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What is Queijo De Coalho?

By H.R. Childress
Updated May 16, 2024
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Queijo de coalho, also called queijo coalho, is a Brazilian cheese produced mainly in northeastern Brazil. It may be eaten fresh, roasted, or included in baked or fried dishes. Translated as "cheese curd," "farmhouse cheese," or "rennet cheese," queijo de coalho is manufactured from whole cow's milk.

Farmers in the Brazilian states of Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Pernambuco and Bahia have produced queijo de coalho for around a century. Popular history in the region says that the cheese was discovered by travelers who carried milk in bags made from animal stomachs. As it was transported, the milk coagulated and turned to cheese, which was discovered to be a tasty way to preserve the milk. Local farmers may still produce the cheese as a way to preserve milk for transport, but it is now produced industrially as well.

To produce the cheese, rennet — an enzyme that helps milk form into curds — was originally extracted from the stomach of a local rodent called the Moco, or from the stomachs of other animals. Small farms may still use rennet from animal stomachs, but larger producers of queijo de coalho use an industrial rennet. The typical process for producing the cheese in either large or small batches includes pasteurizing the milk, adding rennet, allowing curds to form, separating the curds from the whey, and then salting, molding, and pressing the cheeses.

After cheeses are pressed, they are usually ripened for up to a month, but they may be eaten fresh as well. Queijo coalho forms a soft rind and can be stored for one year. Longer storage times, however, do cause the cheese to dry out.

Queijo de coalho tastes salty and somewhat sour, and it can have a "squeaky" feel when it is eaten. It is a semi-hard cheese, but the light texture makes it very lightweight as well. The cheese is commonly sold in cylindrical or rectangular blocks that weigh between 1.1 and 3.3 pounds (about 0.5 and 1.5 kg).

Roasted queijo de coalho is a popular snack sold on a stick by vendors at the beaches in Brazil. The cheese is browned in handheld ovens — it does not melt when heated — and various flavorings are sometimes added. It is also sold fresh or ripened at local fairs. In addition to being eaten fresh or roasted, the cheese can be used as an ingredient in many dishes, such as cheese breads.

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