If you are searching for the perfect queso fresco substitute for your favorite Mexican dishes, you have come to the right place!
I hate tacos, said no Juan ever!
I may not be called Juan, but I love Mexican cuisine and thus often prepare tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, empanadas, and other yummy Mexican dishes.
They are all great on their own, but nothing beats the feeling when you crumble some queso fresco over these Mexican specialties – it turns everything into a hard-to-resist creamy delight!
If you want a real thing – a taste of authentic tangy flavor, you should buy queso fresco at Mexican grocers rather than in supermarkets. In times of deficiency, there are great queso fresco substitutes you are sure to have around your kitchen or in your local store.
So let’s taco about it! 🙂
The Queso Fresco Defined
Queso fresco, as the name suggests, is a fresh, unaged cow’s milk cheese of Mexican origin. It has a soft, crumbly texture that does not melt when heated. Its creaminess complements most Mexican hearty, spicy dishes, and that is why it is a staple in Mexican cuisine.
What does queso fresco taste like?
The flavor of queso fresco is multidimensional. It tastes milky fresh but with a slightly tangy aftertaste. It is not too salty, which makes it ideal for those on a low-sodium diet.
How is the queso fresco made?
- Most often, it is made from fresh, raw cow milk, but sometimes people combine goat and cow milk as well. The milk should first be heated up to the boiling point (it should not boil, just be really close to it!). Next, an acidifying needs to be added (vinegar or lemon juice).
- It is essential to stir the mixture continuously until the milk curdles. The curds are then allowed to drain through cheesecloth for a couple of hours so that all the whey separates from them. As you can see, the process is quite simple, so you can make the queso fresco at home as well.
What can you combine it with?
- Besides the already mentioned Mexican dishes such as tacos and enchiladas, queso fresco can be crumbled over various salads, soups, or any dish that combines well with cheese in general. I especially like it crumbled over refried beans.
- I have heard that people use it in desserts as well, but I cannot say much about that as I have still not tried that for myself.
The Best Queso Fresco Substitutes
1. Mild Feta Cheese
- Mild feta cheese is the finest queso fresco substitute, but remember, MILD is the keyword! Feta cheese has a stronger, more dominating, tangy flavor in comparison to queso fresco, so either try to find a milder alternative or soak the feta cheese in some water before you use it as a queso fresco substitute.
- When it comes to texture, there is no mistake there! Feta crumbles as easily as queso, looks almost the same and provides you with the same creaminess.
- For the greatest result, try to obtain the French or Danish variety of feta cheese rather than the authentic Greek version. The French variety of feta cheese is drier, crumbles better and is not as salty as some other varieties. The Danish feta is creamy and smooth but can still be sliced.
2. Ricotta Salata
- If you want to replace queso fresco in your favorite salad, you can try the Ricotta Salata. The Ricotta Salata cheese is dried salty cheese traditionally made from sheep milk, but today it is made with cow and goat milk as well. It is firm and crumbles much like the queso fresco.
- It needs to age for about two months in order to resemble the queso fresco the most. It will also be less salty, firmer and have a yellowish color. Ricotta Salata can substitute queso fresco in almost every dish. If you happen to need a good ricotta cheese substitute, check out our suggestions!
3. Queso Blanco
- The easiest solution to replacing a Mexican cheese is using another Mexican cheese! Queso Blanco is a great Mexican white cheese so similar to the queso fresco that many people consider them to be the same. It is made from cow’s milk or a combination of goat and cow milk.
- It has a similar mild milky taste, firm, crumbly texture and does not melt. There is a hint of sourness though.
- This cheese should be white, moisture-free and fresh-smelling. It goes without saying that it combines well with everything Mexican cuisine has to offer from tacos to refried beans, plus Queso Blanco is easier to find in the supermarkets.
4. Farmer’s Cheese
- Farmer’s cheese is dry-curd cheese very similar to cottage cheese. The process of making this type of cheese is almost the same as making queso fresco. It too can be made from goat, cow, or sheep milk but the texture will be different depending on which milk you choose to use.
- When it comes to flavor, it is milky with a bit tangy undernote. It crumbles well and makes a great addition to most dishes queso fresco complements as well. It is ideal for those who are lactose intolerant as all the lactose is fermented in the process of making this cheese.
- If you happen to feel that the taste is a bit blander than that of queso fresco, you can use more of it in the recipe. The greatest thing about it is that it is widely available, inexpensive and has a long shelf life!
- If you haven’t heard about it before, paneer is a traditional Indian cheese often used in their cuisine. It can be made from buffalo or cow milk and has a slightly sweet milky flavor. It is unaged, firm, and somewhat crumbly cheese with a chewy texture.
- Many Indian curry recipes call for it, but it is also widely used for making Indian desserts. As Mexican dishes rely on spices almost as much as Indian, this Indian cheese is sure to complement them as well!
6. Monterey Jack Cheese
- I adore burritos with the Monterey Jack cheese, as it complements all the flavors of the filling perfectly! You can use it to substitute queso fresco in tacos, enchiladas and fajitas as well.
- In fact, it goes well with most Spanish and Mexican dishes due to its mild flavor and buttery texture. It might not be as firm, but it provides the creaminess you need for sure.
- The Monterey Jack cheese is very popular and thus widely available. You will have a hard time finding a supermarket that does not have it! The bad news is that it is much richer in calories and fat content than queso fresco, so use it in moderation!
7. Cotija (fresh)
- It is not a direct substitute, but can actually work in your favour, if you want to bold-up your flavour
- Cotija is meant to be aged (at least 3 months, actually), producing crumblier texture, perfect for grating. However, in US you can get your hands on fresh variety.
- Do mind that cotija will be on the saltier side in comparison to Queso Fresco, so adjust accordingly
- If you are vegan, you can replace queso fresco with tofu cheese in almost all the recipes. Tofu is made from the pressed curds of soy milk and can be made extra firm when needed.
- Tofu is very versatile too so that you can use it not only in Mexican dishes but in various desserts as well.
- Tofu is super healthy too! If you do not believe me, check out what Kerry Torrens, a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy and a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT), has to say about health benefits of tofu.
Extra Cheesy? It is easy! Tips & Tricks for Using Queso Fresco & Its Substitutes
- Stay safe! – Queso fresco is, as any other fresh cheese, prone to bacteria so make sure you buy it from a reliable seller, store it properly and use it by the expiry date.
- Store it well! – If you want your queso fresco to last, store it in an airtight container and refrigerate it at all times. Once opened it will stay good for up to two weeks.
- Fresh and high-quality – that is the key! – Always thrive to buy the freshest cheese of the highest quality as is sure to taste the best and compliment your dish the most!
- The best substitute pursuit! – Not all substitutes I have listed work great in all the dishes that require queso fresco. For example, if you need to substitute queso fresco in a topping opt for a crumbly substitute cheese (feta, Ricotta Salata, dry-curd cottage cheese), and if you need to make a cheese filling it is better to choose the substitute that will melt such as the Monterey Jack cheese.
- Start slowly and sparingly! – Adding too much of the queso fresco substitute at once can ruin your entire dish. Instead, add a bit, try, and then add more if needed! Keep up until you reach perfection, and everything is cheesy-peasy!
See also: How to choose the perfect cheese slicer?