Queso fresco, which translates to fresh cheese, is the most popular and most consumed cheese in Peru. It belongs to the Queso blanco (white cheese) varieties and has a mild flavor and a firm, crumbly texture. Queso fresco is widely used in several Peruvian dishes and sauces, adding a creamy and slightly cheesy element.
Queso fresco most probably originated in Spain and came to Peru with the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. However, over the centuries, it became part of the Peruvian culinary traditions and today is a staple ingredient in most Peruvian kitchens consumed daily.
How Peruvian Queso Fresco is made
Usually, Peruvian Queso fresco is produced only using cow’s milk. However, especially in northern Peru, Queso fresco is often made from goat's milk or a mixture of cow’s and goat's milk.
Making Queso fresco is a quite easy and quick process. Vinegar, lime juice or rennet is added to warm fresh whole milk. As soon as curds form, the mixture is strained through a cheesecloth, left for a few hours to drain, lightly pressed, and then shaped into rounds or blocks. The cheese is not processed further or aged but consumed immediately.
How does Peruvian Queso Fresco taste
The result of this simple cheesemaking process is a delicious, extremely versatile white cheese with a mild, fresh, and milky flavor, which has a subtle acidity. The texture of Peruvian Queso fresco is moist, but firm and crumbly. Depending on the region and the milk used, there are slight differences in flavor and texture. However, Queso fresco always has an unobtrusive flavor complementing a wide range of dishes.
Popular Peruvian dishes with Queso Fresco
Probably the most popular dish, in which Queso fresco plays a vital role, is Papas a la Huancaina, boiled potatoes covered with Huancaina sauce. Other common dishes include Tequeños, Solterito (a Peruvian salad made with beans, Queso fresco, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, choclo and rocoto), Choclo con queso (tender corn kennels served with slices of Queso fresco), and Ensalada de Pallares (a Peruvian white bean salad combined with vegetables and Queso fresco). Queso fresco as well is often used in sandwiches, sauces, causa, and tamales, just sprinkled over all sorts of soups and stews, or is added as a side.
Queso Fresco with an additional Peruvian touch
And while traditional Queso fresco is mild and not overpowering, today, some artisanal cheesemakers add herbs, such as huacatay or oregano, or Peruvian chili peppers, like aji amarillo or rocoto, or even other Peruvian flavors to their Queso fresco creating unique and absolute delicious variations with the special Peruvian kick.
Health benefits of Peruvian Queso fresco
Peruvian Queso fresco is a good option if you want to follow a healthier and more balanced diet. Because of the simple processing and its nutritional composition, its total fat content and therefore its caloric value is low, while the protein content, which has a high nutritional value, is relatively high. Additionally, Queso fresco contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin A, B12 and D as well as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.