8 Fresh Alternatives to Queso Fresco
Queso fresco, also known as fresh cheese or queso blanco, is a staple in Mexican households, and is so easy to make, it’s a wonder why everyone isn’t enjoying this cheese all the time. It is pure white and super versatile, and contains just a few easy-to-find ingredients.
To make it, you simply heat whole (full-fat) cow (or goat’s) milk to a gentle simmer, add a coagulating agent (typically vinegar or citrus juice) and salt, let the curds float to the top, and skim them off leaving just the whey (which you can discard or use for cooking/fermenting).
The cheese is then pressed (for a firm version, similar to cotija) or left soft (similar to a cottage cheese or ricotta). Either way, this cheese can be enjoyed plain as part of a healthy diet, or it can be seasoned heavily with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, chilies and more.
Many Mexicans make this cheese at home, and you can too… or purchase it in stores, where you’ll find the firm variety which is suitable for slicing or grating.
Homemade queso fresco tends to spoil very quickly, but it is, of course, best eaten fresh! The only other downside of this cheese is that it does not really melt like a cheddar or mozzarella, but is great for topping dishes, adding a pop of color and flavor.
Queso fresco can be used as filling for tacos or other Mexican dishes, in pastas, risotto, with meats and fish.
Its overwhelmingly fresh and simple flavor means it absorbs the flavors of whatever surrounds it, and also cuts the richness and/or sharpness of certain sauces, spices and meat dishes. It is especially popular in Mexico, because the coolness and fresh flavor of this cheese is really ideal for hot weather and spicy food!
It goes great as a topping for tacos, burrito, pasta, vegetable dishes, salad and we’ve even seen it on a few desserts. Queso fresco is much less salty than other cheeses and has a smooth texture. Its cheese siblings are ricotta, feta, and cotija, but we have also explored a few other great substitutes which you can find here!
1. Fresh Ricotta
Another cheese you can make at home using a similar process is ricotta, but you can also buy it in stores in large plastic containers. This Italian cheese is basically the same, except some of the whey is combined with the curds to make a more liquid, soft cheese.
With young, fresh ricotta, you may need to adjust your recipe slightly to account for the extra moistness, or you can place it in a strainer overnight in the fridge, and what you will be left with is basically queso fresco!
Ricotta, of course, is great in pasta dishes and as fillings, and keep these cheeses in mind for dessert and breakfast dishes as well!
Editor’s Note: Ricotta is technically not a cheese, but a dairy by-product. However, most people associate ricotta with cheese so you can see it labeled as cheese in many of our articles.
2. Farmer’s Cheese or Ricotta Salata
Ricotta salata is the same as the drained ricotta listed above, but it has also been pressed to remove any of the extra liquid, becoming firm and crumbly.
Farmer’s cheese is very similar but is often slightly saltier. Both of these cheeses make great alternatives to queso fresco in the sense that they are bright white, super mild, milky in flavor, crumbly in texture and that they do not melt.
Both of these are slightly tangier than queso fresco, but the difference is negligible.
Paneer derives from a middle eastern word meaning “all cheese,” but paneer has become largely regarded as Indian cottage cheese. It is often made with buffalo milk but can be made of other milks, and like queso fresco, it is heated and curlded using an acid, and then strained and pressed.
Like queso fresco, paneer is not aged in any way, nor does it melt. It has a slightly sweet, mildly salty flavor and a dry, crumbly texture that lends itself well to other bold flavors, which is why paneer is often served with rich, spicy curries and broths.
If using paneer in place of queso fresco, please note that it is much drier as it is pressed and strained multiple times, and even shocked in cold water. This is because paneer is often deep fried and therefore needs to be very firm and dry. It will still work great in place of queso fresco!
Like paneer, halloumi is a non-aged, non-melting cheese that is very popular in other areas of the world, particularly Cyprus and the Middle East, for its high melting point.
Halloumi can be fried, grilled, and even sautéed without melting, which makes it an excellent and versatile cheese, especially for vegetarians.
When fried, its texture remains the same so it is not quite the perfect substitute for queso fresco, but it will work great for crumbling on top of tacos or other spicy dishes.
It can also be broiled or deep fried if you want a crunchy exterior… because, let’s face it, deep frying cheese is quite possibly the only way to make cheese even better than it already is?!?!
This cheese is perfect for making fondue and cheese sandwiches, and also goes great on nachos, but when it is served chilled, it is also excellent for grating and crumbling.
Like queso fresco, this cheese is very mild and if you’re in Mexico, especially Oaxaca proper, then it is also the best cheese because you will find it in literally every shop!
While tofu is not cheese, the process of making it sure reminds us of cheese! When making tofu, soy milk is heated, “curdled”, and then drained… sounds a lot like queso fresco! However, you don’t need to run out and buy soy milk to take advantage of this dairy free alternative.
Instead you can just pick up a block of firm or extra firm tofu, crumble it into a bowl, add some salt, and use it to top your Mexican style dishes.
Tofu will not melt (like queso fresco) so your guests may never know you’re feeding them tofu instead of cheese! The other benefit of tofu is that it is very affordable and available pretty much everywhere!
While cotija is not quite queso fresco, it is pretty close to being the same thing!
Crumbly in nature and averse to melting, cotija is the store bought version of good homemade queso fresco. Cotija must be made in Cotijo to be considered the real deal, and is sometimes made with skim milk instead of whole milk, but overall, these two mild, crumbly, Mexican cheeses are interchangeable.
8. Anari, or Unsalted Cyprus Cheese
This popular Greek cheese is similar to halloumi and is made from sheep’s milk. It is pressed for a shorter amount of time so is less firm and therefore cannot be fried unless it is extremely cold.
It is, however, mixed with fruit or syrup and consumed as a breakfast food in Cyprus as it is extremely mild and not very salty, making it a perfect substitute for queso fresco.
Either way you look at it, queso fresco is a cheese that keeps on giving. With its super fresh palette and bright white color, it is a blank canvas for Mexican dishes, and is also loved around the world because it is easy to make, easy to find, and easy to afford!