Queso fresco (or fresh cheese) is a popular Mexican ingredient used in all sorts of recipes from tacos to enchiladas. Find out what it is, how to use it, and some plant-based substitutions to replace it with!
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📖 What is queso fresco?
Queso fresco is a type of soft, creamy, and crumbly cheese that's used extensively throughout Mexican gastronomy.
It is a type of queso blanco (white cheese) made from cow's milk — sometimes a mixture of both cow and goat milk.
Unlike many other kinds of cheese, queso fresco is not aged, making it quicker and easier to prepare.
It was created back when cheesemaking first started in Mexico — before fridges or the maturing process (affinage) existed.
How it's made
Here's a brief overview of the cheesemaking process as it pertains to queso fresco (keep in mind, this is for dairy-based queso):
- Milk is acidified and left to curdle (vinegar or lemon juice are used).
- Once curds form, the whey is strained out.
- Curds are pressed into a firm cheese (or used in a soft, spreadable form).
Because of this process, queso fresco is designed to be eaten within a few days and doesn't typically hold up very long.
🍴 Flavor profile
Queso fresco is a rather mild, fresh, and soft cheese that has a characteristic tangy and salty flavor. In comparison to other types of cheese, it has a light, milky, and fresh flavor.
🍎 Health facts
We don't consume dairy-based queso fresco because of the increased levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium — especially when being eaten on a daily basis.
But we didn't want to miss out! So, we created a cashew-based queso fresco to emulate the flavor and texture of traditional queso fresco.
The best part is that nut-based cheese comes with so many health benefits like:
- Fiber: Almonds and cashews contain fiber, which both help lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy digestive system.
- Healthy fats: Omega 3s found in cashews play a crucial role in the health of your heart, lungs, eyes, and immune system.
- Protein: This cashew cheese is loaded with plant-based protein, which can play a role in cancer prevention, diabetes, and weight management.
🔪 How to use it
This delicious Mexican cheese is used in a variety of ways to enhance meals. Use it to:
- Balance out spicy dishes.
- Add to soups or stews.
- Fill enchiladas or quesadillas.
- Garnish tacos.
- Spread on crackers.
Simply crumble it with your hands straight onto or into any of the meals you want to serve it with!
📋 Recipes with queso fresco
As we've already mentioned, queso fresco is one of the most widely used Mexican cheeses. Here are just a few of the recipes you can include a plant-based version in:
- Enchiladas potosinas
- Chilaquiles verdes
- Tacos dorados
- Ensalada de nopales
Since queso fresco is a fresh cheese, it must be kept in a chilled environment. If you make a nut-based queso fresco, follow the same principles.
Store your cheese in an airtight container (to ensure optimal freshness) for a minimum of 1 week in the fridge. We typically keep ours in glass containers to preserve the flavors best.
We don't recommend freezing vegan queso fresco as the texture will change when thawed. That being said, you definitely can if you aren't able to get through it quickly enough. It should last up to 3-4 months in freezer-safe bags or containers.
If you don't have the time to make your own homemade cheese, there are a couple of queso fresco substitutes with similar flavor profiles:
- Vegan feta: Probably the easiest variety to find for a queso fresco replacement is feta. It is generally quite a lot saltier than queso fresco, but it has a similar crumbly texture.
- Vegan ricotta: While definitely softer than queso fresco, ricotta is another fresh cheese with a similarly mild and tangy taste. It works well as a flavor substitute.
Traditionally, queso fresco is not vegan. However, if you make our cashew-based queso fresco recipe, then it is definitely vegan-friendly!
Queso fresco softens when heated, but it doesn't melt. It's used more as a garnish to finish dishes off.
Translated directly, "queso fresco" means "fresh cheese" in English. Although there are other types of fresh Mexican cheeses, queso fresco is a certain variety within this category.
Most commercially-produced queso fresco is made with pasteurized milk. However, traditional recipes don't include pasteurized milk. And if you make a plant-based version, you don't have to worry about any pasteurization!