A Guide to Fresh Mexican Cheese and the Dishes to Top with It

Tacos may very well be the perfect food, but let's face it, the standard Meximerican fare can get a bit stale after a while. Taco the Town is here to highlight some of the more unusual Mexican finds in the valley.

This week: Quesos Frescas, Fresh Mexican cheeses and where to get 'em

¿Como se dice?: Queso! You would think from homogenized Meximerican fare that most Mexican food comes smothered in a greasy Colby jack blend. You would be so wrong. Mexican cheeses are generally mild, white and serve more to accent than overpower the flavors of the dish. Read on for a mini guide to fresh Mexican cheese. Check back in the coming weeks to see what places prefer to use aged, soft cheeses (like Oaxaca) and crumbly, harder cheeses (like cotija).

Sink your teeth into all the cheesy details after the jump.

La Comida y El Sabor: The difference between fresh Mexican cheeses and their aged counterparts is generally apparent in the flavor, texture and shelf life. This class of queso is generally mild (sometimes bordering on barely-there bland) with a soft "wet" texture. And it's best to use them fast; since they're un-aged and fresh, the shelf life is fairly quick.

Queso Panela: A soft, slightly watery white cheese reminiscent of Indian paneer. Often used in botanas (appetizers) like Sierra Bonita's sizzlin' stuffed jalapeno peppers or Los Sombreros' fig and panela salad.

Queso blanco: This mild and soft cheese doesn't melt all too well, and has a flavor similar to Montery Jack but with a texture that's a bit more wet and crumbly. Queso blanco softens as it is heated and can make a tasty filling, like in My Arepa's tequenos--deep fried queso blanco cheese sticks.

Queso fresco: One of the most well-known of the fresh cheeses, it's harder than panela or blanco and much more shred-able. It's often used as a slightly melty topping for a variety of Mexican food, like Los Reyes de la Torta's tinga quesadilla in "Estilo del Rey."

Requeson: Moisture is the star of this smooth, curd-filled cheese. Just like its Italian relative, ricotta, requeson takes on the flavors of what it's mixed with and is often used as a cheesy filling. Swing by San Carlos Bay and try their bacon wrapped shrimp stuffed with requeson.

Crema: Anyone that's in the know when it comes to Mexican food understands that crema, while similar to sour cream, is a completely different beast. It's a cool, smooth topping that's a bit saltier with a thicker bite to it, more like crème fraiche than watery sour cream. Try La Tolteca's potato tacos for a heaping spoonful of crema surrounding some of the most pillowy and delicious tacos we've had in ages.

Bring a bit of México to your kitchen: Now that you're armed with this fresh cheese knowledge, hit up your local Meximart like Food City or Ranch Pro and snag some queso that will put your "Mexican blend" from Kraft to shame. Know of any Mexican gems in the valley? Reveal your family secrets in the comment section.

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Erica O'Neil