Mexican cheeses are an important part of authentic Mexican cuisine. Many Mexican cheese varieties have unique flavors and textures not found in cheeses from other regions. When cooking Mexican food at home, it can be difficult to find authentic Mexican cheese varieties in local grocery stores. Understanding the characteristics of common Mexican cheeses can help identify suitable substitutes for recipes.
Queso fresco is a fresh, mild, white cheese used frequently in Mexican dishes. It has a crumbly, moist texture and mild, fresh flavor. Queso fresco does not melt well when heated. Common substitutes for queso fresco include feta, goat cheese, paneer, ricotta salata, and mild farmers cheese. When using these substitutes, be aware that the flavor and texture may differ slightly from authentic queso fresco.
Feta cheese makes a good substitute for queso fresco in terms of flavor. It has a salty, tangy flavor that is similar to queso fresco. The texture is also crumbly. Use feta crumbled over dishes in place of queso fresco. Be aware that feta is more intensely flavored than queso fresco.
Fresh goat cheese can work well as a queso fresco substitute. It has a similar crumbly texture when chilled and mild tangy flavor. The goat flavor may be a bit more pronounced than queso fresco. Use fresh goat cheese crumbled over dishes in place of queso fresco.
Paneer is a fresh cheese common in Indian cuisine. It has a very similar crumbly, moist texture to queso fresco. The flavor is mild like queso fresco. The main difference is paneer does not easily brown when cooked. Use paneer crumbled over dishes instead of queso fresco.
Ricotta salata is a type of salted, aged ricotta cheese. It has a crumbly, grainy texture and mild salty flavor like queso fresco. Ricotta salata works well sprinkled over dishes instead of queso fresco. Just be aware that ricotta salata is more resistant to melting than queso fresco.
Mild Farmers Cheese
Dry, mild farmers cheese that is not aged is a budget-friendly substitute for queso fresco. It has a similar crumbly, mild quality and does not melt well when heated. Use farmers cheese crumbled over Mexican dishes in place of queso fresco.
Cotija is an aged Mexican cheese with a hard texture and strong salty flavor. It is used to add a salty punch and textural contrast to dishes. Good cotija substitutes include feta, parmesan, romano, añejo cheese, or a firm goat cheese.
Feta makes a suitable flavor substitute for cotija, as it has a similar briny, salty taste. The texture of feta is not as firm and crumbly as cotija. Use feta for its strong salty flavor in Mexican recipes when you don’t have cotija.
Parmesan cheese is an excellent flavor and texture substitute for cotija. It has a hard, crumbly texture and intense, salty umami flavor like cotija. Use parmesan grated over dishes to mimic the flavor of cotija.
Romano cheese is very similar to parmesan in terms of flavor and texture. Like parmesan, it makes a great cotija substitute because of its hard, crumbly texture and salty, savory taste. Use grated romano to season Mexican food instead of cotija.
Añejo cheese is a good substitute for cotija, since they are both aged Mexican cheeses. Añejo has a firm, crumbly texture and intense salty flavor like cotija. The flavor profile is very similar between the two cheeses.
Firm Goat Cheese
Aged, firm goat cheese can work well as a substitute for cotija in terms of texture. Look for a goat cheese with a crumbly texture and salty, tangy flavor profile. The goat flavor will come through more compared to cotija.
Oaxaca cheese, also known as quesillo, has a stringy, stretchy texture when melted. It is used frequently for dishes like quesadillas and chile rellenos. The flavor is mild and similar to mozzarella. Good melty substitutes for oaxaca include mozzarella, asadero, Chihuahua cheese, young provolone or mild cheddar.
Mozzarella makes an excellent substitute for oaxaca cheese. It has nearly the same soft, melty texture and mild flavor. Use mozzarella for melted Mexican dishes in place of oaxaca.
Asadero is a Mexican cheese similar to oaxaca. It has the same melting properties and mild flavor profile. Asadero can be used interchangeably with oaxaca in recipes.
Chihuahua is a mild, soft Mexican melting cheese. It can be used in place of oaxaca when melted in dishes like quesadillas and chile rellenos.
Young provolone cheese has a smooth, melty texture similar to oaxaca. Aged provolone is too firm and does not melt well. Look for provolone piccante or provolone dolce, which are softer and melty. Use young provolone melted in Mexican dishes as you would oaxaca.
Mild cheddar melts smoothly and has a relatively neutral flavor like oaxaca cheese. Use young, mild cheddar shredded or sliced in quesadillas, chile rellenos and other melted Mexican dishes calling for oaxaca cheese.
Queso blanco is a creamy, soft Mexican cheese with a mild flavor. It melts smoothly and is used frequently in sauces, fillings and dips. Substitutes for queso blanco include ricotta, cottage cheese, soft goat cheese or Monterey Jack.
Whole milk ricotta makes a good substitute for queso blanco. It has a similar creamy, thick texture and mild flavor. Use ricotta blended into any sauce, filling or warm dip calling for queso blanco.
Cottage cheese is a budget-friendly queso blanco substitute. Blend it until smooth to mimic the texture of queso blanco. The flavor is mildly tangy and works well in savory Mexican recipes.
Soft Goat Cheese
Soft, fresh goat cheese can substitute for queso blanco. It has a similar creamy texture when blended smooth. The tangy goat flavor pairs well with bold Mexican seasonings.
Monterey Jack cheese melts smoothly and has a very mild flavor like queso blanco. Use shredded Monterey Jack in sauces, dips or fillings instead of queso blanco. Just be aware it may have a firmer texture when cooled.
Queso panela has a soft, spongy texture and mild, fresh flavor. It does not melt well when heated. Substitute pressed cottage cheese, pressed ricotta or firm feta for panela cheese.
Pressed Cottage Cheese
Pressing excess liquid from cottage cheese produces a cheese similar in texture to panela. The flavor of cottage cheese is tangy like panela. Use pressed cottage cheese crumbled over dishes instead of panela.
Pressing ricotta cheese gives it a texture very close to queso panela. The fresh ricotta flavor is mild like panela cheese. Use pressed ricotta crumbled over Mexican food in place of panela.
Crumbled feta cheese can substitute for the texture and saltiness of panela cheese. The flavors are slightly different, but feta makes a readily available option when panela is unavailable.
Queso Para Freir
Queso para freir is a Mexican cheese designed for frying or grilling. It has excellent melting properties while maintaining its shape when cooked. The flavor is fresh and mild. Substitute halloumi or paneer for queso para freir when frying or grilling.
Halloumi cheese is a semi-firm Cypriot cheese that holds its shape well during cooking. It develops a crispy outer crust and melted interior when fried or grilled, much like queso para freir. Use halloumi for frying in place of queso para freir.
Paneer is an Indian fresh cheese that resists melting when cooked. It holds its shape and develops a nice outer browned crust similar to queso para freir. Fry or grill paneer in place of queso para freir when cooking Mexican food.
Requeson is a creamy, spreadable Mexican cheese with a fresh, tangy flavor. It is often used as a sandwich spread or dip. Substitute mascarpone cheese, Neufchatel, or a creamy goat cheese spread in place of requeson.
The rich, thick texture of mascarpone makes it an ideal substitute for requeson. It spreads smoothly and has a fresh, sweet flavor complementing Mexican dishes.
Neufchatel cheese is milder than cream cheese with a softer, more spreadable texture. Use it in place of requeson for spreading on sandwiches or as a vegetable dip.
Creamy Goat Cheese
Fresh creamy goat cheese can stand in for requeson. Look for a spreadable log-style goat cheese. The tangy flavor pairs well with bold Mexican seasonings.
Crema Mexicana is a cultured Mexican cream product used to add richness and tangy flavor to dishes. Sour cream, creme fraiche or yogurt make suitable substitutes for crema Mexicana.
Sour cream is very similar in texture and tangy flavor to crema Mexicana. Use it as a direct substitute in recipes at a 1:1 ratio.
Creme fraiche is richer than sour cream and not quite as tangy. It mimics the flavor and texture of crema Mexicana very well. Use it in place of crema Mexicana in recipes.
Plain yogurt or Greek yogurt can work as a budget-friendly crema Mexicana substitute. The tangy, creamy texture is very similar. Allow yogurt to drain in a cheesecloth to remove excess liquid for thicker texture.
Here is a quick overview of suitable substitutes for common Mexican cheeses:
|Feta, goat cheese, paneer, ricotta salata, mild farmers cheese
|Feta, parmesan, romano, añejo, firm goat cheese
|Mozzarella, asadero, chihuahua, young provolone, mild cheddar
|Ricotta, cottage cheese, soft goat cheese, monterey jack
|Pressed cottage cheese, pressed ricotta, firm feta
|Queso Para Freir
|Mascarpone, neufchatel, creamy goat cheese
|Sour cream, creme fraiche, yogurt
Finding substitutions for Mexican cheese varieties allows you to come close to authentic flavors when cooking Mexican food at home. Focus on finding cheeses with similar textures, melting properties and flavor profiles. While not exact replicas, combining characteristics of different cheeses can produce satisfying results in Mexican dishes.
With an understanding of the unique qualities of common Mexican cheeses, you can confidently approximate those qualities using cheeses easier to find outside of Mexico. Keep this substitute guide on hand when cooking to consult for ideas on stand-in cheeses reflective of authentic Mexican cuisine.