Queso Fresco The Easy Way, Version 1

>> Thursday, July 21, 2011

**Voted into the Foodbuzz Top 9 on July 23,2011**

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Contrary to what Tex-Mex restaurants (or Mexican inspired restaurants) will lead people to believe, Mexican food is never drowning in cheese. Sure Mexican cuisine uses cheese but not to the extent that those aforementioned restaurants use. Cheese in Mexican cuisine is most often used as a light topping, light being the key word. When it is used as a filling then of course the amount required is more. Of course we have a few dishes that are all about the queso, like quesadillas, chiles rellenos, seared cheese and queso fundido. But other than that in a real authentic Mexican restaurant ,or home, you will never be served dishes with so much cheese you can barely tell what's underneath the cheese. Oh, and yellow cheese does not exist/belong on real authentic Mexican food. But that and other non-existing/belonging foods is a story for another day. Perhaps one can use the amount of cheese on a plate as a measuring point to the authenticity of the food in a restaurant.?

The Spanish conquistadors are who originally brought cheese making, and milk based products for that matter, to latin America. Later as Swiss and German settlers arrived in different parts of Mexico they introduced their own dairy processes and cheeses. Modern day Mexican cheeses range from soft fresh cheeses to firm aged cheeses. The variety is small compared to lets say French cheese, but they do their job perfectly in Mexican cuisine.
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If you live in the US then chances are Mexican cheese is easy to come by. Living in Europe they are not, so I find myself often substituting with local cheese. Don't get me wrong I am not complaining and have had good results with the substitutes. But cheese making is something that I've always been curious about. To me it is interesting how milk is transformed into so many varieties of cheese. After filling my head with cheese knowledge I was ready to give it a try. Since European cheeses are abundant I thought I start off with an exotic and easy to make cheese. Queso fresco came to mind because everything I read said how easy it was to prepare.
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Queso fresco or literally fresh cheese is the crumbly cheese most commonly used in Mexican cooking. The taste is mild with slight acidic undertones, it is used as a topping or filling, though it is a soft cheese it does not melt completely. This recipe I am sharing with you today is the first in several variations and experimentations I am planning for this queso. The most important thing about this recipe is that anyone can make it and you don't need any special ingredients to do so. Get the milk out and start your queso for tonight's Mexican dinner!

Easy Homemade Queso Fresco
Yields : One 240g or 1/2 lb cheese

1 liter of whole fat milk (I used 3.5% UHT)
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp fresh squeeze lemon juice, extra if needed


1. In a large pot heat the milk under medium heat. Allow the first bubbles to form prior to boiling - do not bring to a boil. The temperature should be warm but not hot that sticking a finger in the mild will burn you. Turn the heat off.

2. Gently pour and stir in the buttermilk. Next stir in the fresh lemon juice. Keep stirring until curds begin to form. If no curds form after a couple of minutes you will need to add more lemon juice. Cover and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
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3. Place a colander with cheese cloth over a large container to catch the whey. Pour all of the pot contents into the lined colander. BE CAREFUL the liquid is hot. Gather all sides and tie over a wooden spoon or just twist. Remove the colander and place the gathered cloth over a deep container. You don't want the curds to touch the liquid, it needs to drain off. Leave draining for 30 minutes and tightening the cloth from time to time.
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4. Once drained untie the cloth and place the cheese into a large container. Salt and season as desired while working the salt into the cheese. Gather the cheese and place in a container to mould and cover. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour, until chilled or overnight.

**If leaving overnight make sure to reserves some of the liquid to pour back in the container with the cheese. Otherwise the cheese will come or stick together and become more of a softer consistency , great for spreading.

* This quick methods yields wetter curds that after left together will bind and become a softer or creamier cheeses. Perfect for spreading.
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I feel the results were pretty good and considering this was the first cheese I've ever made, not bad at all. The taste was creamy, soft with very little acidic undertones. We ate half of the cheese the first day I made it. The next day the leftover cheese had come together ever more and lost a bit of the looseness in the curds. I think next time the draining time will be longer. But the taste was still very creamy and I was able to spread it on some bread. Can't wait to try a second version, spiced perhaps.

How about you, ever made your own cheese at home?

Other Homemade Cheese Recipes:
Forging Fromage, Cheese Making Group run by Girlichef


Sandra July 21, 2011 at 12:09 PM  

Hi Nancy,
This is great way to make fresh cheese, and my grandmother use to make this kind of cheese also, just without lemon juice and buttermilk..but I am guessing it helps to sour faster onto crumbles. Looks fantastic to be honest with you! Really easy and delicious recipe..and I love your photos, very rustic and pretty!

Spicie Foodie July 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM  

Hi Sandra, Thank you:) Yes the lemon in place of rennet and once you add it to the milk it begins curdling right away. The buttermilk cultures the milk.

Paaka Shaale July 21, 2011 at 1:03 PM  

This cheese is new to me Nancy. I often make Paneer or cottage cheese at home. But I use either butter milk or vinegar or lime juice to curdle the milk. I will try making this cheese for sure :)

Spicie Foodie July 21, 2011 at 1:11 PM  

Hi Paaka, Yes Paneer and Queso Fresco are quite similar. I found that out when I was researching. Panner is also on my list to try soon:)

natalie July 21, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

Wow. I've never made cheese on my own, and I'm so incredibly impressed with anyone who does. :)

Heidi @ Food Doodles July 21, 2011 at 1:16 PM  

I'm so glad you talked about the difference between tex-mex and authentic Mexican in the amount of cheese used. Too much cheese can spoil a dish, that's for sure. I love your step by step pictures! This looks awesome, I actually think I may try this after I go for groceries since I don't usually have buttermilk on hand.

girlichef July 21, 2011 at 1:23 PM  

Beautiful! =) Well, you I adore queso fresco and fortunately it's readily available here, but it's always more satisfying when I make it myself. Thanks for the link!!

Leanna @ Raptortoe July 21, 2011 at 1:27 PM  

Nice post! I've made similar cheese, but I dunno I didn't really like it. Maybe I'll try again.

Spicie Foodie July 21, 2011 at 1:36 PM  

@Natalie, Thanks, you should try this is so easy!

@Heidi, Yes! I hope you do try it:)

@Heather, Thank you! Yes I know you had so many recipes I thought I send them to your club:)

@Leanna, Thanks! Well everyone has different tastes:) You should, why not?

Jessica July 21, 2011 at 1:54 PM  

I have never made cheese before! Thank you for sharing this. I'm really excited to try it at home.

When I visited Mexico, I was pleasantly surprised that cheese is only used as a garnish and to add texture, but to your point, the dishes were never drowning in cheese! This looks like a great addition to salads or just about anything.

Spicie Foodie July 21, 2011 at 2:56 PM  

Hi Jessica, My pleasure:) Yes do give it a try. I do think it would be quite nice on a salad or many things.

Michelle Chin July 21, 2011 at 3:53 PM  

All this while, I have this faint suspicion that mexican food will never appear to be drowning in cheese and this is the vices of the misinterpretation of this amazing cuisine! Apparently, you have proved my suspicion right. :)

Mitinita July 21, 2011 at 4:02 PM  

I've made cheese this was as well,but mostly by mistake,my milk curdled and I didn't want to throw it out.

Spicie Foodie July 21, 2011 at 4:08 PM  

@Michelle, It is quite sad what people try to pass off as "Mexican" food. But it's also great when people recognize and appreciate real authentic Mexican cuisine :)

@Mitinita, Oh what a great discovery then :)!

Lindsey@Lindselicious July 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM  

Love it! I have some left over buttermilk now I am torn between making this or some butter...

Erin July 21, 2011 at 9:46 PM  

Amazing! Who knew you could do this! What a great post!

Joy July 21, 2011 at 10:33 PM  

That is so cool you made this. love the recipe.

Anonymous,  July 21, 2011 at 11:44 PM  

This looks delicious! I love that you used lemon juice instead of renin.... I would love some!

heidi July 22, 2011 at 1:22 AM  

gracias por aclarar el HORRIBLE mito del queso amarillo en nuestra grandiosa Cocina Mexicana y gracias por compartir ├ęsta receta.

The Mistress of Spices July 22, 2011 at 8:32 AM  

Hi Nancy! Nice post and photos, as usual. Who knew that the process and ingredients for queso fresco are pretty much the same as that for paneer? Interesting!

Adora's Box July 22, 2011 at 9:18 AM  

I love fresh creamy cheeses. This sounds simple enough for a cheese novice like me. The amount of yellow cheese on anything bothers me, too, now that you've mentioned it.

Tadka Pasta July 22, 2011 at 11:38 AM  

This looks so familiar! We make paneer the same way, and press it under a heavy weight if cubes are called for. Great first cheese, lovely pics!

Tadka Pasta July 22, 2011 at 11:40 AM  

Oh, and we usually run some water on the cheese before draining to remove the acidic tones :)

What did you do with the whey?

Spicie Foodie July 22, 2011 at 12:24 PM  

Thanks evryone for your comments!

@Tadka, I threw the whey out. I didn't know what to do with ? I read something about using it as a soup base. What do you recommend?

Tadka Pasta July 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM  

We use it in soup, dal-lentils, beans, curries, and breads, wherever a liquid is needed, and a bit of acid won't hurt. It gives a richer and slightly tangy taste to the dish.

Spicie Foodie July 22, 2011 at 12:37 PM  

Thanks Tadka, I'm going to save it next time and try it on one of your mentioned foods. Actually I can't wait to try it soon. Thanks:)

Lazaro Cooks July 22, 2011 at 1:08 PM  

Great job for a first go around. Very detailed instruction too. Queso fresco and Cotija are some of my favorite cheeses. I can get them fairly easily here in Miami.


Victoria July 22, 2011 at 3:23 PM  

That reminds me a lot of making ricotta cheese! The only difference is the buttermilk vs. heavy cream, but otherwise it's very very similar. I've made ricotta and mozzarella before. I really should make more cheese, even though it's readily available, it can be really fun and exciting to do it yourself :) I also am so glad you pointed out that Mexican food drowning in cheese is not authentic. It bothers me so much when I go to Mexican restaurants.

Kelly @ Eat Yourself Skinny July 22, 2011 at 4:22 PM  

What a great idea, this looks amazing!! I bet its delicious, saving this recipe to make in the future!! :)

Magic of Spice July 22, 2011 at 10:56 PM  

I love this and the history...I think I told you Adam has made this cheese at home and it is wonderful, mild and tasty! Gorgeous as always :)
Hugs and wishing you a great weekend!

FamilySpice July 22, 2011 at 11:25 PM  

Tell me about it! I live in Southern California and I grew up in Texas and it's so true about the cheese. I really should branch out and try using queso fresco in my cooking. What a very informative post!

purabi naha July 23, 2011 at 3:37 AM  

That looks great! In India, we call this as paneer, but we don't add buttermilk. This picture looks great!

Anonymous,  July 23, 2011 at 5:20 AM  

I've made ricotta like this before, I ate it still warm with honey on toast, delicious! Also I made labneh (a yoghurt cheese)by straining greek yoghurt then adding sumac, dried mint & cumin. It's so good and so easy!! I love your glass tray & congrats on Top 9!

Spicie Foodie July 23, 2011 at 6:07 AM  

Thanks again guys, loving all your great feedback:)

@foodblogandthedog, Oh that sounds so so good! Will have to try that soon. Thanks I had no idea I was on the top 9, yay :)!

BeadBag July 23, 2011 at 7:51 AM  

There is something lovely about making cheese at home. I have made a very simple cream cheese with yogurt - which was also very nice. Your cheese looks wonderful.

Hester Casey @ Alchemy in the Kitchen July 23, 2011 at 8:12 AM  

Very interesting to know that Mexican food isn't loaded with cheese - some large brands would lead you to believe it is - have you seen the cheese in a jar? Bleaugh!

I am definitely trying this Queso Fresco, Nancy. I've always wanted to try making cheese and this is a great one to start with. Congrats on Top 9!

Chef Dennis July 23, 2011 at 8:50 AM  

having been raised on true Tex-Mex not northern style, we had cheese on dishes but it was never the main event! Thanks for showing us how to make our own Queso Fresco, I have never made cheese and this looks easy enough even for me.
Now I'm hungry for a nice mexican breakfast....sigh
Congrats on the top 9!

Kate@Diethood July 23, 2011 at 10:18 AM  

Aye aye aye...I wish I could pick up a fork and dig in!! YUM!
When I first went to Mexico I expected not to like the food because I'm not crazy about "USA" Mexican food... to my surprise, I LOVED Mexican food in Mexico! :)

In Katrina's Kitchen July 23, 2011 at 1:30 PM  

Congrats on Top 9! Well deserved!! :) Oh, and YUM!

Healthy Mamma July 23, 2011 at 4:07 PM  

I have a hard time eating at most chain Mexican resteraunts because of all the cheese that smothers the food. I do however love making my own at home. Living here so close to Mexico there are some great ingredients and cheeses on hand.

Making my own is on the very top of my 'To Do' list. thanks for the great tutorial!


Anonymous,  July 23, 2011 at 10:46 PM  

Congratulations on making Food buzz's Top 9!

Tiffany July 23, 2011 at 11:10 PM  

I've yet to make my own cheese! And queso fresco is one of my favs... I'm inspired to try!

Foodiva July 24, 2011 at 12:11 AM  

When I went to Mexico and my friends there took me out, I honestly couldn't remember eating much cheese, if any. So what you said here is absolutely right! I've never made any fresh cheese at home but looking at this beautiful post, I'm inspired to try it ;-).

Curt July 24, 2011 at 1:58 PM  

I love Mexican food. And I do know the difference having grown up in San Antonio, Texas.

The Harried Cook July 24, 2011 at 9:27 PM  

Yummy! I bet this tastes delicious... Sounds very similar to an Indian cheese we make pretty often called paneer... Great post!

Lizzy July 25, 2011 at 8:13 AM  

I just tried queso fresco for the first time this year...so yummy! I know your homemade version is even better!!!!

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