Oaxaca is a highly coveted type of cheese. It’s versatile, and is ideal as an all-rounder for virtually any recipe that calls for cheese. Oaxaca can sometimes be hard to find in the U.S., but luckily there are plenty of alternatives that suffice.
What is Oaxaca Cheese?
Oaxaca cheese was first produced in the state Oaxaca, in Mexico, (hence the name.) It is made using cow’s milk and is semi-soft and white. Some other names for Oaxaca cheese are quesillo (translates to “rope cheese”), Oaxacan-style string cheese, and Mexican mozzarella.
The process used to make Oaxaca cheese is called pasta filata, the same process used to make mozzarella. The method originated in Italy and translates roughly to “spun paste.” This is because the curds are heated and stretched right before they form into the cheese.
What Does Oaxaca Cheese Taste Like?
Pronounced like “waa-haa-kuh,” Oaxaca cheese has a very mild and somewhat earthy flavor. It is best described as having a taste like unaged monterey cheese and a texture similar to mozzarella. It is slightly sweet and has a creamy, smooth texture.
What Makes Oaxaca Cheese Different?
For one, Oaxaca cheese is made through a very special process. One of the first steps is adding rennet to the whole milk in order to separate the whey and curds. Next, the curds are immersed in hot water which softens them and makes them more supple. Lastly, the curds are stretched very thinly and kneaded to give it a stringy texture.
Aside from the cheese-making process, Oaxaca cheese can be utilized for basically any purpose. It makes for an ideal melting cheese because of its soft, stringy texture, and many prefer it for their quesadillas and enchiladas. It can also be eaten plainly on its own or shredded to make a topping for tacos, beans, soups, etc.
What Can I Use in Place of Oaxaca Cheese?
There are plenty of cheeses that are similar to Oaxaca cheese. Some of the most popular substitutes for Oaxaca cheese are: asadero cheese, young Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Muenster cheese, string cheese, cheddar curds, Armenian-style string cheese, Queso Panela, Ricotta Salata, Queso Fresco, and Manchego cheese.
1. Asadero Cheese
Asadero cheese is another type of cheese hailing from Mexico. Its texture is different from Oaxaca’s; it is semi-firm whereas Oaxaca cheese is semi-soft. It is still very similar in terms of flavor and is a perfect cheese for melting.
2. Unaged Monterey Jack Cheese
In terms of flavor, unaged Monterey Jack bares a striking resemblance to the taste of Oaxaca cheese. It is another mild cheese that’s perfect for melting and is also very versatile. Using unaged Monterey Jack in a recipe that originally called for Oaxaca is likely to yield the same results.
Unaged Monterey Jack cheese is also usually widely available in stores, making it a convenient substitute for Oaxaca cheese.
Fresh mozzarella is one of the easiest substitutes for Oaxaca cheese. After all, it is called the Mexican mozzarella for a reason. They’re made using the same process, so the texture of mozzarella is almost identical to that of Oaxaca.
The most noticeable difference is that mozzarella is likely to be less salty than Oaxaca. If you’re looking to replicate Oaxaca exactly, try sprinkling some salt over the mozzarella. If you can find it, Buffalo mozzarella specifically does the best job at replacing Oaxaca. It is more creamy than other mozzarellas.
4. Muenster Cheese
Muenster cheese originates in the United States and is another semi-soft option. It works well in recipes because of its mild flavor, and is also known to melt nicely. Its texture and flavor are both similar to Oaxaca’s, so when replacing one for the other you can use equal parts.
5. String Cheese
String cheese makes for a great queso Oaxaca replacement because it is highly accessible. Not only this, but it has the same creamy and stringy consistency that we love Oaxaca for, as well as the salty taste. It can be used for any purpose that Oaxaca would be used for.
6. Cheddar Curds
Essentially, cheddar curds are unfermented and somewhat squeaky cheese. Cheese curds are famous for having a fresh milk flavor and some saltiness. When milk is boiled to make cheese, a mass separates from the whey. This mass is what the curds are.
Curds have not been processed into a block shape or aged, giving them a fresh taste. The strands of protein in cheddar curds make them squeaky as they rub against your teeth. They can easily be found in North America and have a mild, yet distinct taste.
7. Armenian Style String Cheese
Armenian style string cheese is most commonly made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is very different from the string cheeses we see in American supermarkets, and is sold in thick braids. These braids can be torn apart into shreds, making this string cheese easily versatile.
It is made in a similar process that Oaxaca is, making it a great substitute for Oaxaca cheese. It is also semi-soft and white, but recognizable by black nigella seeds embedded into its strings. If you are located near a Middle Eastern or Armenian shop, it can easily be found there.
8. Queso Panela
Queso Panela is similar to Oaxaca cheese in many ways. It is also a white, semi-soft Mexican cheese. It melts well and has the creamy, soft texture that you turn to Oaxaca for. So, if you can’t find any Oaxaca cheese; Queso Panela is a safe replacement. It is also called Queso Canasta.
9. Ricotta Salata
The biggest difference between Ricotta Salata and Oaxaca cheese is their textures. This cheese has a different texture than Oaxaca, but it still has a similar mild and salty flavor. Regular ricotta cheese is very soft, but Ricotta Salata is more firm and typically is sold in blocks.
It works best as an Oaxaca cheese replacement in recipes where it will be grated or crumbled. It is usually easily found in supermarkets, and its taste is incredibly similar to Oaxaca’s.
10. Queso Fresco
The salty, mild flavor of Queso Fresco combined with its creamy texture makes it a considerable replacement for Oaxaca cheese. Its texture is only creamy, though, and not stringy. Due to this, it may not work as an Oaxaca replacement in all recipes, but if texture isn’t a dealbreaker for you this is one to consider.
11. Manchego Cheese
Manchego cheese originated in Spain and has a buttery, mild flavor, with a texture that is somewhat firm. Its taste is very similar to that of Oaxaca. But, it does have a firm texture, while Oaxaca’s texture is much more creamy.
It works best in recipes where the cheese is grated on top. It’s known to be a good melting cheese as well, but it won’t perfectly replicate melted Oaxaca cheese.
12. Homemade Oaxaca Cheese
It does take a lot more effort than using store-bought Oaxaca cheese or one of its alternatives, but it is certainly possible to make your own Oaxaca cheese. Because it is so similar to mozzarella, there are many recipes online.
How to Make Homemade Oaxaca Cheese
It will likely take some practice to get the perfect homemade Oaxaca cheese, as it is so well-esteemed because of the skill and patience crafters need to make it. But, to do so, first you would boil milk along with an acid like lemon juice.
Once the boiling milk starts to form curds, you would manually stretch the curds out. It sounds simple (and it is, in a way), but perfecting the process can take some time. Regardless, if you want to make your own Oaxaca cheese, it is definitely achievable.
Is Oaxaca cheese the same as mozzarella?
Oaxaca cheese has a striking resemblance to mozzarella. They are made using the same process, and have a very similar flavor profile. They are not exactly the same thing, but Oaxaca is sometimes called “Mexican mozzarella.”
Because of the many similarities that Oaxaca cheese and mozzarella have, the best substitute for Oaxaca is arguably Buffalo mozzarella. Both are very versatile and creamy. Buffalo mozzarella is not too salty, but after sprinkling some salt on top, you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference.
How do you grate Oaxaca cheese?
Oaxaca cheese can easily be grated with a cheese grater; simply by placing the flat part against a box grater. Oaxaca cheese melts the easiest when it is grated. It also crumbles very easily and can do so by just using your hands.
How long does Oaxaca cheese last in the fridge?
Oaxaca cheese is not meant to be aged, and should be eaten fresh. When you put your leftover Oaxaca in the fridge, you can expect it to last for one to two weeks. It will last in the freezer for much longer, though. When stored properly, Oaxaca can last for up to three months in the freezer.
Oaxaca cheese is a highly acclaimed cheese, partly because of the delicate process used to make it, but also because of its versatility. It is a semi-soft, savory cheese that can be used for pretty much anything and is a great all-rounder cheese. But if you don’t have any Oaxaca cheese or can’t find any, there are plenty of similar cheeses that can do the same job Oaxaca does.