A guide to Mexican cheeses: Recipes
Last month's column (Part I) presented a guide to Mexico's many cheeses, along with suggestions for substitutions when certain cheeses are not available. However, with the enormous variety of international ingredients now sold north of the border, many Mexican cheeses have become supermarket staples.
While supermarkets are certainly convenient, one of the charms of living in Mexico is shopping in the mercados. For the many years I lived in Cholula, I looked forward to Sundays and Wednesdays, días de tianguis - market days - when the streets around the indoor market became filled with campesinas selling their fresh produce and ambulatory vendors hawking everything from oven cleaner to rubber chickens (The Cholula market was the last place I saw real Mexican jumping beans for sale.) The "cheese ladies", though, were my favorites. Their leaf-lined baskets held the freshest and most artfully formed country cheeses, each one carefully wrapped in the tender, inner husks of corn, to keep them as moist and flavorful as possible. Who could resist? Not this shopper.
When food is so appealing, overbuying is easy, and I needed to find other ways of serving these purchases besides cheese-and-crackers, cheese-and-fruit, and quesadillas. This is where the market ladies, as well as a few friends who owned restaurants, came in handy. Mexican herbs, spices and cooking techniques lend themselves well to the creative preparation of many cheese dishes, especially when salsas and chiles are involved.
The following recipes are not carved in stone, and experimenting is certain to lead to new "specialties" to serve family and friends. So, forget the Ritz crackers and apple wedges for the time being, and enjoy some terrific cheese snacks, appetizers, and even soups and main dishes, all with the distinctive Mexican culinary flair.
Requeson cheese with fried tortilla triangles: Resquesón botanero con totopos
Fried Mexican cheese with epazote and tomatillo sauce: Queso frito con salsa de epazote y tomate verde
Mexican cheese soup: Crema de queso
Chile strips with Mexican cheese: Rajas con queso
Mexican cheese fondue with chiles and mushrooms: Queso fundido con chiles y champiñones