Goat cheese, also known as goat’s milk cheese or chevre (the French word for goat), is a popular type of cheese made from goat’s milk. Its flavor is tangy and distinct from cow’s milk cheeses. Goat cheese has been produced around the world for thousands of years, originating in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions where goat herding is common. But what about goat cheese in Mexico? Let’s take a deep dive into the world of Mexican goat cheese and find out if it exists.
The Presence of Goats and Goat Farming in Mexico
To determine if goat cheese is made in Mexico, we first need to look at the presence of goats and goat farming in the country. Goats were first introduced to Mexico by the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century. The arid and mountainous terrain of Mexico provides an ideal environment for raising goats. Goats thrive in hot, dry climates and can graze on vegetation that is not suitable for cattle or sheep.
According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are over 10 million goats raised in Mexico as of 2018. The main goat breeding states are Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Chiapas. Goats are raised for both milk and meat production in Mexico. There are several well-known indigenous goat breeds including the Criollo, Nubian, and Alpine.
The presence of a substantial goat population demonstrates that goat farming is indeed an established agricultural industry in Mexico. And where there are goats being milked, there is also goat cheese.
Tradition of Goat Cheese Production in Mexico
Goat cheese has a long-standing place in Mexican food traditions. Before the Spanish arrived, indigenous Mesoamerican peoples were already producing goat cheese. The Spanish brought their cheesemaking techniques and additional goat breeds to Mexico which expanded and influenced cheese production.
Several types of goat cheeses were made in colonial Mexico by both Spanish settlers and Indigenous communities. Soft goat cheeses like Chévre were produced across central and southern Mexico. Hard aged goat cheeses were also made in mountainous villages. Goat cheese was an important food source given the lack of refrigeration and the climate.
Today, goat cheese remains integral to the cuisine of several Mexican regions. States like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Vera Cruz have maintained traditional goat cheese recipes. Local Mexican goat cheeses are commonly used to fill empanadas, tacos, and quesadillas.
Major Goat Cheese Producing Regions
While goat cheese can be found all over Mexico, there are a few key regions that are especially renowned for their local specialty goat cheeses.
The state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico is one of the foremost producers of goat cheese in the country. Cheesemaking is a longstanding tradition in Oaxaca dating back to before the colonial era. Oaxaca produces plentiful amounts of soft, semi-hard, and aged goat cheeses such as:
- Quesillo – Fresh, salty, unaged white cheese made from goat or cow milk.
- Asiento – Firm goat’s milk cheese drizzled with savory red chile paste.
- queso añejo – Aged hard goat cheese, often with a crumbly texture.
These cheeses frequently appear in Oaxacan dishes like tlayudas, moles, and empanadas.
The state of Jalisco produces cotija cheese, one of Mexico’s most popular crumbled, aged cheeses. Cotija can be made from goat or cow milk, with a hard, salty flavor perfect for sprinkling. Jalisco is second only to Oaxaca in goat cheese production.
In Chiapas, local farmers make soft, fresh goat cheeses like chévre by hand. Chiapas also produces a ripened goat cheese called bola de capricho meaning “whimsy ball”. Smokey capricho bola has a light mold rind and distinct aroma.
Major Mexican Goat Cheese Brands and Producers
While much of Mexico’s goat cheese comes from small-scale farms and vendors, there are a few larger commercial producers distributing nationally and internationally:
- Del Cabrito – Brand from Jalisco producing aged cotija and other goat cheeses.
- Ranchero Cheese – Based in Querétaro, makes aged goat cheeses.
- Sierra Cheese – Family-owned Oaxaca company producing asiento, Cotija, and more.
- Colectivo Agroecológico – Farm coop in Michoacán making artisanal goat cheese.
Many Mexican restaurants and taquerias outside of Mexico will use goat cheeses from these brands to add authenticity.
What Type of Goat Cheeses Are Made in Mexico?
Mexico produces a diverse range of goat milk cheeses. Some of the main types include:
Fresh and Soft Cheeses
Fresh, unripened goat cheeses are common in Mexican cuisine. Varieties include:
- Chévre – Fresh, spreadable goat cheese with a tangy, acidic taste.
- Queso blanco – A mild, white goat cheese similar to feta.
- Requesón – Soft, ricotta-like goat cheese with a fluffy texture.
These mild, soft cheeses are delicious in salads, tacos, soups, and desserts.
Many popular Mexican goat cheeses fall into the semi-hard category. They have more aging for concentrated flavor but still some moisture. Types of semi-hard goat cheese include:
- Asiento – Firm aged cheese often coated in chili paste from Oaxaca.
- Panela – Fresh pungent cheese with a basket-molded rind.
- Cuajada – Dense, crumbly cheese used for grating over dishes.
The salty, tangy flavors of semi-hard goat cheese are excellent for crumbling, slicing, melting, and grilling.
For hard goat cheeses, Mexican cheesemakers press and age the cheese to create a very firm dry texture. Popular hard goat cheeses in Mexico include:
- Cotija – Hard, crumbled aged cheese, often from Jalisco.
- Queso añejo – “Aged cheese” with a very hard texture.
- Bola – Hard ripened cheeses shaped into balls.
These bold, sharp hard goat cheeses are perfect for grating and enhance the flavors of chilies, beans, rice, and vegetables.
Where to Find Goat Cheese in Mexico
Traveling in Mexico, you can readily find goat cheese in:
- Markets – Outdoor and indoor food markets have cheese vendors selling local varieties.
- Fromageries – Specialty cheese shops with extensive Mexican goat cheese selections.
- Farms – Buying directly from goat farms and cheesemakers.
- Restaurants – Many authentic Mexican restaurants incorporate goat cheese into regional cuisine.
Regions like Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Chiapas will have abundant access to locally made goat cheeses. But even in Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and other big cities, you can find specialty cheese shops and markets selling goat cheeses from around the country.
How Is Goat Cheese Used in Mexican Cuisine?
Goat cheese adds a distinct flavor and creaminess to both savory and sweet Mexican dishes. Some popular uses for goat cheese in Mexican cooking include:
- Quesadillas – Sprinkled over quesadillas with mushrooms, peppers, etc.
- Empanadas – Savory fried empanada turnovers filled with goat cheese.
- Tacos – Crumbled over tacos as a topping along with onions and cilantro.
- Salads – Crumbled or sliced over salad greens, vegetables, beans, etc.
- Sopes – Spread over the thick corn sopes base before other toppings.
- Desserts – Paired with sweet quince, figs, pears, and pomegranate.
- Beverages – Blended into frozen margaritas or palomas for a creamy twist.
Goat cheese adds a wonderful tangy, creamy complexity to both rich and fresh Mexican dishes.
Future of Goat Cheese in Mexico
The future looks bright for Mexican goat cheese. As global demand increases for goat milk products, Mexico is poised to expand. There is growing interest in artisanal and sustainable cheese production using traditional methods. Some trends that may shape the future include:
- New milk cooperatives forming to empower and support small goat farmers.
- Adoption of protected designation of origin (PDO) certification for unique regional cheeses like Oaxaca’s asiento.
- Increasing variety and cheese styles, influenced by European techniques.
- Expansion of brands exporting authentic Mexican goat cheese globally.
- Use of technology and science to improve quality and yields.
There are also great opportunities for goat cheese tourism in Mexico, showcasing cheesemakers and farms to visitors.
In conclusion, goat cheese has a vibrant, thousands-year-old tradition in Mexico. A wide variety of goat milk cheeses are produced across Mexico, with notable concentrations in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Jalisco, and Michoacán. Fresh, soft, semi-hard, and hard goat cheeses are all common, and provide distinct flavor to quintessential Mexican cuisine. While small farms and vendors supply most of Mexico’s goat cheese, larger commercial brands are also gaining international presence. The future is bright for Mexican goat cheese producers as the world’s appetite for traditional and gourmet goat milk products continues to grow.