Queso fresco is a fresh cheese that is typically made from cow’s milk, though it can also be combined with goat’s milk. It is a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine. It is white, has a light, mildly tangy, and slightly salty flavor, and a semi-soft yet firm and crumbly texture.
It can enhance the taste and texture of a range of recipes or be consumed on its own. But what happens when you don’t have this ingredient on hand? Well, you can use these queso fresco substitutes to recreate a similar effect in your dish.
1. Feta Cheese
Feta cheese is made using sheep or cow’s milk. It is white, has a crumbly texture, a mild flavor, and a creamy, rich profile similar to queso fresco. There are various types of Feta Cheese. Danish feta, for example, has a bold, salty flavor that will go well in salads, whereas French feta has a drier texture that makes it suitable for crumbling.
Feta works well with warm spices like paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Although it produces results comparable to queso fresco, it is brined and aged, so it will give your meals a delicate, tangy flavor. Fortunately, you can remedy this by rising or soaking it in cold water. However, if you want to avoid giving your dish an overpowering tang, you can also use mild feta. Keep in mind that it can spoil quickly, so store it in a brine solution.
Use mild feta as a 1:1 substitute to replace queso fresco.
2. Queso Blanco
Queso Blanco is another type of fresh white Mexican cheese. It can be produced with goat or cow milk, or a combination of the two. It is moisture-free, has a soft yet hard, dry texture, a mild, milky flavor that is slightly sour, and a pleasant sweet or sour aroma. The two ingredients are so similar that even people with distinctive palates think they’re the same, proving that they can be used interchangeably.
Although queso blanco goes well with almost anything, it really shines in hearty, spicy foods. It can hold its shape well without melting, making it a good topping for soups, salads, tacos, and pasta dishes. However, this same quality makes it unsuitable as a spreadable cheese for sandwiches. You can also use it to prepare rich, creamy dips to serve with your favorite chips, crackers, and breadsticks.
Use queso blanco as a 1:1 substitute to replace queso fresco.
3. Ricotta Salata
Ricotta Salata is a white, soft, and creamy cheese with a fluffy texture. It is typically made with whey of sheep milk, but it may also be made with the whey of cow or goat milk. It is aged, brined, and dried, which gives it a rich milky taste with just a hint of salty and tangy flavor. It is a staple ingredient in Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine, although it can be added to other dishes as well.
Ricotta Salata works in any dish that calls for queso fresco and feta, but because of its crumbly, dry firmness, it works best as a topping for salad and stews or as stuffing for thick breads. It is saltier than queso fresco, so you may want to age it for 2 months or more to reduce its saltiness. However, keep in mind that this will give it a yellowish shade that may stick out in your dish. It is also unsuitable for use as a spread or in grilled foods due to its dry, clay-like texture.
Use aged Ricotta Salata as a 1:1 substitute. If it’s salty, use half the amount.
4. Paneer Cheese
Paneer is fresh Indian cottage cheese that is not aged and typically made with cow or buffalo milk. It has a milky, slightly sweet, and mild flavor with a firm but crumbly texture, similar to queso fresco. It has a balance of softness and firmness and is a popular ingredient in Indian cuisine, but it can also work well in Mexican dishes.
You can cut paneer into cubes and use it in soups, stews, and even curries to temper the heat and spiciness of the dish. You can also crumble it with your fingers and use it as a topping for tacos and fajitas. Flavor this texture-rich fresh cheese with spices to lend it rich flavors, then grill it until it is golden-brown on the outside and tantalizingly soft on the inside.
Use as a 1:1 substitute.
5. Monterey Jack Cheese
Monterey Jack is an aged cheese made from full-fat, skimmed, or partly-skimmed cow’s milk. It has a pale to pronounced yellow color, which stands in stark contrast with queso fresco’s white hue. But thanks to its semi-soft texture and mild flavor, it can be used in place of queso fresco, particularly in Mexican and Spanish cuisine. It’s also readily available, so that’s a huge plus.
Monterey Jack has a buttery texture that gives food a creamy flavor without taking away from the base ingredients. You can also use it to tone down the heat from spices like paprika, cayenne, and jalapeños. It melts well, so it’s also suitable for making burrito and enchiladas stuffing. Keep in mind that its color and flavor intensify as it matures, so do a taste test before adding it to dishes.
Start with a small amount to avoid spoiling the dish. You can gradually increase and modify the ratio as you choose.
6. Farmer’s Cheese
Farmer’s cheese is made using dry curds from cow, goat, or sheep milk. It has a hard yet crumbly structure akin to dry paneer cheese and a mild flavor that is tangier than cottage cheese. It also has a low lactose content, making it simple to incorporate into a variety of diets. These qualities make it suitable to use as a substitute for queso fresco.
You can use farmer’s cheese in place of cottage cheese or queso fresco in nearly all recipes, but it shines in Mexican cuisine since its tanginess enhances rather than detracts from the dish. You can also use it to balance spices, herbs, and aromatics or use it in dips, fillings, or desserts. It has a mild flavor, so you will need to use more of it to achieve the same results in your recipes.
½ queso fresco = 1 ½ farmer’s cheese.