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Queso blanco, or “white cheese,” is a Mexican cheese popular in many places in the world. Often made of either pure cow milk or a combination of cow and goat milk, the soft and creamy cheese is similar to ricotta. Queso blanco is extremely simple to make, and is not aged, so it may easily be made from home.
Because of its short maturation process, queso blanco is also sometimes called queso fresco, or “fresh cheese.” Depending on the ingredients used, some versions make excellent melting cheeses that do well in quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches. Other varieties do not melt, but rather soften and become creamy when heated. A non-melting queso blanco is great as a garnish, to sprinkle on salads or enchiladas.
To make queso blanco at home, sterilize your cooking equipment and combine whole cow’s milk with vinegar. Some recipes call for the addition of yogurt and salt as well, but a basic version only uses the first two ingredients. The mixture must be heated to at least 185 degrees F (85— C) before straining through a colander lined with a cheesecloth until the curds are cool enough to handle. Wrap the cheese in the cheesecloth and hang it to dry for several hours, until it is no longer dripping.
If you prefer, you can omit the hanging step and pack the cheese into molds instead. After it is strained through the colander and cooled, kneed the cheese out and pack firmly into small, sterilized containers. Cover these tightly and allow them to refrigerate for several hours. The cheese will keep for about a week, so be prepared to eat it quickly.
You can eat queso fresco in salads, as a garnish, or simply nibble it straight out of the container. It also makes a surprisingly good pastry cheese and can be used to fill Danish pastries or make sweet cheese scones. If you find or make a melting variety of the cheese, try melting it with heavy cream and fresh jalapenos or green chilies for a spicy and tangy nacho cheese dip.