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Aug 19, 2008 07:49 PM

Queso Fresco Supermercado Tasteoff

I went to a new Vallarta Supermercado in North San Diego County yesterday and gravitated toward the Cheese case.

They had 3 bulk varieties of Mass marketed QFs - and the kind woman let me sample all three. They were:

> Cacique
> El Mexicano
> Los Altos

Of the 3, el mexicano was the worst. Tasteless and pasty.
Cacique barely faired better - and is passable but wouldn't survive in Mexico.

LOS ALTOS, cabrones - is where its at. I started to have a faint rush of pleasure as it reminded me of a recent 2 weeks in Jalisco. Consistency, fresh milk taste, and a light creamyness. Its not Mexican cheese but - I will gadly settle for this here!

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  1. I live in Tokyo, but spend two months a year in San Francisco in spring or summer. This spring, in the quest for lower calorie food, I tried various Mexican queso fresco products, and found to my delight that they are loved by my wife and daughter. Back in Tokyo, such cheese is far, far away. So I asked a friend of mine in El Dorado county, who has 40 head of goats and has been making goat cheese for years, how to make queso fresca. Dead simple, he says. So I have been making my own here in Tokyo, with just plain store-bought milk. Good fine-mesh cheese cloth is essential, but after that it is a breeze. I get the best milk I can, usually it has 4.2% milkfat. Warm it up in a saucepan, when it gets to about 170 F hold it there and then add about two tablespoons of vinegar or three tablespoons of good, highly acidic fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice. The milk solids will coagulate. In a large bowl lay out the cheesecloth, then pour the hot milk mixture into the bowl. Pull up the cloth, and the curds will separate from the whey. Save the whey for bread or pancakes; don't throw it away.
    If you want that creamier texture you talk about with the Los Altos cheese (my guess is that it contains more cream) then mix in some cream to your heart's delight. Press into a ball, then flatten and leave it in the refrigerator as is with the cheesecloth firmly wrapped over the cheese. The lower humidity will further help remove moisture over a few days.

    Of course, you may not need to do this, living in Southern California where Mexican cheeses compete with abandon on the supermercado shelves.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Tripeler

      My parents grew up making cheese in Los Altos de Jalisco... and rarely do I taste any commercial brand that comes close to what they make (of course they source unpasteurized milk from friends & relatives)... you have one missing step in your process... affects texture primarily... but flavor as well. Before you you form the cheese wheels you want to grind the cheese with a volcanic stone metate.

      1. re: Tripeler

        That´s very good info, thank you.

      2. Haven't tried Los Altos, but I always ask for El Michoacano (or is it just Michoacan?). I agree about the other two; not worth the money. I haven't noticed Los Altos brand around before. I was already planning on buying some qf this week, so I'll be sure to go to Vallarta.

        1. Thank you for posting the review. I've had all three brands but not at the same time.

          I'm still skeptical, though. Queso fresco made here just doesn't have much flavor or creaminess. Queso 'panela' seems similar but more like a less salty feta. Both are still pretty bland and pricey at $4-5/lb.

          For now I'm sticking with Tillamook Jack at $3.50/lb.

          6 Replies
          1. re: DiveFan

            Are you buying Tilamook Jack in place of Fresco or Panela?

            I can understand panela [adobera in Jalisco] being replaced by jack - but in no way could it be a subsitute for Queso Fresco - especially texturally.

            1. re: DiveFan

              You're right, the texture is different than QF. I'll have to revisit the Los Altos brand, but I don't remember the flavor standing out that much. Would you say the texture of QF is closer to, say, mozzarella?

              The QP I've had seems very watery, like feta or even like tofu in texture. Flavor has also been lacking, which seems typical of a young farmer cheese.

              I find it hard to appreciate farmer style cheeses regardless of origin, so dishes using them don't stand out on my chow radar.

              1. re: DiveFan

                QF is closest in texture to feta. All I am saying, is that compared to the other 2 mass marketed Mex cheese producers out there - Los Altos is the best.

                I left some of my clothes in Jalisco to smuggle lbs of three different cheeses from Guadalajara 2 months ago. The taste of unpast. mex cheese has no equal.

                I think you may be looking at QF at a different way than it should. You have to see it more for its purpose of garnishment rather than focus. Though - I really like spears of it in my Chile Rellenos instead of Quesillo sometimes.

                1. re: kare_raisu

                  "You have to see it more for its purpose of garnishment rather
                  than focus"
                  Actually, if there's warm, fresh tortillas and good qf around (especially if it's homemade), I'm likely to fill up on those, probably with a bit of salsa or the molillo from whatever dish was prepared.
                  I was at Vallarta again the other night (we officially give it a thumbs-down for food, but the agua de mamey was nice), and I looked at the quesos. I still didn't buy any Los Altos, but it won merely by appearance over the other two. It looked super fresh, which is the way the Michoacan brand usually seems to me.

                  1. re: maestra

                    Definitely! Thats just what we - me and my school friends did for breakfast at his Aunts home in Guadalajara.

                    Los Altos is good - just not mexican unpasturized QF from Jalisco fields good!

                    I havent ate the prepared foods from Vallarta yet - what did you have?

                    Not sure if I ever seen a Michoachan brand? Do you mean Mexicano?

                    They will give you a sample if you ask - one time they even had salv. cheese curds with loroco!

                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      No, not El Mexicano. It's either Michoacan or El Michoacano.
                      We've had quesadillas, a pupusa, and tacos de adobada there. I wrote about the quesadilla (made thick, basically like a folded-over pupusa) and pupusa the first time; they were passable. The quesadilla was blander and had less cheese the second time, as well as being dried up. The carne asada inside (she wouldn't let me order without a meat -- ?!?) was terrible. It was your basic Berto's pan-fried/pan-steamed flavorless mess of sad beef. My husband hated his tacos de adobada. The meat was dry and, again, just like at any lousy taqueria. I would recommend the whole store only to families who would like a lively atmosphere w/food, ice cream, raspados, and drinks to entertain the kids while mom shops. Grocery-wise, they don't carry anything that you can't find at any number of other stores in town. Well, there is cajeta and chongos zamoranos sold bulk, but of course these are just from cans anyway.