Oaxaca cheese is a staple in many Mexican dishes, known for its stringy texture and mild, slightly salty flavor. However, if you’re unable to find Oaxaca cheese at your local grocery store or need a dairy-free alternative, there are plenty of options to choose from. In this article, we’ll explore the unique qualities of Oaxaca cheese, why someone might need a substitute, and seven cheeses that can serve as a replacement.
What is Oaxaca Cheese & What Makes it Unique?
Oaxaca cheese, also known as Quesillo, is a type of cheese that originates from the Oaxaca region in Mexico. It is a string cheese that has a soft, stretchy texture, similar to mozzarella, and a mild flavor that makes it a popular choice for a variety of dishes.
The production process of Oaxaca cheese involves heating cow’s milk, adding rennet or another coagulating agent, and then separating the curds and whey. The curds are then stretched and kneaded, which creates the cheese’s unique stringy texture.
One of the key factors that make Oaxaca cheese unique is its texture. The stringy, stretchy texture of the cheese is what sets it apart from other types of cheese. It is often used in dishes where the cheese needs to melt and stretch, such as in quesadillas, nachos, and pizzas.
In addition to its texture, Oaxaca cheese has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that makes it a versatile ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes. It can be used in everything from salads to desserts and is a staple in many Mexican dishes.
Another unique characteristic of Oaxaca cheese is its versatility. It can be consumed on its own as a snack or used as a topping for a variety of dishes. Its soft, pliable texture also makes it a great choice for stuffing in peppers, tamales, or empanadas.
Reasons for Substituting Oaxaca Cheese
While Oaxaca cheese is a popular ingredient in many dishes, there may be times when a substitute is needed. This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as the unavailability of Oaxaca cheese or dietary restrictions that require a different type of cheese.
Here are some reasons why you might need to substitute Oaxaca cheese:
- Unavailability: Oaxaca cheese can be difficult to find outside of Mexico or in areas with limited access to specialty cheese shops. In these cases, a substitute cheese that is more readily available may be needed.
- Dietary restrictions: If you have dietary restrictions, such as a lactose intolerance or a vegan diet, you may need to substitute Oaxaca cheese with a different type of cheese that meets your dietary requirements.
- Cost: Oaxaca cheese can be more expensive than other types of cheese, so if you’re on a budget, you may need to choose a more affordable substitute.
When choosing a substitute for Oaxaca cheese, it’s important to consider the intended use of the cheese. For example, if you’re making a dish that requires a cheese with a stringy, stretchy texture, such as a quesadilla, you’ll want to choose a substitute that has similar properties. On the other hand, if you’re making a salad and need a crumbly cheese to sprinkle on top, a different type of cheese may be more suitable.
Here are some tips for choosing a suitable substitute based on the intended use of Oaxaca cheese:
- For dishes that require a stretchy, stringy cheese: Mozzarella or provolone can be a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in dishes like quesadillas, enchiladas, or pizzas.
- For dishes that require a mild flavor and creamy texture: Monterrey Jack or panela cheese can be a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in dishes like salads, tacos, or burritos.
- For dishes that require a crumbly texture: Queso blanco or feta cheese can be a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in dishes like salads or tacos.
- For dairy-free or vegan options: Vegan cheese made from nuts, seeds, or soy can be a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in dishes like salads or tacos.
Ultimately, the choice of substitute will depend on personal preference and the intended use of the cheese. It’s important to experiment with different types of cheese to find the one that works best for your needs.
The 7 Best Substitutes For Oaxaca Cheese
Here are seven cheeses that can be used as a replacement for Oaxaca cheese:
Fresh mozzarella cheese is very similar to Mexican Oaxaca cheese and just might be less salty. Buffalo mozzarella, mozzarella’s creamier relative, is the best substitute for Oaxaca cheese. It is available in cheese stores or regular supermarkets.
The best way to replace buffalo mozzarella with Oaxaca cheese is to sprinkle extra salt on it, to really resemble the flavor of the cheese. Bufala mozzarella is creamy and flavorful, and a great topping in addition to any dish you make, whether it’s tostadas, quesadillas, or tacos.
2. Ricotta Salata
Oaxaca cheese is often used as a filling for savory dishes such as crepes, ravioli, burritos, or enchiladas. If you’re looking for a substitute, you can use a soft cheese like Ricotta or Ricotta Salata to achieve a similar texture and flavor profile.
However, it’s important to note that Ricotta is relatively bland compared to Oaxaca cheese. Therefore, if you plan to use it as a replacement, you may need to add salt and possibly some lemon juice or zest to achieve the same salty and tangy taste.
A popular way to use Oaxaca cheese is by melting it in a small pot and serving it as a warm or room-temperature cheese dip. This can take the form of fondue or be served with nacho chips, and it’s always delicious.
If you’re looking for a substitute, Velveeta cheese is an excellent option. You can melt it in the same way as Oaxaca cheese to achieve a very similar result. So whether you’re using Oaxaca cheese or Velveeta, you’re sure to enjoy a delicious cheese dip.
4. Queso Panela
Another type of white cheese from Mexico that can be used as a substitute for Oaxaca cheese is Queso Panela. This cheese has a semi-soft consistency and a gentle saltiness, making it a versatile option.
Panela cheese has a firm texture with a mild flavor that closely resembles Oaxaca cheese. It’s a great addition to dishes like quesadillas and salads, and can even be used in non-Mexican recipes. Its flexible consistency makes it easy to work with and incorporate into a variety of dishes.
5. Queso Blanco
Originating from Spain, Queso Blanco is a type of cheese made by curdling milk and allowing it to drain, resulting in a white color and firm texture.
This cheese’s versatility extends to its use in various dishes such as salads, soups, and stews, and it’s a common ingredient in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.
One of the reasons queso Blanco is popular is because of its mild flavor, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a less salty cheese option.
6. Muenster Cheese
Muenster cheese is an underrated semi-soft cheese mainly produced in America. Often made with a rind, this cheese captures more moisture and lasts longer.
Muenster cheese can be used in many of the same ways as Oaxaca cheese, including melting, grating, and slicing. While it won’t produce the same stringy texture when melted, it still tears nicely.
Muenster cheese has a neutral flavor, which makes it highly versatile. Its super creamy and delicate texture makes it a popular option. You can also purchase aged varieties that have a more pungent taste.
7. Manchego Cheese
Manchego cheese is a popular alternative to Oaxaca cheese, but their differences are significant. While Manchego has a rich, buttery, and creamy flavor similar to Oaxaca, it is an aged cheese with a much firmer texture.
Even the youngest, three-month aged Manchego cheese has a deep pungent flavor and a firm texture, which sets it apart from Oaxaca. Additionally, being made from sheep’s milk gives Manchego a unique taste.
However, if you are looking for a cheese that melts well in dishes, Manchego is a great option.
Whether you’re unable to find Oaxaca cheese or need a dairy-free alternative, there are plenty of options to choose from. Mozzarella, Ricotta Salata, Velveeta, Queso Panela, Queso Blanco, Muenster Cheese, and Manchego Cheese are all great substitutes that can be used in a variety of dishes.
While these cheeses may not be exactly the same as Oaxaca cheese, they can still provide a similar flavor profile and texture. So don’t be afraid to experiment with different substitutes and find the one that works best for you!