Whenever a Latin-American finds himself living in one of the industrialized countries of the world, in Europe, north America or Asia, the one product he will be nostalgic about is White Cheese, to grill, to eat with plantains, to stuff a corn bread, to spray on some refried beans, Etc. In the industrialized countries all one finds are aged cheeses, you have to be a dairy farmer to taste some fresh white cheese in Europe. Thanks to immigration the availability of fresh cheese has been improving, now a days one can find pasteurized White Cheese in grocery stores of major cities of industrialized countries. The word in Spanish for cheese is "queso" and in Portuguese is "queijo", often these words will be followed by words describing the type, region or brand of the cheese, "queso prensado" or "Queijo coalho", which in Spanish and Portuguese means 'pressed cheese' after the way the cheese is made. Now a days in Latin America there is production of very good aged cheeses, often with European recipes but the cheese that is most often consumed is white cheese, of which there are 5 major classes in Latin America:

CREAMED CHEESES: these are not necessarily cheeses that contain the full cream of the milk, although some of them do, instead their main identifying feature is that they are spreadable. Their texture goes from small grain Ricotta, through large grain Cottage cheese, in Spanish they are called "ricota", "requeson" or "cuajada", in Portuguese they are called "ricota" or "Requeijão". Some of these cheeses have the full cream of the milk and have a texture similar to Cream Cheese but have more salt and stronger flavor; some well known cheeses of this type are Queso Guayanes (Venezuela), Queijo Catupiry (brazil), Queso cremoso (Argentina).

STRING CHEESES: these types I considered the most unusual and delicious of the local cheeses in Latin America, except for the Italian Provolone there are no cheeses in the industrialized countries that come close to the texture and flavor of Latin American string cheese. They are referred to as string cheese because with fingers one can pull strings or threads, sometimes sheets, from the cheese. They taste very creamy and melt easily. Some well known cheeses of this class are: Queso Oaxaca (Mexico), Queso Crineja (Venezuela), Queso de mano (Venezuela), Quesillo (Argentina), Queso Pera (Colombia).

SOFT CHEESES: As their name indicates these cheese are pressed to remove some but not most of their moisture, the pressing is done relatively quickly usually less than hour. The cheese is very white, can be crumbly, they can be sliced or cubed but are difficult to grate because they are too soft. Their flavor is rather bland but that is convenient when used in cooking because they easily acquire other flavors, such as curry, pepper, oregano, basil, Etc. Some well know cheeses of this type are: Queso Blanco (Mexico, Venezuela), Queso Palmita (Venezuela), Queso prensado (Panama), Queijo coalho (Brazil), Queijo-de-minas frescal (Brazil), Queso Campesino (Colombia), Queso Criollo (Argentina), Queso de Freir (Dominican Republic).

HARD CHEESES: These cheeses are pressed for hours to remove most of their moisture. They are usually salty but that is convenient when used on sweet or semi-sweet dishes such as fried ripe plantains, a very typical Latin American food. Since these cheeses are firmer they can be cubed, sliced and grated. Some well know cheeses of this type are: Queso Chontaleno (Nicaragua), Queso Seco (Mexico), Queso Costeño (Colombia), Queso Duro (Venezuela).

AGED CHEESES: In Latin America white cheese is aged to produce very hard cheeses, which when grated have a powdery texture similar to a very dry Parmesan. These hard cheeses usually come with a colored cover made with spices, pepper, dry chilies, Achiote, Etc. to protect them during the aging period, from 6 months to a year. They are salty and have strong flavors. Some well known hard cheeses are: Queso Cotija (Mexico), Queso Añejo (Mexico), Queso de Año (Venezuela).

White cheese is a very versatile ingredient, which can be used for snacks, side dishes, main dishes or desserts. Below I will show you some simple recipes but in the cuisine of each particular country in Latin America you will find many recipes.

ENGLISH NAME: farmers cheese, fresh cheese, pressed cheese, white cheese

LOCAL NAMES: Queso blanco, queso fresco, queso prensado, Queijo coalho (brazil), Queso Añejo, Queso de Año

PRODUCTS: Pressed cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, string cheese, hard cheese

NUTRIENTS: White Cheese is a very good source of calcium and it has less calories and cholesterol than aged cheeses. It is a form of protein that can be consumed instead of meat.

PROCESSING: White cheese should be kept refrigerated in chunks until ready to use, then one would slice it, cube it, coarsely grated or finely grated depending on the texture of the cheese and the recipe where it will be used.

STORING: White cheese will keep in the refrigerator for weeks, it may age and darken in color, usually to yellow, it will become creamier inside, may develop a dry crust, and a stronger taste, but it will not spoil, one can always use it in different recipes.

GRILLED CHEESE: This is the simplest application of white cheese, just rub a few drops of oil over a pan, make it hot, place a 1/2 inch slice of soft white cheese and cook no more than 1 minute on each side, to serve spray some black pepper and oregano while still hot. If you want to avoid using oil at all, pad the slice with rolled oats so that the oats will stick to the cheese then cook over a hot pan, season before serving. You can cut it in small squares as a snack or serve it over corn tortillas. Another way is to eliminate the seasonings and serve it with a dipping sauce made with brown sugar syrup (panela, raspadura) and hot sauce.

BBQ CHEESE: This is a typical snack in northeastern Brazil, it is a piece of cheese on a stick, which is cooked over charcoals until golden and dipped in dry oregano or other seasoning. One can use either a soft or hard white cheese, the latter requires more time over the charcoals. It is delicious with a cold beer.

CHEESE & TOMATO PUDDING: This preparation can be used as a side (small portion) or main dish (large portion). In a bowl place 1 egg, 1/2 cup of oil, 1 small onion finely chopped, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese or queso añejo, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of all purpose flour, salt and pepper to taste; beat well to form a uniform mixture. Into the liquid mixture fold without much beating, 3 plum tomatoes chopped, 1 cup of soft white cheese in cubes and some chopped basil. Place mixture into an 20x 10 cm (8 x 4 in) mold which has been buttered and floured. Bake in oven preheated to 200C (400F) for 35 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean. To serve spray with some chopped fresh tomatoes and basil.

SWEET CHEESE NUGGETS: This is a typical Costa Rican candy, often made at home. Place 1 piece of "panela" (local brown sugar) broken in pieces in a pot, add 1 tablespoon of water some cloves and a squirt of vanilla, heat over high heat stirring until it starts boiling, reduce heat to medium and add some 15 large (about 2 cm, 3/4 in) cubes of hard white cheese, turn the cubes to coat until syrup starts drying and sticks to the cubes, keep turning until syrup is dry and cubes are well coated. Let cool completely before serving. These things are addictive you will not stop eating them.

CREOLE CHEESE CAKE: This is the Latin version of the cheese cake, it is sweeter and richer. Take 6 eggs and separate then into yolks and whites, in a bowl beat 2 sticks of butter with 3 cups of sugar until very creamy, add egg yolks and 1 cup of milk, add one yolk and some milk at a time while beating; stop beating and with a spatula fold in 1/4 cup of all purpose flour; in a separate bowl beat the egg whites until very stiff, fold in 500 g (1 Lb) of soft white cheese coarsely grated or crumbled; fold in the egg whites mixture into the egg yolks mixture, place in a well buttered and floured cake mold; bake in preheated oven at 175C (350F) for 30 minutes until top is golden, reduce temperature to 120C (250F) and bake for 1 hour until a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before taking out of the mold. It tastes best after 1 day in the refrigerator.