Quesadillas are a popular Mexican dish consisting of a tortilla that is filled with cheese and other ingredients, then folded in half and grilled. The cheese in quesadillas plays a central role in providing rich, melted flavor and texture. But what type of cheese do Mexican restaurants typically use in their quesadillas?
Traditional Mexican Quesadilla Cheese
Authentic Mexican quesadillas are traditionally made with fresh white cheese called queso fresco. Queso fresco is a crumbly, salty cheese similar to feta that is used frequently in Mexican cuisine. It melts well while retaining a light texture.
Other traditional cheeses used in quesadillas include:
- Oaxaca Cheese – A mozzarella-style cheese from Oaxaca region, melts stretchy.
- Asadero Cheese – A buttery white cheese that melts smoothly.
- Queso Para Freir – A part-skim milk cheese similar to Monterey jack.
- Requesón – Ricotta-like fresh cheese with a grainy texture.
Using authentic queso fresco or other Mexican cheeses provides an authentic flavor profile in quesadillas. However, these cheeses can be difficult to find outside of Mexico.
Common Cheeses Used in Mexican Restaurants
Given the limited availability of traditional Mexican cheeses, many Mexican restaurants in the US opt for more common and accessible cheese varieties to use in their quesadillas, such as:
- Monterey Jack – A mild, semi-soft white cheese that melts excellently. It offers a subtle flavor and creamy texture when melted.
- Cheddar – A widely available semi-hard cheese valued for its bold, tangy flavor. White or yellow cheddar both work well melted in quesadillas.
- Mozzarella – Fresh mozzarella in particular has high moisture content that makes it melt into stretchy deliciousness.
- Pepper Jack – Monterey jack with added spicy peppers. Provides a kick of heat and melts smoothly.
- Swiss – Delivers rich, nutty flavor when melted. Its excellent melt makes it a smart choice.
- Provolone – Distinctive smoky, tangy flavor profile when melted.
- Colby – Mild and creamy when melted, closely related to Monterey jack.
- Queso Blanco – A fresh white cheese similar to queso fresco. Offers salty, crumbly texture.
This is not by any means an exhaustive list, but hits some of the most popular cheeses used. The specific melted flavors and textures of these cheese varieties pair deliciously with quesadilla fillings.
In addition to single varieties, many restaurants will use proprietary cheese blends specifically formulated for optimal melting and gooey texture in quesadillas and other melted applications. These blends may contain ingredients like:
- Monterey jack
- Queso quesadilla
- Pepper jack
Chef-created blends allow restaurants to achieve the exact mouthfeel and flavor profile they want in their quesadillas. The cheeses are combined in ratios tailored for the restaurant’s style.
Factors in Selecting Quesadilla Cheese
When choosing which cheese to use in their quesadillas, Mexican restaurants consider factors like:
- Meltability – The cheese should fully and smoothly melt into the tortilla.
- Texture – Restaurants may prefer stretchy melted cheese or gooey, creamy melted cheese depending on style.
- Flavor – Cheeses like Oaxaca have mild flavor to complement fillings, while cheddar adds bold flavor.
- Cost – Restaurants select affordable cheeses to help control food costs.
- Authenticity – Some restaurants use Mexican cheese varieties to provide authenticity.
- Availability – The cheese needs to be consistently available from suppliers.
These factors help restaurants narrow down cheese options when developing their quesadilla recipes.
Fillings That Pair Well with Common Quesadilla Cheeses
Certain quesadilla fillings pair particularly well with some of the most popular cheeses used:
- Chicken – Shredded chicken complements Monterey Jack’s mild flavor.
- Carne asada – Savory steak balances out the cheese.
- Onions and bell peppers – Vegetables add freshness and texture.
- Ground beef – Hearty ground beef stands up to cheddar’s boldness.
- Jalapeños – Spicy peppers match cheddar’s tang.
- Black beans – Earthy beans complement aged cheddar.
- Fresh tomatoes – The classic pairing highlighting mozzarella’s milky flavor.
- Pesto – Herby pesto sauce complements the cheese.
- Spinach – Sautéed spinach adds texture and minerals.
- Chorizo – Spicy sausage and spicy cheese is a power combo.
- Shrimp – Briny shrimp work well with pepper jack’s heat.
- Roasted veggies – Smokey veggies mellow the spice.
These are some of the most complementary pairings restaurants use to create delicious quesadilla fillings.
Meeting Customer Preferences
Diners have varying preferences when it comes to quesadilla cheese. To satisfy diverse tastes, many Mexican restaurants offer options like:
- Choice of cheese – Cheddar, jack, etc.
- No cheese – For those who prefer fillings without cheese.
- Extra cheese – Double cheese for cheese lovers.
Providing options allows each guest to get their quesadilla customized to their perfect cheese level.
Preparation Methods Impacting Cheese Choice
How a restaurant prepares their quesadillas affects the best cheese choice:
Restaurants grilling quesadillas on a flat top need a cheese that won’t leak excess oil or stick to the grill. Low-moisture cheeses like aged cheddar, queso quesadilla, and pepper jack perform well.
For deep fried quesadillas, stretchy melted cheeses like mozzarella help the quesadilla hold together and achieve desired gooey texture.
Baking allows flexibility – both firm and soft melting cheeses work. Restaurants may use Mexican cheese blends for authentic flavor.
Understanding how preparation method impacts cheese performance helps restaurants select the right cheese for their dishes.
Trendy Quesadilla Innovations Impacting Cheese
Some current quesadilla trends that influence cheese choice include:
Upscale restaurants using premium fillings like lobster tend to select indulgent melted cheeses like brie or camembert.
To accommodate vegan diners, restaurants offer non-dairy cheese alternatives like Daiya or Follow Your Heart brands.
These quesadilla-burger hybrids often feature two griddled cheese-filled tortillas sandwiching beef patties, with cheese choices like pepper jack or habanero cheese.
Innovative quesadilla interpretations require flexible cheese thinking to achieve the right taste and textures.
Best Practices for High Quality Quesadillas
For excellent quesadilla results, restaurants should follow best practices like:
- Use high-quality fresh tortillas able to handle being folded and grilled.
- Choose a cheese or blend that fully melts into tortilla.
- Use the right cheese amount – too little won’t satisfy, too much will ooze.
- Spread cheese evenly to tortilla edges for complete coverage.
- Cook on lightly oiled hot grill to achieve a golden crispy exterior.
- Remove from heat while still slightly undercooked in center.
- Let rest 1-2 minutes; cheese will fully melt during this time.
- Cut into wedges for best presentation.
With careful cheese selection and preparation, restaurants can craft irresistible quesadillas diners will crave.
Mexican restaurants have flexibility in the cheese they choose for quesadillas. Traditional options like queso fresco offer authenticity, while widely available cheeses like Monterey jack provide familiar flavor. Factors like meltability, preparation method, and fillings all impact cheese choice. Following best practices results in melted cheese quesadilla perfection. With so many delicious cheese possibilities, restaurants can craft unique quesadilla recipes to delight their customers.