Monday, June 17, 2024

What do quesadillas, chilaquiles and nachos all have in common?

It’s not that they’re delicious (although they are!) It’s the gooey, melty, yummy cheese you can’t get enough of: queso Chihuahua.

Along with queso Oaxaca, Chihuahua cheese is Mexico’s answer to mozzarella or Monterey Jack. It’s not to be mistaken for cotija, the slightly sour and often quite salty dried cheese sprinkled on top of many traditional Mexican dishes. Chihuahua is a semi-soft melting cheese, lightly aged (only 2-4 weeks) with a mild flavor. Depending on the butterfat content of the milk, it might have a pale yellowish tinge, but usually it’s quite white. Sometimes, the cheese is pressed and can be known as Campesino Menonita because of this process.

Menonita Cheese (Parrillero)

Possibly, you’ve seen Mennonites, men and boys in overalls and straw hats, women in long skirts or dresses, selling cheese at streetlights. They invented Queso Chihuahua, and you could consider them artisan producers. Most of the Mennonite communities in Mexico are in the northern state of Chihuahua, hence the name. In some places, it’s known as queso Menonita, though nowadays other commercial producers make it too. They’ll be selling the cheese in blocks, braids, or balls and it’s worth buying some if you have the opportunity.

Otherwise, avoid packaged brands in the grocery store and search out a cremeria (like a deli that sells dairy products, luncheon meats, salsas, eggs, etc.) in a market. Those vendors will have big rounds that look like the classic wheels of Parmesan we’ve seen in Anthony Bourdain’s and Stanley Tucci’s Italian food shows. Usually, they’re happy to let you taste a tiny slice first, and once you decide which brand you like best (they will all have slightly different flavors), they’ll cut you whatever size piece you want. 

Because it’s so versatile, Chihuahua cheese is good to have on hand. Besides being an integral part of so many traditional Mexican foods, it’s perfect for just about anything you’d use mozzarella for: tuna melts, grilled cheese sandwiches, queso fundido, hash browns or pizza.

Cheesy Eggs on Toast

Cheesy eggs on toast (dinnerplanner)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1½ Tbsp. butter
  • 1 slice bread
  • ¼ cup shredded Chihuahua cheese 

Whisk eggs with salt and pepper. In a small nonstick skillet, melt a thin slice of the butter over medium-low heat. Swipe the bread in the melted butter, then sauté the buttered side until golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Lift the bread out of the pan with a spatula, melt another slice of butter, then sauté the other side of the bread until golden. Remove to a plate.

Add remaining butter and eggs and cook, stirring gently and constantly with a spatula, until butter melts and eggs are half wet and half solid 15-45 seconds. Turn off the heat, add cheese and continue stirring until the mixture is creamy but no longer wet, about 30-45 seconds more. Scrape onto the toast immediately and enjoy.

Waffled Cheese

  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ½ lb. Chihuahua cheese, sliced about ½-inch thick 
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Optional: Salsa for serving

Preheat waffle iron, setting it to medium if it has temperature controls. Spray both sides with nonstick spray.

On a plate, mix flour with paprika. In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Place breadcrumbs on another plate. Dredge cheese slices in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Place as many cheese slices as will fit in a single layer in the waffle iron; close the lid. Cook until breadcrumbs turn golden brown, about 1 minute. Repeat with remaining cheese. Serve hot with salsa for dipping.

Mushroom Quesadillas

Mushroom Quesadilla

  • 12 oz. mixed fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • ¾ cup minced white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 Serrano chilies, seeded and minced
  • 3 Tbsp. neutral oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1½ cups shredded Chihuahua cheese 
  • 6 fresh corn tortillas
  • Optional: Butter for sautéeing
  • For serving: Salsa verde, sour cream 

In a medium bowl, mix mushrooms, onion, garlic and chilies. Place oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the mushroom mixture. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms are browned, 6-10 minutes, seasoning very lightly with salt about halfway through. Scrape into a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Divide cheese among the tortillas, spreading a portion over half of each tortilla, leaving a small 1-inch cheese-free border at the edge. Divide the mushroom mixture between the tortillas, placing it on top of the cheese. Fold the empty side of the tortilla over the filling; press firmly to close.

Heat a cast-iron or other heavy griddle over medium heat. Cook quesadillas in batches, turning once, until light golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. If desired, melt a little butter in a pan before frying for a crispier tortilla. Serve immediately with sour cream and salsa verde.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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