Queso fresco is a firm-textured Mexican cheese made from fresh cow's milk. It provides a creamy, crumbly texture that is ideal for topping Mexican dishes such as enchiladas, tacos, nachos, flautas, and salads. The spicy nature of Mexican cuisine is deliciously balanced out by this mild, slightly tangy, and salty cheese.
Although queso fresco is readily available in Mexico and some U.S. states, it can be difficult to source in other locations. If you don't have a Mexican grocer nearby, then you're going to need a queso fresco substitute. We've compiled a list of ten options. Most are likely to be in your kitchen or local store.
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10 queso fresco alternatives
Paneer is a fresh (un-aged) cheese made by curdling milk with a vegetable acid such as lemon juice. It is a fundamental ingredient in numerous Indian dishes, especially curries. You can read more about paneer and even get a recipe for making it by reading our article, Saag Paneer Vs. Palak Paneer.
Although paneer is an Indian cheese, it shares a remarkable similarity to queso fresco and is the best replacement option. This cheese is available at most supermarkets in the specialty cheese section.
Quark is an unripened white cow's milk cheese from the cottage cheese family. It offers a mild, milky flavor with a sweet undertone. Quark's texture is a cross between cream cheese and ricotta.
If you choose to use quark, then it is most often used in sweet recipes such as cheesecake. That doesn't mean it can't be used as an add-in for soups, slow-cooked casseroles, and burritos.
Feta is another crumbly white cheese that has a similar appearance to queso fresco. It's an excellent cheese for crumbling over food. Many varieties of feta are salty, tangy, and full-flavored. To counter this, choose a mild product, such as Danish or French versions. You don't want to overwhelm your nachos or tortillas with too much tang.
Unable to find mild feta? Try this hack!
- Take your salty block and place it in a strainer, then rinse with water for one minute.
- Place the cheese in a large bowl and pour over the milk until the block is submerged.
- Refrigerate for 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Rinse off the milk and pat dry with a towel.
Your feta should be much less salty now – the perfect substitute for queso fresco.
4. Farmer's Cheese
Farmer's cheese is a milky, tangy cheese produced in a very similar way to queso fresco. It isn't the best alternative, but it will work in a pinch. You'll find that it's usually softer and more crumbly with a milder flavor.
The best use for farmer's cheese is for balancing out spicy dishes with some creaminess. Add it to nachos and enchiladas in liberal amounts, and you're unlikely to get any complaints.
5. Ricotta Salata
Ricotta salata is comparable to ricotta – they both have a creamy texture and mild nutty flavor. However, ricotta salata doesn't have that loose, cottage cheese-type texture. It has been salted and aged for several months, causing it to firm up nicely.
Use ricotta salata is any recipe that you would use queso fresco. Pasta, salads, pizzas, or any Mexican dish benefit from this cheese.
6. Mild goat cheese
Fresh goat cheese comes in a range of flavors. Choose a mild-flavored variety, and you'll have an acceptable back-up option. Goat's milk has a different flavor to that of a cow, but a mild product will barely be noticeable when eaten with other ingredients.
You can use goat's cheese in most Mexican recipes, including tostadas and frijoles refritos (refried black beans).
7. Queso Blanco
Queso blanco (literally: white cheese) is another Mexican cheese that is very similar to queso fresco. Some use the two terms interchangeably but they do have a significant different. Queso blanco is made with milk and acid, whereas queso fresco is produced using rennet and a culture.
You can use queso blanco in any dish that calls for queso fresco. The biggest challenge with this option is that it is also hard to find in supermarkets. That is unless you're near a well-stocked cheese store or living near to Mexico.
Did you know? This cheese also makes an excellent halloumi substitute.
Tofu is made from the pressed curds of soy milk and is the option you'll want to use if you're vegan or lactose-intolerant. This option won't provide you with a crumbly dairy product with a salty, tangy flavor you'd associate with cheese. It will, however, offer a lovely reduced-calorie topping for Mexican food including fajitas.
9. Monterey Jack Cheese
Monterey Jack is a creamy, semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk. Its mild buttery flavor combines deliciously with any recipe that calls for queso fresco and can also be melted if needed. The texture won't allow you to crumble it so you'll need to grate the cheese onto your food.
Requeson is considered the Latin version of ricotta. But, the cheese is drained and pressed until it achieves a consistency that's more solid than ricotta. Although it has a creamy texture, requeson has a robust, salty taste. Like many cheese types of this list, it is a crumbly variety that's a tasty alternative to queso fresco.
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Queso fresco is a creamy, crumbly cheese that is the perfect accompaniment for Mexican dishes. If you can't find any in the store, then paneer, quark or feta are your best three alternatives. They offer similar texture and flavor, although they aren't a perfect match.
As with any ingredient substitute, the secret is to gradually add an alternative cheese. Taste test then add more if necessary. This process will avoid the disappointment of a funky tasting dish.
Do you have a queso fresco substitute that you use which isn't on this list? Let us know in the comments below, and we'll add it!