Cuajada is technically a type of fresh cheese that is made from milk curds, although some consider it more of a pudding. It is popular in Northern Spain and areas of South and Central America such as Nicaragua, Brazil and Costa Rica. The preparation is simple, and the cheese can be served as an accompaniment to another dessert or simply be a dessert with the addition of sugar, nuts and honey. The loose texture of cuajada and its taste allows it to act in some instances as a substitute for yogurt or as a moistening and thickening agent in baked goods.
Traditionally, cuajada is made using the milk of sheep, giving it a tangy flavor that can be very strong for those not used to it. In modern industrial production, however, the cheese is mostly made from cow’s milk and has a milder flavor. According to the region in which it is being produced, it also can be made from goat’s milk or a blend of different types of milk.
The cheese is formed by heating milk in a pan until it is hot, but not boiling, and then adding an ingredient such as rennet or vinegar to cause the milk to curdle, separating the solids from the whey, or liquid. The solid parts of the milk, called the curd, are strained from the whey and then sometimes compressed slightly to remove some moisture, although this step is not always followed to create a product with a creamier, pudding-like consistency. The final cheese is placed in a container, sometimes made of wood or clay; in some traditions a hot iron is then drawn through the cheese. This iron quickly burns a small part of the cuajada, leaving a smoky flavor, although this practice is not as common as it once was.
In most applications, the cheese is eaten in the same way as yogurt. It can be sweetened with honey and then topped with walnuts, pine nuts or fresh fruit. Syrup made from water and brown sugar or raw sugar can be poured over top and allowed to dry, similar to the way flan is served. When eaten for breakfast, it can be consumed simply with toast or dry cereals.
The perishable nature of cuajada in combination with its limited popularity in certain regions means it is not widely exported around the world in fresh form. Instead, a cuajada powder can be found in areas where there is demand. This powder is prepared and acts more like an instant gelatin mix and creates a cuajada that is closer in taste and texture to flan than to the fresh, tart cheese.