For epic cheese pull action (like in these Squash Vampiro Tacos), queso Oaxaca—named after the Mexican state where it originated—is the king of meltability. It’s also exceptionally tasty. While it’s often compared to low-moisture mozzarella or Monterey Jack, this fresh cow’s-milk cheese is more layered with a buttery flavor, lush milkiness, and delicate salinity.
What is queso Oaxaca?
Queso Oaxaca is a member of a classification of cheeses called pasta filata, which means “spun paste.” This family also includes mozzarella and string cheese, as well as more aged cheeses such as caciocavallo, provolone, and Scamorza. Like all cheeses in this classification, the queso Oaxaca you’ll find stateside starts with pasteurized milk (by law in the US, all cheeses aged under 60 days must be pasteurized). Next, rennet is added to the milk, creating curds and whey. The curds are separated from the whey and then submerged in either hot whey or water so they become pliable again. Then the soft curds are stretched, pulled, and shaped. Think of this process as the candy making of the cheese world.
For mozzarella, the curds are usually shaped into balls, but when it comes to queso Oaxaca, the curds are stretched into thin, flat ribbons and wound like a ball of yarn. This method creates a supple yet bouncy texture that is easily pulled apart into thin strings.
How can I use queso Oaxaca?
Queso Oaxaca is the ultimate melting cheese, lending ooey gooeyness to quesadillas, tacos, chile rellenos, nachos, molletes, tlayudas, and more. Its mild, creamy flavor is a blank canvas for highly spiced additions like smoky cumin-roasted squash in these vegetarian vampiro tacos, chorizo (hi, queso fundido), and flame-kissed carne asada.
Melting aside, Queso Oaxaca is just as tasty raw. Try slicing and tucking it into eggplant sandwiches—like other fresh cheeses, its texture is tender and slightly squeaky. You can also pull it apart into a mound of strings to use as a fun, textural garnish. Pile atop chicken mole enchiladas, toss with strips of grilled nopales, or use to finish a simple bowl of refried beans.
Where can I find queso Oaxaca?
Find queso Oaxaca, often sold as Oaxaca cheese, in many commercial supermarkets in the specialty cheese section, along with other Mexican dairy products like crema, queso fresco, and Cotija. Some of the most popular brands include 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, which bring even more nuanced flavor.
The truth is, queso Oaxaca is pretty irreplaceable. Substitutions aren’t replicas, and this cheese is its own thing and worth seeking out. If, however, you absolutely can’t get your hands on queso Oaxaca, you can use grated low-moisture mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or Asadero cheese for recipes that call for melting. Or, if you want a substitution for raw, shredded queso Oaxaca, try Armenian string cheese.
Something to taco ’bout:
Roasted Squash Vampiro Tacos With Cucumber Salsa
These vegetarian vampiro tacos swap out the classic carne asada for caramelized kabocha squash seasoned with smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and cayenne.
Source: Bon Appetit