How to Make Queso Blanco

I know three things about Mexican cheese:

  1. When they say Manchego, it’s not what you think. This is processed, white melting cheese like a plastic Jack or salty Kraft. It has nothing to do with sheep or Spain, but it makes a damn fine quesadilla.
  2. Oaxaca is fun to pronounce. Whah-ha-ka! It’s wound in a ball, begging for a delicious unraveling. It also works well in melting situations, including, but not limited to the do-not-let-linger bowl of queso fundido (melted cheese, meant for fondue-like dipping).
  3. Panela is elusive, moist, and mysterious. It can be mild and sweet, while some brands – I’m looking at you, Lala – have a funky, fetid quality. I have seen it compared to fresh mozzarella, but I’m afraid poor Panela cannot compete, though I learned to like it a lot during our time in Mexico.

I don’t think I had much fresh farmer’s cheese, or queso blanco, when I lived in Yucatan, nor would I care to. Who wants curdled dairy in the tropical heat? Not me; no way, Jose. But back home, reminiscing about the flavors of sidewalk taco stands and late night snacks on the Paseo de Montejo, I found myself wishing for something creamy and salty to sprinkle on tostadas, or on top of a torta. In the spirit of Mexico, I wanted to make my own home kitchen a cocina economica for the day. It’s a relatively simple process to make your own queso blanco. A good afternoon project. Here’s how to do it:

Homemade Queso Blanco

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon (8 cups) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Method:

Step 1: In a large pot, slowly heat whole milk to between 185 and 190 degrees. This took me about 25 minutes, because I wanted it to go low and slow, stirring often.

Step 2: When the milk is up to temperature, incorporate the vinegar, turn off the gas, and let sit for 10 minutes. At this point curds are forming, separating from the weigh.

Step 3: With a slotted spoon, remove the curds to a sieve placed over a bowl; discard any liquid in the bowl. In another bowl combine the curds and salt, gently.

Step 4: Place the loose curd ball into cheesecloth, tie up the ends and let drain over the sink (we secured it to the faucet) for 45 minutes.

Step 5: Canning the cheese. (Do this in advance!). To make a makeshift cheesepress, open a 28 oz can ( I used beans) and remove the food to a storage container and rinse with soap until odorless. Open the other end of the can, carefully. On a cutting board, place a clean kitchen towel. Set the cylinder over its bottom and drop in the curds.

Step 6: Place the can top in and press. I used a glass bottle filled with water for a weight, and let sit for 4 hours.

Step 7: Remove the cheese from its can. Admire its form.

Step 8: Store your queso fresco in wax paper in the refrigerator for a few days, no longer. It’s fresh! (but salty).

Now, how else to enjoy it?
I have seen it suggested that a slice pan-fried in olive oil is delicious. Cheese that doesn’t go gooey is compelling, despite my complete devotion to meltiness. [Aside: Haloumi. Am I right?] But eaten plain in salty slivers or as a garnish for your favorite tacos is also, always recommended.

Buen Provecho.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.

26 Comments

  1. I made this a few days ago and it was fantastic. We’ve been making a few fresh soft cheeses every so often as of late, and this is a nice addition to our recipe box. Thanks!

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    1. Glad to hear it, Patrick. What other homemade soft cheeses do you have in the recipe box? I think it’s about time we made something new in the “soft cheese” department.

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      1. Mozzarella and ricotta from a kit I got from Urban Cheese Craft (.com), and a farmer’s cheese from Foodwishes.com – which, of course, is very similar to your recipe, but I kinda screwed yours up and ended up with a LOT of somewhat dry cheese (I think I let it separate too long in the pot before straining).

        I’d make more kinds more often, but I have developed an issue with dairy, so I don’t push my luck.

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  2. This is so neat. I love queso fresco an I buy the store brand here in Kansas. I am happy to see it does not use renet because I have been unable to find this. Even more cool after reading your bio I was happy to see you live in Portland. I was actually born in Brunswick and lived in Portland for my childhood. It is beautiful there and I miss it but it is to expensive to live there for me. Thank you for the awesome recipe!

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  3. FYI… 8 cups = 1/2 gallon of milk; not one gallon. Based on the volume of cheese that you show in the photos, I’m guessing that you started with 1/2 gallon. Is that correct?

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  4. Queso Fresco is one of the things I miss the most from Mexico. Ours was La Hacienda brand. Deliciously salty and creamy.
    I’ve tested the homemade method a few times, but as I didn’t have a good piece of cheesecloth, the results where less than enthusiastic. I need to get some next payday.

    And on the subject of Panela, oh wow, I love it. Would never have compared it Mozzarella, myself.
    The best Panela I ever had by far, was made by a monk at a monastery in Michoacán (my uncle was a monk there, we visited often).

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  5. Easy Peasy to make and tastes so fresh and creamy. And Mr Fussy Pants liked it, which is a plus! Living in this hot climate I really prefer to make as much of my own food as possible. I’ve been deathly ill several times over here and I really don’t like buying meats, eggs, cheese, etc in the mercado where they do not refrigerate anything and it’s sitting out on the counter the whole day. It’s nice to know that I can now make my own fresh cheese. Thanks!

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  6. I’m living in Nanjing, China at the moment and I love cheese but here it’s difficult and very expensive find cheese, plus you can’t found panela anywhere. Recently I found that my cholesterol is very high so I have to change my eating habits. So, now I’m trying to learn how to make my own cheese.
    Because the milk is contaminated in China, everybody ( even Chinese people ) buy milk from other places, like Germany, Newzeland, Korea, etc. but it’s not fresh milk, it’s from a can / tetra pack….
    Can I use that tips of milk to make panela/queso fresco??

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  7. Gaaaah! Please don’t throw out the whey! The Greek physicians Galen and Hippoctates referred to whey as “healing water,” and modern nutritionists have begun to learn that they are (duh) correct. Whey combined with cider vinegar, another super food used by our ancestors, is presumably even better. It can be used in smoothies and stocks, turned into lemonade, used in bread dough or pizza crust, etc.; at the very least, give it to the dog (unless you have pigs or chickens) or dilute it and use it in the garden to boost your plants.

    Here are a few more ideas: http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/06/16-ways-to-use-your-whey.html

    Also, you were correct with the original recipe calling for a gallon of milk. Obviously it works with a half-gallon, but “Home Cheesemaking” (the bible of small-batch cheesemakers) calls for a gallon, and I can testify (after making it last night) it works as well and gives you twice as much cheese.

    I was just trying to look into the history of queso blanco and came across your lovely site. Very well written, well designed and well photographed!

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