Enchiladas are a popular Mexican dish made of corn tortillas that are filled and rolled up with a variety of fillings, then covered in a chili pepper sauce and cheese. The authentic Mexican cheeses used are queso fresco, a fresh white cheese, and queso Oaxaca, a stringy melted cheese. However, these cheeses can be hard to find outside of Mexico. Luckily, there are several good substitutes for Mexican cheese that work well in enchiladas.
Cheddar is one of the most popular and readily available cheeses. It melts beautifully and has a mild flavor that works well in enchiladas. Shredded cheddar cheese makes an excellent replacement for queso fresco or queso Oaxaca. Just be sure to use a good quality cheddar, as cheaper versions can have a plastic-like texture when melted. Aged cheddar provides a nice sharpness that complements the other flavors of the dish. White cheddar is also a good choice as it has a milder flavor similar to queso fresco.
Monterey Jack Cheese
Monterey Jack is another great substitute for Mexican cheeses in enchiladas. It melts extremely well and has a mild, buttery flavor. The semi-soft texture is similar to queso fresco. Monterey Jack also comes in a pepper jack variety that has flakes of chili pepper added. This can provide a nice kick of heat and smoky flavor. Pepper jack cheese is a quick and easy replacement for queso Oaxaca.
Queso blanco is a white, mild cheese originating from Spain that is very similar to queso fresco. It has a crumbly texture when cold but melts smoothly when cooked. Queso blanco is made from cow’s milk or a combination of cow and goat’s milk. It does not have the salty flavor of feta or crumbly texture of ricotta. The neutral flavor and excellent melting abilities of queso blanco make it an ideal substitute in enchiladas.
Feta is a brined curd white cheese made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk. It has a distinctive tart and salty flavor. When crumbled, feta makes a good stand-in for queso fresco on enchiladas. The saltiness can add complexity and accentuate the other flavors. Feta also provides a pleasant contrast to the richness of the enchilada fillings. Just don’t use pre-crumbled feta, as it won’t melt nicely. Go for feta blocks and crumble it yourself.
Goat cheese, also called chèvre, has a distinctive tangy and earthy flavor. It melts well while still retaining some texture. Soft goat cheese can be easily crumbled to substitute for queso fresco. Herbed goat cheese provides additional flavor. Goat cheese gives a uniquely delicious twist to enchiladas. For a creamier melted cheese similar to queso Oaxaca, try a log of aged goat cheese. Slice off rounds and place them on top of the enchiladas before serving.
Gruyère is a Swiss cheese known for its rich, nutty flavor. It has tiny holes throughout and melts extremely well. Shredded gruyère can be used in place of queso Oaxaca or other Mexican melting cheeses. It may have a stronger flavor than traditional Mexican cheeses, so just use it sparingly. Gruyère also pairs nicely with heartier meats like chicken or beef in the enchilada filling.
Emmental is another Swiss cheese that can substitute for Mexican cheeses in enchiladas. It has a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor. When melted, emmental is smooth and creamy but still holds its shape nicely. It works well to top enchiladas in place of queso Oaxaca. The large holes give great browning and add eye appeal. Just take care not to add too much emmental, as the flavor can overwhelm other ingredients.
Asadero is a Mexican cheese that is very similar to queso Oaxaca. It has excellent melting properties and a mild flavor. If you can find it, asadero makes a perfect substitute for Oaxaca cheese. It has the same stretchy, gluey texture when melted. Asadero may be easier to find than queso Oaxaca outside of Mexico. Just check your local Latin markets if you have access to any.
Whether fresh or low moisture, mozzarella melts beautifully and has a mild milky flavor. Shredded mozzarella is a good stand-in for queso Oaxaca on enchiladas. For a bit more flavor, try smoked mozzarella. Just be aware that mozzarella has higher moisture content, so drain off any excess liquid before using. This helps prevent a soggy enchilada topping.
If you can get your hands on authentic queso Oaxaca, by all means use it! This semi-soft white cheese has a mild flavor and melts into long gooey strands when heated. No other cheese can quite replicate the smooth, stretchy texture of melted queso Oaxaca. Search for queso Oaxaca at Mexican grocery stores or gourmet cheese shops. Purchase it in string cheese form or as a ball and shred it yourself.
Cotija is a hard Mexican cheese named after the town of Cotija in Michoacán. It has a dry crumbly texture and robust salty flavor similar to feta or Parmesan. Grated cotija makes an excellent substitute for queso fresco to sprinkle over the top of enchiladas before serving. The strong salty flavor of cotija enhances all the other ingredients. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly.
Panela is a fresh Mexican cheese with a flavor and texture similar to queso fresco. It does not melt well, so is best used as a crumbling cheese. Panela has a mild milk flavor that works nicely sprinkled over enchiladas right before serving. Try to find panela made from cow’s milk, as goat’s milk panela can have a more assertive flavor.
Ricotta cheese has a grainy texture and mild flavor. It can be used crumbled on top of enchiladas in place of queso fresco. However, ricotta does have higher moisture content. Be sure to drain off any excess liquid before using. Full fat ricotta works best to avoid a grainy or curdled texture when baked. Some herbs, garlic, or lemon zest can enhance ricotta’s mild flavor.
Queso chihuahua is a Mexican melting cheese similar to queso Oaxaca. It melts very smoothly with a mild, buttery flavor. Chihuahua contains less fat than Oaxaca, so doesn’t get quite as stringy when melted. But it makes an excellent substitute in enchiladas for a true Mexican style cheese. Try to find queso chihuahua made from cow’s milk rather than goat or sheep milk.
Edam is a Dutch cheese traditionally coated in red paraffin wax. The pale yellow interior has a very mild, salty flavor that melts beautifully. Shredded edam cheese can substitute for queso Oaxaca or chihuahua on enchiladas. It may be easier to find than authentic Mexican cheeses. Just remove the wax coating before using in cooking.
Gouda is another Dutch cheese that works well instead of Mexican cheese. Made from cow’s milk, it has a smooth, dense texture with a mildly sweet and nutty flavor. The longer it ages, the richer it becomes. Young gouda melts nicely and can be shredded over enchiladas in place of queso fresco. Aged gouda provides more robust flavor for melting like queso Oaxaca.
Tips for Using Substitute Cheeses
- When melting cheese on enchiladas, go for shredded, grated or sliced cheeses rather than crumbled.
- For a topping cheese, use crumbled cheeses with a dry, firm texture.
- Avoid pre-shredded cheeses, as they often contain anti-caking agents that inhibit smooth melting.
- Try a blend of two cheeses like cheddar and jack for more complex flavor.
- Add a small amount of creamy cheese like goat cheese for richness.
- If using an extremely melty cheese, layer it under drier shredded cheese to avoid oozing.
- For more authentic Mexican flavor, use a chili pepper infused cheese.
- Balance strong flavored cheeses with milder varieties.
- Make sure all cheese is well incorporated into fillings rather than left in chunks.
Non-Dairy Substitutes for Cheese
Here are some options for making dairy-free enchiladas:
Nutritional yeast flakes have a nutty, cheesy flavor. They won’t melt but can be sprinkled on enchiladas for a vegan substitute.
There are many brands of vegan cheese made from nuts, soy, etc. Check for ones that melt well. Use shredded over enchiladas or in fillings.
Mashed or pureed white beans can provide creaminess and texture similar to melted cheese.
For non-dairy enchilada fillings, try mashed butternut squash, cauliflower or potatoes instead of cheese.
Drizzle tangy cashew cream, vegan nacho sauce or pepita sauce over dairy-free enchiladas.
It’s easy to find a tasty substitute for those traditional Mexican cheeses when making enchiladas. With so many options like cheddar, Monterey jack, feta, goat cheese, Gruyère, and more, you can create flavorful, melty, crave-worthy enchiladas without queso fresco or Oaxaca. Get creative with cheese blends and incorporate non-dairy ingredients too. With the right cheeses and preparations, you can enjoy delicious enchiladas with authentic texture and flavor.