The word quesillo references a variety of foods common to various areas of Latin America. Some of these are dessert foods. Others are specific kinds of cheese that are familiar to shoppers in parts of South and Central America, and Mexico.
In some areas of Latin America, such as Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, quesillo is a type of dessert item similar to what’s commonly called flan. This sweet custard has a light texture and is often accompanied by a type of sweet syrup. In some cases, versions of this dish are exposed to high heat in order to caramelize the top layer. This dish is also called by different names in various regions, where some version are called quemada, or burnt.
In other countries, such as Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia, the word is used for a type of cheese. The Mexican variety is often presented in small white balls, or in flat pieces. Some other varieties of this kind of food are known as string cheeses.
What all of these dishes have in common is a fundamental dairy ingredient that is manipulated to provide a light, airy texture. Some of the cheeses known as quesillo may be a bit more dense, and have a kind of cream cheese texture, but others will be lighter, more airy cheeses. The desert items are commonly lighter custard-type textures.
One common reference for quesillo is a soft, slightly sweet unripened cheese that is widely sold in Mexico and surrounding areas. A similar type of cheese is sold further north, called queso fresco. Experts point out, though, that in general, U.S. manufacturers do not make anything quite like quesillo, which is extremely perishable. Queso fresco, a variety that is often more dense and less perishable, is often the closest thing to quesillo that shoppers can find outside of Latin America.
Foods known as quesillo, and other kinds of desserts and cheeses, represent the various food cultures of Latin America well. These could be presented as part of a survey of regional cuisine in any venue where this kind of food is enjoyed. As many kinds of Latin American food move beyond their original regions, people around the world are becoming acquainted with more of these types of foods. It’s important to keep different kinds of quesillo straight since, as mentioned, this word has a different context in numerous different Spanish-speaking cultures.