Queso fresco cheese is a creamy fresh (un-aged) cheese, typically made from cow or goat's milk. It's not always easily available for purchase north of the equator, however, as it's not a mainstay of the North American diet. But it's so easy to make at home, there's no reason to buy it.
This type of cheese is made from warmed milk that is curdled with an acid. There's no need for rennet or other ingredients - vinegar or lemon juice will do the trick. Once the curds form, the whey is strained away and the curds can be pressed into a firmer cheese, or used in a creamy, spreadable form. (Technically, in some places, queso fresco is prepared with rennet, and queso blanco is the term for this cheese that is made with acid).
One advantage to making this cheese yourself is that you can control its texture. Queso fresco curds can be "pressed" into a firmer cheese that can be sliced, crumbled, and even fried (this cheese does not "melt"). Or you can simply strain it with cheesecloth and enjoy a creamier, more spreadable texture. Queso fresco is enjoyed on everything from arepas to potatoes to plantains and is even used in sauces and baked goods.
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4-5 tablespoons vinegar (apple cider or distilled white vinegar)
- Place the milk, cream, buttermilk, and salt in a large pot, and heat over medium heat.
- Heat, stirring, until temperature reaches 190 degrees (Fahrenheit) (or almost to a boil). Remove from heat.
- Stir in the vinegar, one tablespoon at a time. Small curds will begin to form. Stir gently for 5 minutes or so, then let mixture cool for 10 minutes more.
- Line a large colander with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth. Pour milk mixture slowly into the colander, letting the whey (clear liquid) drain away. (You can save the whey and use it in baked goods, in place of buttermilk or yogurt. Or feed it to your goats!).
- When most of the whey has drained off and cheese is cool enough to handle, lift the edges of the cheesecloth up and twist, wrapping the cheese securely inside the cheesecloth. Squeeze off excess whey. Hang cheesecloth "bag" over the sink (use a clip to hand it from the faucet, for example) and let the whey drain for about an hour.
- At this point, once the cheese is well-drained, you can store the cheese in the refrigerator, in an airtight container.
- How to press the curds to make a firmer, molded cheese: Place a ring mold (or clean, empty metal can with lids removed) on a baking sheet or flat dish. Spoon curds inside of the ring. Cover them with a piece of wax paper, then use another can or something heavy to press down on them. It's ideal if you can find something that will just fit inside the circumference of the ring or can. One solution is to cut a circle of heavy cardboard that is just smaller than the circumference of the ring/can. Place the cardboard circle on top of the wax paper, then use something like a smaller can to provide the weight on top. (The cardboard circle will help distribute the weight more evenly).
- Place cheese in the refrigerator and press for 3-4 hours, or overnight. Remove mold and wrap cheese with saran wrap or place in an airtight container. Store cheese for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.