Mexico is one of the most sought-after vacation destinations, offering every type of paradisiacal scenery, from pristine beaches to desert mountains. Along with unparalleled natural beauty, Mexico is a cultural treasure with festive and colorful traditions imitated worldwide.
Mexican food may be Mexico’s most prized contribution to the world. There’s a Mexican food restaurant in most cities worldwide where you can enjoy a vibrant tropical atmosphere to devour a plate of enchiladas and a margarita.
Mexican food is known for its tequila, mezcal, chilies, and endless variations of corn-based products.
Another key ingredient in Mexican cuisine is cheese. Whether it’s sprinkled over tostadas, flame-broiled into a luscious fondue appetizer, or melted into a quesadilla, Mexicans have created many uses for dairy.
I have compiled a list of the types of Mexican cheese used most in Mexican cooking.
Whether you like sharp-aged cheese or mild creamy cheese, you’ll discover the most common types and their uses below.
Also known as Queso Cotija de Montana, Cotija is a crumbly cow’s milk cheese that’s named after the highland town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacan.
Cotija is a semi-hard cheese that crumbles easily and doesn’t melt when exposed to heat.
It has a sharp pungent flavor like Greek feta but has a harder and drier texture. Cotija is a garnishing cheese in Mexican cuisine, used to crumble atop tostadas, salads, guacamole, soups, and refried beans.
My favorite use of cotija cheese is as the final layer of Mexican-style street corn known as elote, consisting of corn on the cob doused in mayonnaise then rolled in cotija and dusted with chili powder and a drizzle of lime juice.
Oaxaca is a beautiful southwestern Mexican state known for its epic surfing beaches, stunning mountain ranges, and rich mole sauce.
Incidentally, it’s also the origin of Oaxaca cheese, a semi-hard, mild white cheese.
Oaxaca cheese tastes precisely like mozzarella cheese and is, in fact, a rendition of mozzarella cheese developed by Italian friars that came to live in Oaxaca as missionaries.
Oaxaca cheese usually comes packaged as a medium-sized cylinder that you can easily peel, like string cheese.
It’s the type of Mexican cheese used in quesadillas. Its mild flavor and fun texture are also great for snacking. It’s hard for me not to gobble down a few strings of it as I make quesadillas.
Panela is a pasteurized cow’s milk white cheese called panela de canasta or “basket panela” because people initially used baskets to mold its shape.
Panela is fresh and semi-hard, often preserved in water like feta. It doesn’t melt and keeps its form like Halloumi or Indian Paneer.
However, unlike Paneer and Haloumi, Panela has a very salty taste and a hint of tanginess. Mexicans use Panela as a delicacy to consume on its own with chili and garlic paste to garnish.
You can also grill it like Haloumi and use it as a filler in enchiladas or tacos. I like to eat it with the same quince jelly fruit used on the Mexican King Day bread.
Queso Fresco is the Mexican counterpart of Greek Feta. Meaning “fresh cheese,” Queso Fresco is traditionally a raw cow or goat-milk cheese.
It can also be a blend of cow and goat cheese. Queso fresco refers to the curds yielded from freshly curdled milk.
Queso Fresco, therefore, has a pungent and sour flavor and a watery, yet creamy consistency. It’s a crumbling cheese that tastes great on salads or sprinkled over scrambled eggs.
It has a very short shelf life, so you should use it soon after buying it.
I love to sprinkle it over a plate of chilaquiles with salsa Verde and fried eggs.
Not to be confused with the Spanish variety, Manchego in Mexico is a semi-hard packaged white cheese with a spicy smoky aftertaste like Monterey Jack Cheese.
Also like Monterey Jack Cheese, Manchego cheese is a melting cheese or snack cheese made from ultra-pasteurized cow’s milk.
You’ll never find it at a fresh artisanal cheese shop. It’s kind of like the American cheese in that it’s super-processed but still manages to be comforting and addicting.
It’s an affordable cheese with a long shelf-life and a common household staple for quesadillas.
I’m a fan of the smoky aftertaste that pairs well with poblano peppers or sauteed onions and bell peppers.
Originating in the Northwestern state of Sinaloa, Asadero is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese is also known as “melting cheese.”
Its soft, creamy texture melts instantly into a decadent gooey fondue that Mexicans call queso fundido or queso flameado.
Asadero has a decadent buttery flavor that tastes even better when melted. It tastes great on a sandwich, battered and fried, or even sliced over salads.
I’m partial to queso fundido, the Asadero melts into a creamy fondue that still slightly coagulates to create the perfect stringy pull.
I like to mix in some grilled poblanos and spoon each bite over a fresh corn tortilla.
Meaning “aged cheese” in Spanish, Queso Anejo is one of Mexico’s only aged hard cheeses.
It’s made from skim cow’s or goat’s milk and sold in large rounds rolled in paprika.
The paprika-dusted edges add a spicy kick to this strong and salty cheese. You can shave it like parmesan or shred it like cheddar.
It also comes fresh, like crumbly Cotija, or aged like hard parmesan. Either way, it’s a good cheese for garnishing. A little goes a long way.
I like to buy the fresh Anejo, grill it like halloumi, and then top it with thin slices of avocado.