, the process to make cheese), which is a very difficult task. She lost track of time and messed it up! It was no longer useful for making cheese. She didn’t want to be called off, as she was gonna, for sure… So she thought of pouring more boiling water trying to fix things up.
When her parents got home, they yelled “What on Earth?” They immediately noticed little Leobarda hadn’t taken care of the rennet. Still, they tried the mix, and they simply loved it. As a result, they got the technique better and better, until they got the right cheese with the right texture and shape, adding some elements, finally creating the mighty Oaxacan cheese.
The cost of this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow varies, depending on the size of the ball, from $25 to $120 Mexican pesos.
2. Oaxaca cheese vs. Mozzarella
Well, what to say? The only thing that makes these distant cousins is their similarly amazing nature of melting to give pleasure to our palate. (Ok… and the process is similar too)
Mozzarella cheese is essential to the Italian cuisine, on the other hand, Oaxaca cheese is the protagonist of Mexican cheeses. Both of them are versatile, although Oaxaca cheese is stringy and soft, so, grating it is not the best option. Though, they either can be used fresh or melted for a great variety of dishes.
Mozzarella can be made with cow milk or buffalo milk, while Oaxaca cheese is made from cow’s milk. Both of them are white, although mozzarella is spongy and Oaxaca cheese is stringy and soft. Mozzarella is a cured cheese, while Oaxaca cheese is not. Due to sanitary reasons, they are both pasteurized.
The maturity times are different, Oaxaca cheese is considered a fresh cheese, so it doesn’t last that long. Whenever we buy it, it is usually to be consumed on the same day.
In Mexico, Oaxaca cheese is the chosen cheese per excellence. Whether you pick to do quesadillas, beef au gratin, or just have it for a snack, it is simply addictive.
3. Where to buy Oaxaca cheese?
By now, I bet you have already understood that if you’re willing to have a piece of this heaven, you should come to Oaxaca, but to be brutally honest, just go straight to the local market wherever in Oaxaca you land.
Of course you can find a lot of industrialized versions at any supermarket, but trust me on this one: none of them will give you the juiciness of the original Oaxaca cheese.
Now, if you’re feeling a little sassy, and you wanna go wild… you may wanna go try the original Oaxaca cheese in Reyes Etla and try it with raw milk, as the original recipe dictates.
4. Melted Oaxaca cheese?
To melt this cheese, the heat of the stove is enough. Don’t forget Oaxacan cheese is what we use for quesadillas, doesn’t matter if it is only a cheese quesadilla, or it has other ingredients such as mushrooms, pumpkin flower, chicken or any other possible combination.
We Mexicans have our own fondue, and of course, above all and the most important ingredient is Oaxaca cheese. You will mainly find this dish in the taquerías. Yes, sure, depending on the area of Mexico you may be, there are other cheeses you may use, such as Asadero, Chihuahua or Monterrey Jack. But if you’re visiting Oaxaca, you will definitely be trying this fondue with Oaxaca cheese.
You can find it on the menu under “Entradas” or “Antojitos” and it is usually served in a mud pot. It can be served plain, or as many Mexicans prefer, with chorizo or mushrooms. And of course, we make tacos with it, except that we use flour tortillas for this one.
If you want to prepare this dish, you could use the oven, the stove or even the microwave, although whichever you choose, you may want to use a bit of milk to help the process and avoid it getting stringy or fibrous, and also use a pinch of starch to keep it soft. It should be at room temperature, otherwise it would melt unevenly. If you do it with the stove, keep stirring until it is completely melted; if you use the microwave, make pauses to stir it up once in a while. In addition, you may add chorizo, mushrooms, hot pepper, bacon, even beer to give it a little extra something. Come on, go wild!
Now, if you can’t go wild, here I share with you a recipe I like and would want you to try it out, it’s gooey, stringy cheese just waiting to be scooped up onto your tortilla!
5. Using Oaxacan cheese
How to master the use of Oaxaca cheese? Well, just follow your instincts, the sky is the limit… or, is it? But, if can’t find inspiration, try going step by step, and then, I’ll give you some ideas for regular dishes and wild quesadillas.
First of all, know your Oaxaca cheese, love your Oaxaca cheese… embrace your Oaxaca cheese.
You gotta understand its juiciness, softness, freshness…
Whenever you get to your home after acquiring this Oaxacan jewel, you could try sitting on your couch in front of the TV to watch Netflix, or sitting out on the terrace to read your favorite book or your favorite blog on your tablet, or maybe sitting at the table with a bunch of friends with a shot of mezcal and diced or shredded Oaxaca cheese.
Now, shredded Oaxaca cheese is the start to any good ending. One of the most common choices when it comes to vegetarian dishes, is to use Oaxaca cheese as filling for enchiladas (rolled filled up tortillas with spicy green or red tomato sauce), entomatadas (rolled filled up tortillas with red tomato sauce), or enfrijoladas (rolled filled up tortillas with beans sauce). These three dishes are regularly filled up with chicken.
As I told you several times now, another use is for quesadillas. Now, this could be as simple as shredding the Oaxaca cheese and placing it in a fresh tortilla (that could be corn or flour tortilla), bending the tortilla by half, and grilling it until the cheese is melted. The magic starts when you begin adding ingredients. Also, you could fry that quesadilla instead of grilling it. But let’s go further…
For example, here are some of the usual and unusual ingredients or stews Mexicans combine with Oaxaca cheese for making quesadillas: nopales (Mexican edible cactus), chorizo, pumpkin flower, mushrooms cooked with onion, chicharrón prensado (pressed pork rinds), shredded chicken cooked with onion and tomato, beef steak, poblano pepper, epazote (aromatic herb), beans… See? “Sky is the limit.”
So, in conclusion, the Oaxaca cheese is uniquely charming on its own. So, if you gotta choose your next vice, let it be the Oaxaca cheese. It is the perfect company for almost any Mexican dish. It is the perfect substitute to meat if you happen to be vegetarian or have the luck of dating one.
Let me give you some extra lines on the Oaxaca cheese.
- Don’t expect Oaxaca cheese to be similar in taste to anything you have tried before, especially if you’re all about European cheeses, don’t even think of making comparisons. Most Mexican cheeses are not aged, so they tend to be milder than what your tongue may be used to.
- The Oaxaca cheese is simply unique and soft; it is tender to your palate and awakens your craving for more and more. Yes, it’ll just become your addiction.
- If you’re planning on coming to Oaxaca, now you know what you’re looking for, so just go straight to the local market and buy a ball of Oaxaca cheese.
- If you end up deciding that you’re going to Reyes Etla, well, I’ll give you a teeny-tiny tip. You should go on dates of Guelaguetza, since they have the Expo Feria del Queso y el Quesillo. In this fair, you will witness the demonstration of Oaxaca cheese’s elaboration. There, you’ll find a range of milk, sour cream, butter, requesón, and yogurt; also, you’ll find a variety of cheeses other than Oaxaca cheese: cheese with chipotle, habanero, jalapeño, epazote and chapulines (grasshoppers).
If you’re visiting the Oaxacan coast and you are looking for things to do in Puerto Escondido , you may wanna try a tour called Made in Oaxaca by Puerto Food Tours . You’ll have the chance of getting to the local market and knowing one of the best cheese producers of the coast, and of course… trying the Oaxacan cheese made from happy cows milk 🙂 !
Wow!… Talking about Oaxaca cheese has made me feel cheerful, so, a giveaway string for you… just because I’m feeling generous.
6. Bonus info … the real name of Oaxaca cheese
That’s right! You’ve been fooled! Ok, no, you just got trapped into the simplification of things. As you may have noticed, this Oaxacan gemstone has quite a history; so of course, it has a name… a real one.
The Quesillo is what the world knows as Oaxaca cheese, or string cheese.
You’re not to come to Oaxaca and ask for Oaxaca cheese, or do it at the risk of looking like a nut job… When you go to China, you don’t ask for Chinese food right.
The quesillo is artisanal, the same way as the mezcal, so, not every string cheese may be called this way; that is why it is Oaxacan cheese and not quesillo, when it is produced out of Oaxaca. It is currently produced all over Mexico, but only true lovers of quesillo can tell the difference.
So, now you know better. Forget about the concept of Oaxaca cheese for good!
So, what do you think? Will this cheese be your next friend ?
Please, let me know your experiences if you have already tried the almighty quesillo.