What Is Oaxaca Cheese

Oaxaca Cheese

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Oaxaca cheese, sometimes called Quesillo or Asadero, is a stretchy, stringy fresh cow's milk cheese originating in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. This cheese has a tangy, milky flavor and is often used as a melting cheese. It's known for its tender yet bouncy texture, and its shape, a bundle of stretched and wound curd resembling a ball of yarn. Oaxaca cheese is a good source of calcium and protein.

Fast Facts

  • Milk Source: Cow 
  • Country of Origin: Mexico
  • Texture: Semi firm 
  • Age: Unaged
  • Color: White

What Is Oaxaca Cheese?

Oaxaca cheese was first made in Etla, a town in Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The cheese has a milky flavor with a mild, salty tang. It’s served fresh, often torn or shredded into thin strands as a topping for dishes like sandwiches, or melted as a filling or topping. It can be found in the cheese section of well-stocked supermarkets or at Latin American grocery stores. 

Oaxaca cheese shares some traits with fresh mozzarella and American string cheese: firm yet bouncy and stretchy, and it can be pulled apart into fine shreds. All of these cheeses are pasta filata cheeses (“spun paste” in Italian). This means the curds are heated, stretched, and pulled into shapes. While it's typically sold in a ball, Oaxaca cheese is first stretched into long strands and then wound, making it string cheese in more ways than one. 

How Oaxaca Cheese Is Made 

Raw or pasteurized cow's milk is heated, then cultures and acid are added until the milk's pH drops sufficiently to add the rennet. The rennet coagulates the milk into semisolid curd, which is then cut into small pieces. The curds and whey are gently heated and stirred, which helps to expel moisture from the curds and firm them up. The curds are drained and allowed to acidify further at room temperature. 

Next, the curds are stretched. Pieces of the curd are put into very hot water to soften, then shaped into long, thin strips. The strips are salted, then wound into a softball-sized mass. The balls of cheese are cooled before being packaged and sold.

Substitutes 

Other young pasta filata-style cheeses like fresh mozzarella, made with water buffalo or cow's milk, or Armenian string cheese can make a good stand-in for Oaxaca cheese for fresh uses, like shredding over dishes or on sandwiches. For melting, fresh or low-moisture mozzarella—the kind typically used for dishes like pizza—makes a good substitute. So do other mild melting cheeses such as Monterey Jack, Colby, mild Cheddar, or Provolone, although the flavor will be a little different. 

Uses

Use Oaxaca cheese atop Mexican dishes like tortas or cemitas, or put it in a dish surrounded with salsa verde and bake it to make queso fundido. It's an excellent filling for dishes like chile relleno, battered and fried poblano peppers stuffed with hot, gooey melted cheese. It's a classic cheese to melt inside pupusas, between tortillas for quesadillas, or atop or inside enchiladas, beans, and other Latin American dishes.

Queso Fundido

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Chicken cemita with oaxaca cheese

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Chile Relleno

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Storage

Store unopened Oaxaca cheese in your refrigerator. After opening, wrap Oaxaca cheese tightly in plastic wrap or seal it into an airtight plastic zip-top bag or resealable container. Store in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to one week. If you notice any mold growing on the cheese, it should be discarded.

Freezing Oaxaca cheese will negatively affect its texture for fresh applications, but frozen and thawed cheese can still melt well when used for cooking. Freeze unopened Oaxaca in its original vacuum-sealed plastic packaging or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then seal it in an airtight zipper-lock plastic bag before putting it in the freezer. Store in the freezer for up to three months, and be sure to thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before use. 

Oaxaca Cheese Recipes

Can You Eat the Rind?

Oaxaca cheese is rindless, so the entire cheese can be eaten.