Queso fresco is a traditional Mexican cheese which is a common ingredient in a wide range of dishes. The cheese is a quintessential part of Mexican cuisine, and is often available in Mexican markets and grocery stores. In Mexico, queso fresco is often a raw milk cheese, but in the United States the cheese is made from pasteurized milk, due to concerns about bacteria in raw milk. Both cheeses behave slightly differently, with the American cheese being more prone to melting.
In Spanish, the name of the cheese means “fresh cheese.” Classic queso fresco is snow white, very soft, moist, and mild in flavor. The cheese is also rather crumbly, making it ideal for crumbling over dishes like salads and enchiladas. The creamy cheese is also used as a filling in many Mexican dishes. It will soften and become creamy when heated, but it will not melt.
The cheese is always made from cow's milk, and could be likened to farmer cheese or pot cheese. To make queso fresco, milk is curdled, salted, and lightly pressed. The aging process for the cheese is very brief, usually no more than a few days, and then the cheese is sent to market. Traditional queso freso is good for around five days, although many dairies add stabilizers and handle the cheese slightly differently to extend the shelf life.
Since queso fresco is best when it is as fresh as possible, the cheese should be purchased on the day it is to be used, ideally. It can be kept wrapped in the fridge for several days, but it will start to lose texture and flavor. In addition to being used in Mexican dishes which call for this cheese, it can also be used like other mild crumbly cheeses in dishes from other nations.
There have been documented cases of illness in the United States relating to pasteurized queso fresco which was handled improperly at the manufacturer. This illustrates the potential danger which can lurk in any food which is not cared for with respect. Try to purchase all cheeses from reputable dairies which are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture or similar international regulatory agencies. In most countries, a cheese must be labeled with a plant number where it was produced, allowing consumers to look up safety inspection data on that plant.