Oaxaca [pronounced Wuh-HAH-kuh] cheese is a semi-soft white cow’s milk cheese from Mexico. It is named for the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where it originated from. Like mozzarella, Oaxaca cheese is produced using the pasta filata method of stretching the curd. Sometimes, long, flat strands of cheese are wound into a ball and sold this way. Resembling a ball of large strands of yarn, the cheese in this form is called quesillo [pronounced Kay-SEE-yoh], meaning “rope” or “string” cheese.
Oaxaca cheese is also available in short braids, bricks, or rounds. In bricks, it is sometimes referred to as Asadero [ah-sah-DEH-roh] cheese. The word asadero means “roaster” and alludes to this cheese’s fitness for melting. Asadero cheese is a favorite for serving in quesadillas or over burgers. It is sometimes sold sliced for this purpose, and occasionally can be found under the name queso quesadilla.
The texture of Oaxaca cheese is supple and smooth. The flavor is mild and buttery and does not intrude on the foods it is served with. In both texture and flavor, it might be compared to a young Monterey Jack cheese.
Oaxaca cheese is pleasant enough snacking on its own. It could be served on a cheese plate to balance more strongly flavored cheeses. Although it lacks standout flavor, its mildness and texture might be especially appealing to children.
What Oaxaca cheese is particularly well suited for, however, is its meltability. It is used for all manner of dishes that feature melted cheese, such as nachos, chili con queso, queso fundido, enchiladas, and chiles rellenos. Because Oaxaca cheese is an extremely popular Mexican cheese, it is available in many large grocery stores and specialty Mexican grocers. Both mozzarella and provolone are similar in texture, however, and may be substituted for Oaxaca cheese if the latter is unavailable.
If you would like to try Oaxaca or Asadero cheese, try sprinkling it shredded or finely diced over chili, tostadas, or tacos. Shred or slice it thinly and melt it over nachos or inside quesadillas. Sliced into sections, it is a great "lunchbox" cheese for both kids and adults.
For a delicious Mexican version of pizza, top a prepared pizza dough with sliced fresh tomatoes, shredded Oaxaca or Asadero cheese, sliced black olives, sliced grilled chicken or cooked ground beef, and chopped roasted chile peppers. Bake until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown. Garnish with chopped cilantro and sliced green onion before serving.