What is Queso Anejo?
Queso anejo is a type of firm Mexican cheese which melts very well, leading people to use it in baked and grilled recipes. This cheese may also be crumbled over dishes like enchiladas and tacos to add flavor. Many Mexican markets carry this cheese, and in areas where Mexican markets are not an option, some major supermarkets and grocers may stock it with their ethnic ingredients. If a recipe calls for this cheese and you can't find it, you can try using feta or Parmesan as a substitute.
In Spanish, “queso anejo” literally means “aged cheese.” It may be made with either goat or cow's milk, depending on the region, and aging starts in a mold, to compact the cheese and ensure that it will be dense. Traditionally, this cheese is rolled in paprika to give it a bit of a bite, and it is heavily salted for preservation.
Depending on how aged queso anejo is, it may be very crumbly, or much more dense. Denser cheeses can be grated for cooking, while younger ones can be crumbled by hand. In either case, the cheese has a salty flavor and a sharp bite, courtesy of the paprika and the aging process. However, the flavor of the cheese is not usually overly aggressive, unless it is made with goat milk, in which case it can be a bit more tangy.
When queso anejo is cooked with dishes like enchiladas, it tends to melt very evenly, distributing its flavor throughout the dish. When crumbled over finished dishes such as tacos, the cheese retains its texture, melting a little in contact with the heat, and adding a salty flavor with a hint of creaminess. Queso anejo can also be rolled up in burritos, crumbled over salads, or grilled with various foods, depending on the taste of the cook, and use of this cheese is by no means restricted to recipes from Latin America.
For a more mild version of queso anejo, cooks can try using queso fresco, or “fresh cheese,” which also melts well and has a creamy flavor. Queso fresco is less heavily salted, because it is designed to be used quickly, and it has a crumbly, loose texture which is generally very easy to work with. Both cheeses are widely used throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in a wide assortment of recipes; if you've ever puzzled over the slightly dry, crumbly cheese in dishes from these regions, you've tasted this cheese.
I love queso anejo. I try to keep a bit onhand all the time, so I can just grate it over salads and things.
Sometimes, if I can't be bothered cooking a full nacho recipe, I'll just grate some anejo over some corn chips and nuke them in the microwave. Fast and delicious.
But, my favorite is a kind of Mexican queso dip with a couple of different cheeses in it. I try not to make it too often, because it uses up a lot of queso anejo and it's kind of expensive here.
But it is delicious!
You can use queso anejo with other cheeses and ingredients to stuff hot peppers like jalapenos.
The combination of the hot pepper and the creamy, salty cheese is absolutely delicious and they can be grilled or baked, so they aren't too fattening.
I've heard that Romano cheese will work OK as a substitute for queso cheese if you need one, but there really is no real substitute.
And although I'm sure you can make a delicious version at home, you should definitely try it next time you are in Mexico. I don't know how, but there is some kind of magic that just makes the food there that much better...
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