5 Popular Mexican Cheeses to Stock Up on Right Now

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Karen Biton-Cohen)

When you think about cheese, what kinds come to mind? For most of us, it’s probably a lineup of the usual suspects — a list of favorites we reach for on a regular basis. (Cheddar and mozzarella, anyone?)

But there are quite a few delicious cheese options that hail from Mexico — and they’re ready to do more than stuff a quesadilla.

What These Cheeses Have in Common

While each of these cheeses have qualities that make them ideal choices for certain dishes over others, there’s also a lot they have in common. Most Mexican cheese is made from cow’s milk, although there are some varieties use goat’s milk. They’re all fresh, un-aged cheeses, with a very creamy taste.

1. Queso Fresco: The Farmer-Style Cheese

Queso fresco, which translates into “fresh cheese,” is a traditional Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk or a combination of cow and goat milk. It’s a mild cheese that’s creamy and fresh, with a salty-sour tang.

Best Way to Use It

Use queso fresco to highlight grilled vegetables and garnish chilled soups, or to balance heavier dishes like enchiladas or huevos rancheros. Thanks to its salty profile, queso fresco can also be used as an alternative to feta or ricotta salata.

More on Queso Fresco

2. Cotija: The “Mexican Parmesan”

Think of this dry, crumbly, salty cheese as the Mexican version of Parmesan. Made from cow’s milk, this cheese softens when heated, but not enough that it actually melts. Instead, it does its best work as a garnish and is most well-known for finishing off elote, a popular street food found in Mexico of smothered grilled corn. You can also find the aged version of this cheese, often labeled as añejo.

Best Way to Use It

While cotija can be used to garnish salads, tacos, enchiladas, burrito bowls, and even pasta, it’s a must-have ingredient when making elote.

3. Queso Blanco: The Mozzarella-Cottage Cheese Hybrid

Queso blanco is a general term for fresh white cheese, but is also the name given to a fresh white cheese often described as a cross between mozzarella and cottage cheese. This cheese is typically made from skim cow’s milk. While it doesn’t melt particularly well, it does soften nicely when heated.

Best Way to Use It

Because of the way it softens (yet still holds it shape when warmed(, queso blanco is ideal for stuffing inside enchiladas and peppers, or folded into grain salads.

(Image credit: Mexgrocer.com)

4. Queso Panela: The Cheese to Grill

This mild and light-flavored, semi-soft cheese is made from cow’s milk. It’s quite similar to thick slices of halloumi, in that it holds its shape particularly well when heated.

Best Way to Use It

Swap in panela for halloumi and try it pan-seared or grilled. You can also use panela in salads, sandwiches, omelets, and casseroles.

Get a Recipe: Grilled Halloumi & Quinoa Salad (try it with panela!)

5. Queso Oaxaca: The Cheese for Melting

Also referred to as quesillo, this semi-soft cheese has strands similar to those in mozzarella, with a flavor similar to un-aged Monterey Jack. This super-creamy, mild cheese is best known for it’s ability to melt like a dream.

Best Way to Use It

This is your go-to cheese for making queso dip, quesadillas, grilled cheese, or getting a nice, melty finish on chile rellenos and tostadas. Give it a try on your next pizza.

Get a Recipe: Queso Fundido