Different types of cheese are becoming popular every day. That is likely because of how accessible they are becoming across the globe! People can experiment and blend cuisines much more easily and create delicious new recipes.
That’s great and all, but what if you still don’t have access (or affordable access) to that specific cheese? Today, we specifically look at Oaxaca cheese, a specific variety that has lately exploded in popularity.
So, what are the best substitutes for Oaxaca? We recommend trying any semi-soft, stringy cheese with a mild flavor and creamy texture. The best options for this would include Mozzarella, Asadero, and string cheese. Other alternatives include Monterey Jack, Muenster, cheese curds, and Chihuahua.
Today, we will explore all of these alternatives in great depth. We’ll look at the best alternatives, how they work, and why they work so well. And our list includes a variety of products so you can choose what works best for you and your budget!
What Is Oaxaca Cheese?
Oaxaca cheese isn’t nearly as well-known as most, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good or even hard to find!
It is a type of Mexican cows’ milk cheese that was originally made in the small town of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, hence the name.
This cheese is very similar to other stringy cheese types like mozzarella. However, when the method was brought over from Italy, the town didn’t have any access to buffalo milk. And so Oaxaca was born!
Depending on where you are located in the world, you may find this cheese by another name, like quesillo. But, some even call it “Mexican mozzarella.”
Oaxaca is made by stretching the cheese and rolling it into a ball. The process is called pasta filata, the same process used to make string cheese and mozzarella.
That is why Oaxaca has a very similar texture and consistency to mozzarella cheese! It is considered to be a semi-soft cheese. This cheese is extremely creamy and buttery.
When working with it, it can be stretched and worked to some degree (again, just like a mozzarella). It is also a type of cheese that melts very easily into soups, casseroles, and for grilled cheese sandwiches.
When it comes to the flavor, it isn’t exceptionally potent. This mild cheese has earthy undertones that some even describe as “mellow.” It has a definitive salty flavor, but is not nearly as strong as feta or Edam for example.
So, what does this cheese look like? Mozzarella probably, right? Yes and no. Oaxaca cheese has a similar ball-like shape to mozzarella. It also has a white or yellow color to it. And of course, its silky smooth soft texture is also similar.
However, this cheese is pulled and wrapped into a ball, like making a ball of yarn. Sometimes the ball is pressed slightly before being packaged; other times, the ball is simply wrapped.
To use this cheese, you can either grate it, tear it apart, or slice it. It can be melted, used as a grilled topping, or as a delicious garnish in salads or sandwiches.
Choosing The Best Substitute For Oaxaca Cheese
So, as we always say, before substituting an ingredient, first decide what you want to substitute.
Oaxaca cheese has an incredibly unique texture, flavor, and mouthfeel. That makes it quite easy to choose an appropriate substitute for one or more of these traits!
Let’s look at the best way to choose an alternative for specific characteristics of Oaxaca cheese.
Since Oaxaca cheese doesn’t have an exceptionally prominent flavor, the texture is arguably the most common trait people want to substitute.
To recap — this cheese is classified as a semi-soft cheese. It isn’t aged, like most other Mexican cheeses. That means it has a very soft mouthfeel because of its higher moisture content.
Furthermore, Oaxaca is tender, firm (but soft), and can even be seen as being stringy. When you pull pieces off a larger block it will pull away in stringy pieces, like mozzarella.
So, if you choose an alternative based on the texture of this cheese, go for other semi-soft cheeses that are un-aged. The best options for these are also cheeses that have been made in a similar way (using the pasta filata method).
Naturally, if you haven’t guessed it yet, mozzarella and string cheese is your best bet in this regard.
Oaxaca has a mild and earthy flavor with salty undertones. It is quite a neutral cheese, making the alternatives (based on flavor) quite broad.
If you are only looking for a similar flavor and the texture doesn’t matter, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, and Meunster cheese are arguably the best options.
Even though Gouda, for example, has a similar semi-soft texture, it doesn’t have a similar flavor at all. So, it won’t work as well.
So, if you are looking for an alternative that functions in the same way, the texture and flavor of your substitute may not matter.
Very often you have a cheese that tastes exactly the same or is also semi-soft in texture, but it refuses to melt, crumble, or tear.
For example, if you use Oaxaca in a grilled cheese sandwich, substituting it with halloumi (another pasta filata cheese) won’t work because it doesn’t melt.
If the Oaxaca cheese is torn into salads for added visual texture, then substituting it with sliced Moliterno won’t work either.
So, always decide on what function you are trying to replace before just grabbing any alternative.
Availability And Price
Now, even if you have found the ultimate substitute for Oaxaca cheese, it doesn’t mean that it is easy to find or worth the price tag.
There are many semi-soft stretch kinds of cheese out there. But, depending on where you are, they still may be unattainable.
So, it is always best to choose an alternative that you can easily find in your area. Again, mozzarella is probably the best (especially bocconcini balls) and it can be found in most parts of the world.
Best Oaxaca Cheese Substitutes
So, without further ado, here are our favorite substitutes for Oaxaca cheese! We started with some easy-to-find and affordable options first. This will help give you easy options to choose from.
However, later we add some great alternatives which may be a little more difficult to find. But, they are still amazing options that will do the trick!
If you are still having doubts about which cheese is the ultimate substitute for Oaxaca, it’s mozzarella cheese — hands down!
Mozzarella cheese is another type of semi-soft, un-aged, and pasta filata stretch cheeses. In fact, it’s the most famous example of such a cheese! It is very easy to find across the globe and very affordable in comparison to even Oaxaca itself.
Mozzarella cheese comes in many shapes and forms. You can find pressed blocks, small balls, or large egg-sized balls. This makes it versatile in how you can use it. It works as melting cheese, garnish, or texture addition.
When it comes to flavor, use a cow’s milk mozzarella for the most accurate result, not a buffalo milk option. And yes, it is pretty much Oaxaca then, but it just isn’t made in that area and in exactly the same way — it’s just cow’s milk mozzarella.
These options have a very neutral flavor that is slightly salty because of the brine they are stored in. All in all, mozzarella is by far your best option as a substitute for Oaxaca!
2. String Cheese
Now, while string cheese is a staple in many American homes, it doesn’t exist in many other countries. But, if you can find it, it is a great option to use instead of Oaxaca!
There are many different types of string cheeses found across the globe. What they all have in common is how they are made and their relatively neutral flavor.
These cheeses are sold in long strands that are often braided. These braids are then packaged in airtight bags and sold in bunches.
String cheese can easily melt, just like Oaxaca and mozzarella. It can also be torn into pieces for salads and sandwiches. One thing it cannot do is be grated — well, you can, but it’s going to be a pain!
And that is almost the only reason string cheese isn’t ranked above mozzarella — its lack of diversity. However, when it comes to flavor and texture, it is an almost perfect match!
3. Monterey Jack
Sometimes called jack for short, this is a semi-hard cheese made with cow’s milk.
It has a slightly firmer consistency than Oaxaca, but is equally creamy and moist.
For the most part, Monterey Jack isn’t mature. But, you can find some products that have matured for up to 6 months that have a much firmer consistency and more bitter flavor. So, make sure that you can work with that!
This cheese does melt very well and is commonly used for sandwich making. It can also be grated and sliced. But, it cannot be torn as string cheeses can.
So, if you are looking for something as visual as torn mozzarella pieces, Monterey Jack may not be the cheese for you.
It also has a relatively mild flavor but is on the sweeter side of things. You can naturally add more salt to your dish to make up for the lack of cheese itself. You also find flavored options, which could be a fun way to experiment!
4. Asadero Cheese
So, first, we need to clarify exactly what Asadero is — it is not the same cheese as Oaxaca despite what many blogs claim.
And, just to back up this fact, we called a professional cheese-making friend of ours who explained the difference!
Think of these two kinds of cheese as sparkling wine versus Champagne.
While they are virtually the same, the region determines the name of the product. Furthermore, there are minor differences between real Champagne and other sparkling wines.
Asadero is also a semi-soft cheese that is made using the pasta filata method. But, this cheese is made in Northwest Mexico, in a town called Chihuahua.
The biggest difference between these two is that Asadero is even milder in flavor. But, this also allows it to be used in even more ways.
So, if it is virtually the same as Oaxaca, why didn’t we put it higher on the list? Like Oaxaca, Asadero can be very hard to find and quite pricey.
5. Muenster Cheese
For us, Muenster cheese is extremely underrated. It is another semi-soft cheese that is mainly made in America.
This cheese is often made with a rind, which helps capture more moisture for much longer.
The cheese itself can function in virtually all of the same ways Oaxaca cheese can. You can melt it, grate it, and slice it. It will tear, but it won’t create that beautiful stringy texture.
For flavor, Muenster is pretty neutral. There isn’t anything particularly special about it. But again, that helps make it even more versatile in how you can use it.
This cheese is super creamy and has a delicate, soft texture. You can also buy aged options that have a more pungent flavor profile.
6. Queso Chihuahua
No, we aren’t talking about the dog!
If you remember from earlier, Chihuahua is a region in Mexico that produces Asadero cheese. Well, they make another type of special cheese also called Queso Chihuahua.
This is a soft white cheese that has a very similar flavor to Monterey Jack. It is sold in balls, braids, and rounds, like most mozzarella cheeses too.
So, this makes it easy to buy an option that you can slice, grate, tear, and dice. This cheese option is also a great alternative for function. It can be melted very easily and makes an uber-rich addition to any meal!
7. Manchego Cheese
To many people, Manchego is the go-to alternative for Oaxaca. To us, their differences are too much.
The benefits of using Manchego are that it also has a super rich, buttery, and creamy mouthfeel and flavor that Oaxaca has.
However, this is an aged cheese. It has a much firmer texture than Oaxaca. Even the 3-month aged Manchego cheese (which is the least amount of time it is aged) has a very firm texture and deep pungent flavor.
This is also a cheese made from sheep’s milk. So the flavor is quite different as well (on top of being aged).
But, if you want a substitute that melts beautifully over and into dishes, you should consider using Manchego cheese.
The biggest reason ricotta works well as an alternative for Oaxaca is because of how easy it is to find. It is affordable, tasty, and very versatile in how you use it.
Technically ricotta is a fresh, soft cheese. It has very high moisture content and is generally very wet.
However, you can drain the liquid and allow it to hang for a while. That will help turn it into more of a strained cheese that has a thicker chunkier consistency.
This cheese can be made from virtually any animal’s milk, which means you have a variety at your fingertips. Regardless of which you choose, they will all have a relatively mild flavor.
Ricotta will work best in any dish that requires the Oaxaca to melt. So, soups, casseroles, pasta, and sauces are all great ways to use them. Naturally, you cannot grate, slice, or tear this cheese.
9. Queso Panela
So, to be completely honest, this alternative threw us a lot initially. It is a soft fresh cheese that doesn’t seem to have any similarities to Oaxaca cheese — at least until we tried it!
Granted, it should only be used as a substitute for melted toppings or baked goods. So, its uses are limited.
But, if you do end up using it, it will help you achieve an unbelievably creamy and rich texture.
It melts into your food and absorbs flavors extremely well. And, often comes with coatings (ex. pepper, herbs, or garlic), which will add even more flavor to your dish.
10. Cheese Curds
If you can get your hands on cheese curds, it is a great alternative to Oaxaca.
These curds are produced during the cheese-making process. Essentially, this creamy mass separates from the whey once the milk has been boiled for making cheese.
Cheese curds aren’t aged and are generally semi-firm. They are, however, super creamy and rich in flavor.
This option will work incredibly well as a melting cheese for any recipe. It melts so well that many companies use it to make cheese sauces or toppings.
11. Queso Fresco
Lastly, but certainly not least, we have another type of Mexican cheese that is even more common than Oaxaca.
But, they come in a wide variety of textures, meaning you have to look for a specific product that can work for your function.
It is a fresh cheese that is commonly made from a combination of goat and cow’s milk. It also has a slightly acidic or tart flavor. That comes from the addition of vinegar or lemon juice to the cheese recipe.
Queso Fresco refers to many different kinds of white cheese. All have a relatively soft texture with rich buttery flavors. It isn’t stringy, so can usually only work as a topping, garnish, or melted ingredient.