What is Queso Oaxaca? | Good Appetite
For epic cheese-pull action (like in these squash vampiro tacos), queso Oaxaca — named for the Mexican state it hails from — is the king of meltability. It’s also exceptionally tasty. While often compared to low-moisture mozzarella or Monterey Jack, this fresh cow’s milk cheese is more complex with a buttery flavor, rich milkiness and delicate saltiness.
What is Queso Oaxaca?
Queso Oaxaca belongs to a cheese classification called Pasta Filata, which means “spun paste.” This family also includes mozzarella and cheese spreads, as well as more aged cheeses like caciocavallo, provolone, and scamorza. Like all cheeses in this classification, the Oaxaca queso you’ll find in the US starts with pasteurized milk (in the US, all cheeses less than 60 days old must be pasteurized). Next, rennet is added to the milk, creating curds and whey. The curd is separated from the whey and then dipped in either hot whey or water to make it malleable again. Then the soft curd is stretched, pulled and shaped. Think of this process as the candy making of the cheese world.
For mozzarella, the curd is usually formed into balls, but when it comes to queso Oaxaca, the curd is stretched into thin, flat ribbons and wrapped like a ball of yarn. This method creates a smooth yet bouncy texture that’s easy to pull into thin strands.
How can I use queso Oaxaca?
Queso Oaxaca is the ultimate processed cheese that adds gooey texture to quesadillas, tacos, chili rellenos, nachos, molletes, tlayudas and more. Its mild, creamy flavor is a blank canvas for heavily flavored ingredients like smoked cumin squash in these veggie vampiro tacos, chorizo (hi, queso fundido), and flame-kissed carne asada.
That being said, Queso Oaxaca is just as delicious raw. Try slicing it up and stuffing it into eggplant sandwiches—like other cream cheeses, its texture is tender and squeaks easily. You can also pull it apart into a bunch of strings to use as a fun, textured topping. Stack chicken mole enchiladas, toss them with strips of grilled nopales, or dress up a simple bowl of refried beans.
Where can I find Queso Oaxaca?
Find queso Oaxaca, often sold as Oaxaca cheese, in the specialty cheese section of many commercial supermarkets, along with other Mexican dairy products such as crema, queso fresco, and cotija. Some of the most popular brands are Cacique and El Mexicano. But if you have access to a local Mexican supermarket, you might be able to find more artisanal versions of this cheese that bring an even more nuanced flavor.
The truth is, queso Oaxaca is pretty irreplaceable. Substitutions are not replicas, and this cheese is in its own right and well worth seeking out. However, if you absolutely can’t get your hands on Queso Oaxaca, you can use shredded low-moisture mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or Asadero cheese for recipes that call for melting. Or, if you’re looking for a substitute for raw, shredded Oaxacan queso, try Armenian spreadable cheese.
Something about the taco: