Fresh cheese is arguably one of the most enjoyable and versatile foods around. It’s no wonder we put it in everything from steak to cake.
Queso fresco, the most popular cheese in Mexico and one of the best fresh cheeses on the market, is a good example. It is well-loved by many and used in a wide variety of dishes even outside of Mexican cuisine.
If you’ve found yourself the owner of more queso fresco than you can reasonably eat over the next few days, you may be wondering:
Can you freeze queso fresco? Technically, you can freeze queso fresco, but because of the high moisture content, it is not advisable. The quality of the taste, texture, and integrity will be severely compromised. You can store queso fresco for up to 2 months without freezing.
In this article, we’ll explain why you shouldn’t freeze queso fresco and give you alternative solutions for keeping your cheese fresh and ready for any occasion.
We’ll also answer some of your most frequently asked questions about queso fresco.
What is Queso Fresco?
Queso fresco means ‘fresh cheese’ in Spanish and that’s exactly what it is. It has a very mild, milky flavor because it is unaged. Its texture is soft, yet solid, and it crumbles when it is cut, rather than slicing cleanly.
As with most fresh cheeses, it has a slightly tangy or salty finish, and though it’s very creamy, it’s not overly rich.
Queso fresco is often enjoyed fresh, with fruits or salads, but it’s also a great cheese to cook with for certain dishes. It works really well with heavy dishes.
Many Mexican favorites are made with plenty of beans or eggs and this fresh, light cheese helps to offset the heaviness of the dish.
The best way to explain this type of cheese, if you’ve never tried it before, is to compare it with some popular alternatives.
Queso Fresco Substitutes
Paneer, a popular dairy product that is very similar to cheese and is used in Indian cuisine, and halloumi, a popular unripened Greek cheese, are two of the closest alternatives to queso fresco, with a similarly crumbly texture and mild flavor.
Cottage cheese and/or ricotta have very similar flavors, though the texture of both these examples is much softer than queso fresco.
Bocconcini, or baby mozzarella, is another close flavor relative, though it is much more solid and less crumbly than queso fresco.
Some will also compare goat cheese or feta to queso fresco, and they are very similar in texture and consistency, but both these alternatives have much stronger, more tart flavors.
Why Shouldn’t You Freeze Queso Fresco?
Queso fresco, being very fresh, has a relatively high moisture level compared to more aged cheeses, like cheddar, for example. Unfortunately, this makes queso fresco a bad candidate for the freezing process.
When queso fresco is frozen, the moisture creates tiny ice crystals in the cheese, which break through the proteins holding your cheese together. When the cheese thaws, the ice melts, and the firmness from the fresh cheese is eliminated.
The result will be separated, grainy queso fresco.
How To Use Frozen Queso Fresco
If you must freeze your queso fresco for some reason, be prepared to have an entirely different experience with the defrosted version that you did with the fresh cheese.
The best possible results will come from queso fresco that has been crumbled before it is frozen. It will freeze more quickly this way, creating smaller ice crystals and protecting the texture somewhat.
It will also be easier to recombine once it’s thawed.
Though queso fresco doesn’t melt, exactly, you’ll find the damage to the texture less noticeable if you warm your cheese with other bite-sized ingredients, such as inside a quesadilla or folded into a hot bowl of chili.
Again, it’s important to realize freezing queso fresco is not an ideal storage solution and there is a very good chance you will be disappointed with the outcome.
How to Store Queso Fresco
If you’re not willing to chance the freezer route, we support you. Instead, it’s a great idea to store queso fresco in your refrigerator.
Properly wrapped and protected, this is the best way to extend the life of your cheese, though eating it when it’s fresh is always the most enjoyable.
How Long Does Queso Fresco Last in the Fridge?
If you’ve bought queso fresco from the store, it can stay fresh in your fridge for up to 2 months, provided you wrap it carefully. With that length of time, there’s usually no reason to freeze it.
The freshness of your cheese will depend on whether it is commercially produced or homemade, and when you open the package.
Unopened storebought queso fresco will last the longest in your fridge. It’s commercially vacuum-sealed to protect it from any exposure to bacteria that can degrade the quality.
It should easily keep for 2 months unless otherwise specified. You’ll want to store it in the main body of your fridge, if not the middle drawer that is often used for deli meats and cheeses.
Keep your queso fresco off the door as that is where the most temperature fluctuation happens, and it can shorten the life of your cheese.
How Long Is Queso Fresco Good For After Opening?
Once your queso fresco has been opened, you will want to keep it carefully wrapped and covered.
The freshness and texture will start to degrade immediately, but shouldn’t be too noticeable until about 2 weeks, after which time you may not enjoy it nearly as much.
Queso fresco is a very moist cheese, and it can dry out if it’s exposed to a lot of moving air. Keeping it loosely wrapped in cheesecloth or plastic wrap is the best way to allow your cheese to breathe, but not dry out.
How Long Is Homemade Queso Fresco Good For?
Homemade queso fresco will not last nearly as long as store-bought, commercially produced cheese. If you’re making your own, you want to be sure you can and will eat it within 2–3 days.
After that, you will likely notice significant quality changes.
How To Tell If Queso Fresco Has Gone Bad
Most cheese will show white or green spots of mold when they have gone bad. On a fresh white, crumbly cheese, this can be difficult to notice.
Of course, if you see obvious mold, that is a sign that you should get rid of the cheese.
You can also often smell a tangy or musty smell. If neither of these senses suggest anything is wrong, a small taste test should call attention to any soured or moldy cheese.
Unlike hard cheeses, it’s not a good idea to simply cut off the affected area and eat around it. Soft cheese is more susceptible to a type of bacterial growth called listeria, which you always want to avoid.
Frequently Asked Questions About Queso Fresco:
Is Queso Fresco Pasteurized?
Queso fresco that you find in most stores in North America is made from pasteurized milk, but it isn’t uncommon to find unpasteurized queso fresco, especially in Mexico or other Central American countries.
If you’re pregnant or otherwise concerned about pasteurization, the label should be very clear about whether it is pasteurized. If it doesn’t specify, you may want to avoid it just to be safe.
Queso Fresco Vs Paneer?
Paneer is a cheese-like dairy product that is popular in Indian cuisine, whereas queso fresco is used in Mexican cooking. Paneer is much more solid, often used for slicing and frying.
Queso fresco, on the other hand, crumbles when you cut it. It can also be fried, but it is closer to feta cheese in terms of its crumbly consistency.
Comparing the flavor, they are very similar. They are both very mild and milky tasting.
Queso Fresco Vs Queso Blanco?
Queso blanco and queso fresco are similar, yet quite different cheeses. Queso blanco is simply a white Mexican cheese whereas queso fresco is fresh cheese that also happens to be white.
Queso fresco is made by adding cultures and rennet to milk, whereas queso blanco uses an acidifying agent like lemon juice or vinegar in the milk.
If you’re making cheese at home, queso blanco is the easier method to follow.
Queso fresco doesn’t fit into some vegetarian diet plans because rennet is a byproduct sourced from calves.
Can You Melt Queso Fresco?
Queso fresco does get soft when it’s heated, though it doesn’t melt like cheddar or mozzarella might. It has a very high melting point, which makes it perfect for frying.
It is much more common to use queso fresco fresh, but it also works well in situations that call for filling.
It will probably stay too firm for an American-style pizza, for example, but for a quesadilla, it works perfectly. It is the most widely used cheese in Mexico, so any savory Mexican-style dishes are likely to work very well with queso fresco.
What is the Nutrition Value of Queso Fresco?
Queso fresco is generally considered to be a healthy choice of cheeses.
It’s fresh and minimally processed, which is great, and it’s a delicious low carb snack.
In a 1 ounce serving, you’ll find the following nutritional values:
- 85 calories
- 7 grams of fat, with about 3.5–4g coming from saturated fat
- <1 gram of carbs
- 5+ grams of protein
The values will vary slightly depending on the brand and the milk used for the queso fresco.
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