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Cheeses of Mexico

Mexico has delighful cheeses.

Mention cheese and most people will think of France, maybe Italy, sometimes Germany or Greece. But rarely will the first image brought to mind be Mexico. Yet Mexico has a range of native cheeses that are delightful and even profoundly fine additions to the cheese world. In some cases they are similar to more familiar types. In many instances they are as different as the differing countries themselves.

Chiapas is a fine example of traditional Mexican cheese. Crumbly like feta, it has a delightfully tart taste that works wonders on beans.

Chihuahua, named after the state in Mexico, is perfect for dishes calling for melted cheese. Popular in Mexican fondue (yes, that's not just a French dish), it has a variety of other uses. Fried cheese (queso frito) is another favorite method of preparation.

Cotija stands in sharp contrast. This cheese is made from aged goat's milk. But unlike a ricotta it is sharp and tangy, not bland. Often grated over salads, it will add a nice tang to any dish.

Criollo is a sharp, yellow cheese from an area near Taxco in the state of Guerrero. Similar in color and taste to a Muenster, it has a distinctive flavor that sets it apart from that more familiar cheese. It works equally well grated or melted and will enhance any Mexican dish calling for a yellow cheese.

Enchilado may have a mundane name (translated it means, 'chili flavored'), but the taste is anything but. A type of anejo cheese, it's aged and spiced with paprika or chili powder. It goes well with a variety of Mexican cervezas, not least of which is an outstanding Michelada. Michelada is a mixture of beer, tabasco sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and lime.

Fresco is a creamy cheese that makes for the perfect spicy topping to many Mexican dishes. Enchiladas benefit from it and an empanada would be a lesser creation without a fresco.

Manchego by comparison is mild and mellow. Hailing from the La Mancha region, its nutty flavor makes it perfect for pambazos sandwiches or all by itself.

Oaxaca may be an unfamiliar name, but many who have enjoyed a great quesadillas have unknowingly tasted this stringy cheese. The Mexican version of mozzarella, it is perfect on a tlayuda. Tlayudas are a traditional Mexican dish made of a giant corn tortilla covered with frijoles refritos and asiento, refried beans and pork. When served plain, it's usually wound into a big ball like yarn (but much tastier).

Queso blanco is a soft, creamy, white cheese that makes a perfect spread. Similar to cream cheese, it's milder and not aged. It's just right for a small grilled tortilla snack.

Whichever variety of queso (Spanish for cheese) you prefer, you'll find a Mexican style cheese that suits your taste. Whether as a topping, in cooking, or just as a snack, they're perfect for every occasion.