If you’re after an authentic Mexican experience, one of the things that’s hard to get right is the cheese. Mexican cuisine uses many unique kinds of cheese, including Asadero cheese, queso fresco, and even the not-quite cheese called crema. A recipe that uses these authentic cheeses instead of the closest American substitute tastes a little bit different and has a slightly different range of textures, meaning it’s a different overall experience that can make a dish that much more delicious.
Admittedly, my experience with Mexican food is somewhat unauthentic. Growing up in Southern California, I’ve enjoyed a unique blend of American and Mexican cuisine that’s both very delicious and very “tainted.” This means that I went for many, many years without knowing that Asadero cheese existed at all.
Once I discovered Asadero (and its close cousin, Oaxaca cheese), I was able to elevate my cooking a little bit. Asadero makes dishes like stuffed peppers, quesadillas, and nachos a little bit more Mexican and a little bit less American. This is a subtle distinction that’s definitely not lost when you’re preparing an appetizer for a party or a dish for a dinner. Your friends will notice the difference between the foods you create and the ones they’re accustomed to eating. This means they’ll really take the time to appreciate the effort you put in and enjoy the flavors you’ve assembled.
While you can make Asadero at home, I generally find it’s best to simply buy it from a Mexican supermarket, assuming you have one near you. Even if you don’t, many “normal” American supermarkets will carry Asadero (or Oaxaca) if you know where to look. The unique blend of mild, accessible flavor and string-like texture helps to set these cheeses apart and give your cooking that extra edge.
What Is Asadero Cheese?
Asadero cheese is a mild, semi-soft cheese that’s made in Northern Mexico. It’s especially prevalent in the province of Chihuahua. Asadero cheese (or queso Asadero) is very similar in texture to string cheese. It’s made using a special process where the cheese is stretched and kneaded in order to develop the distinctive stringy texture.
Ideal Substitutions For Asadero Cheese
Honestly, the best thing to do is use a kind of cheese that you like. Even professional chefs disagree over what the “ideal” substitution for asadero cheese is, so you’re perfectly fine using any kind of cheese you enjoy eating.
As far as texture goes, string cheese is probably the closest thing. Both Asadero and string cheese are made using a process called “pasta filata.” This technique involves literally stretching out the cheese dough in order to give it a stringy texture.
While string cheese and Asadero feel pretty similar, they don’t taste quite the same. Asadero is closest in taste to Monterey Jack. It’s quite mild and creamy, meaning that cheeses like provolone, muenster, and teleme are also good substitutions.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Asadero and Oaxaca cheese is pretty similar. The biggest difference is where they’re made. While a hardcore enthusiast of Mexican cuisine might be able to spot the difference, you can probably get away with using Asadero in place of Oaxaca and vice versa with no issues.
Asadero vs Oaxaca Cheese
There are two key differences between Asadero cheese and Oaxaca cheese. The first (and most important) difference is where the cheese is made. Oaxaca is named after a place in the south of Mexico, while Asadero is produced in the north. This means that you’re slightly more likely to find fresh Asadero in some places in the southern United States.
There are some subtle differences between Oaxaca and Asadero in addition to the place of origin. Oaxaca is slightly drier in texture and somewhat harder. Honestly, though, the differences aren’t particularly large, so you’re almost always fine to substitute one for the other.
“Queso” is the Mexican word for “cheese,” so saying “queso Asadero” is like saying “cheddar cheese.” This means that “Asadero” and “queso Asadero” are exactly the same thing. You don’t need to worry about any differences!
The History of Asadero Cheese
Spanish monks began to establish Catholic missions in Mexico as early as 1493. The Dominican monks brought with them many bits of European culture, including the pasta filata process of making string cheese. They couldn’t make traditional mozzarella, however. This is because mozzarella is made from water buffalo milk instead of normal cow milk. The monks instead made Oaxaca and Asadero cheeses, which are both made from regular milk.
Making Asadero Cheese At Home
Making cheese is not particularly hard, but it does involve the use of several specialty ingredients and some cheese-specific tools. As long as you have cheesecloth, a strainer, a thermometer, and the necessary ingredients, however, you should be able to make Asadero (and most other cheeses) at home just fine.
Here’s a recipe that you can use to get started:
1-gallon milk, full-fat (unpasteurized, see below)
Non-chlorinated water (lots)
3/4 cup rennet
salt (to make brine)
An accurate instant-read thermometer
A large double boiler
A Note About Milk:
First of all, let me explain what I mean by “unpasteurized.” Milk is heated to a high temperature in order to kill bacteria before it’s sold in the store. You can actually use pasteurized milk fine for making cheese — in fact, you’ll pasteurize it yourself first.
The issue with most store-bought milk is that it’s ultra-pasteurized (UP) or ultra-high temperature pasteurized (UHT). Both of these types of milk will not form curds, meaning you can’t use them for making cheese. If you’re careful and you just get regular pasteurized milk, however, you’ll be fine.
Homogenized milk is fine, too. Just make sure the milk you get is NOT UP or UHT. You may need to experiment with a few brands before you find the perfect milk in your local grocery store.
Okay, on to the instructions:
Set up your double boiler and use it to heat all of the milk to 145 F. Keep it here for 30 minutes in order to pasteurize it. If you’re already using pasteurized milk you can skip this step.
Next, get your milk to 95 F and stir in the rennet. Let the rennet work for an hour while you let the milk sit undisturbed. Ideally, you’ll keep it at about 95 F during this whole process.
Once curds have formed and the cheese breaks cleanly, take a knife and cut them into 1 inch cubes. Afterward, let them “heal” for at least 10 minutes without disturbing them.
Some recipes suggest that you “wash” the curds here. To do this, place a strainer inside of your boiler and spoon out about a third of the whey. You can save the whey and use it in many recipes. Next, replace the whey with a roughly equal amount of non-chlorinated water. Use the line on the inside of your pot to help estimate how much water to add. Let the curds sit for several minutes (15 or so) and let the water absorb some of the acidity.
Once your whey is all set, drain the curds in a cheesecloth-lined colander. Again, feel free to save the whey for later use if you’d like. The solid curds will form the base of your cheese in a minute. First, though, give it at least 10 or 20 minutes to drain thoroughly.
In order to give your Asadero cheese its string-cheese like texture, you’ll need to prepare a large mixing bowl of hot water. Ideally, this water will be too hot for you to put your hands in, but you can experiment with different temperatures. Use gloves or utensils to form the curds into a melty ball and knead them together. Next, pull them out into long strings. You can take your time and have fun with this or simply pull the curds into strings once and then ball them up for easy presentation.
Next, press the cheese into a mold and submerge it in cold water until it’s set. This takes about 15 minutes.
The final step is to salt the cheese. Some home cheesemakers prefer to salt the cheese directly, but most people use a brine instead. Immerse the cheese in a solution of salty water (17% is ideal) for twenty to sixty minutes, depending on how salty you want it to be.
You’re all set! Your homemade asadero should keep for about two weeks in your fridge, so feel free to take your time and experiment with lots of Mexican recipes.
Using Asadero Cheese
Asadero isn’t usually used in particularly unorthodox ways. Instead, it’s the cheese of choice for stuffing peppers, making quesadillas, and otherwise accenting dishes. Try melted asadero inside of your tacos and other Mexican dishes, or branch out and use it on pizza, sandwiches, and other foods from around the world. You’ll love the results!
Asadero Cheese: Mexican String Cheese?
While queso asadero (or asadero cheese) is quite similar to mozzarella in texture, you can definitely taste the difference when you compare the cheeses side by side. While asadero cheese is made using the same process, it’s made with a different type of milk. This means that it’s got a different flavor profile, making it more suited to different types of cooking.
The reason for the strong similarity is simple: asadero cheese was first made by Spanish monks who were trying to make mozzarella. Unfortunately for them, mozzarella is made with water buffalo milk, not cow milk. With no water buffalo around to produce this special dairy product, the monks used regular milk instead. The result was asadero or Oaxaca cheese.
The quick way to describe asadero cheese is “string cheese that tastes like Monterey Jack.” This means that in a dish where the exact taste of the cheese isn’t too important, you can use either one with no issues. This is most often the case when the cheese is a light garnish on top of a very flavorful dish. In other words, if you’re topping your stuffed tacos with a thin layer of cheese, you can probably use either type of cheese with no issues. If you’re stuffing a pepper with quite a lot of cheese and not a lot else, you might want to consider using the proper cheese (or using Monterey Jack for a more accurate flavor match).
Like I said above, however, you’re free to substitute the type of cheese that you enjoy eating the most and ignore everything else. Cheese isn’t usually crucial to holding a dish together, so you can use whatever type of cheese you want with no negative repercussions. Your dish might taste a bit different, but as long as you like it everything will turn out okay!
Summing Things Up
Asadero cheese is pretty much the same as Oaxaca cheese. Both kinds of cheese are similar in texture to string cheese but similar in flavor to Monterey Jack. They’re used in many authentic Mexican dishes, but you can safely sub out your personal favorite type of cheese without any major issues. Your friends, family, and dinner guests might notice the unique combination of flavor and texture of the real thing, however, so consider going the extra mile and finding real asadero or Oaxaca cheese if you can!
Asadero cheese is commonly available in both Mexican supermarkets and regular grocery stores, although you might have to buy Oaxaca cheese instead or even make it yourself. Like other unaged cheeses, it’s not too much of a pain to make it yourself, although you will need some special ingredients and equipment. Making fresh cheese is very fun and rewarding, though, so it’s often worth the effort to pick these things up!