Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese – 13 Great Options for A Variety of Dishes
- 1 Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese – 13 Great Options for A Variety of Dishes
- 2 What is Oaxaca Cheese?
- 3 What is Oaxaca Cheese used for?
- 4 What Makes a Good Substitute for Oaxaca Cheese?
- 5 The Best Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese in your Recipes
- 6 Mexican Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese
- 7 Other Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese
- 8 Is there a Vegan Substitute for Oaxaca Cheese?
- 9 Considering the Best Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese
What is Oaxaca Cheese?
Queso Oaxaca (pronounced wuh-HAA-kah) is one of the most popular cheeses in Mexico and originates from the state of Oaxaca. In this region, it is more commonly known as Quesillo. Oaxaca cheese is a semi-firm, white cheese with a mild buttery flavor made from whole cow’s milk, rennet and sea salt. Oaxaca cheese is made with the same cheese process, pasta filata, that is used to make mozzarella among other “pulled curd” cheeses.
This semi-firm cheese has an unmistakable stringy quality and a mellow, salty flavor. Similar to mozzarella, Oaxaca cheese is traditionally dipped in brine at the end of the cheesemaking process to form a thin, protective barrier. This helps maintain the required level of moisture and contributes to the cheese’s slightly salty flavor.
Oaxaca cheese falls into the category of Mexican melting Cheese and as such is used wherever a smooth, melting cheese is required. Queso Oaxaca is popular for use in quesadillas and on tlayudas, pulled into strips or ribbons. It can also be shredded and melted atop nachos or enchiladas.
Oaxaca cheese is a favorite to use in many Mexican dishes because it is stringy when melted. You will immediately know it is Queso Oaxaca when you cut into an enchilada or chile relleno and long, strings of cheese follow your fork. Not surprisingly, Oaxaca cheese is an important ingredient in Queso Fundido, Mexico’s famous melted cheese botana. Queso Oaxaca is also commonly eaten alone, on its own as a snack.
For more details see our full article on ‘How to use Oaxaca Cheese’
What Makes a Good Substitute for Oaxaca Cheese?
When searching for the best Oaxaca cheese substitute, it is very important to look at how Oaxaca cheese is used in a specific recipe. Because Queso Oaxaca is so versatile, its uses in the kitchen are varied. Not every one of our recommended Oaxaca cheese substitutes will work well in every recipe.
The Best Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese in your Recipes
We have compiled 13 great substitutes for Oaxaca cheese in your recipes. Depending on the dish you are making and the availability of imported cheese in your location, the following cheeses should be the ones you consider when looking for an alternative to Queso Oaxaca in whatever dish you are making.
Mexican Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese
If you happen to be in Mexico, Oaxaca cheese is easy to find in every market and grocery store. It is one of the most popular cheeses in Mexico and is widely distributed all over the country sold as either Queso Oaxaca or Quesillo. However, if you are in the United States, Canada or abroad your options for Mexican cheese may vary. If you are looking for a substitute for Oaxaca cheese and you are able to find another Mexican cheese, these are the options to consider.
Asadero (pronounced ah-sah-DEH-roe) cheese is the very best substitute for Oaxaca cheese both in terms of taste and texture. Asadero cheese is another of Mexico’s melting cheeses and is made from 100% cow’s milk (usually unpasteurized), rennet and salt. It is made using the same process as Oaxaca cheese and two are very similar. The differences between Queso Oaxaca and Queso Asadero are so slight the two could be easily confused and can be used interchangeably.
Oaxaca cheese is named for its state or origin and the cheese coming from this region made with the traditional pasta filata method is almost always pulled into ribbons and then fashioned into a knot. Adadero cheese is made with the same method but is primarily made in the northern part of the country. You will see it packaged for sale in rounds or blocks or sometimes pulled into a long ribbon and then coiled up. The flavor of the two cheeses is quite similar and the texture is nearly identical although Oaxaca cheese tends to be a bit drier.
Of the Mexican cheese options, Asadero cheese is the best substitute for Oaxaca cheese in nearly every application. From stuffing into quesadillas and melting atop nachos to eating alone as a snack, Queso Adasero will serve as a perfect alternative to Queso Oaxaca. However, if you are not in Mexico and cannot find Oaxaca cheese in your local market or grocery store, Asadero cheese is going to be just as hard, if not even more difficult to find.
Chihuahua (pronounced chee-WAH-wah) is a Mexican cheese named for its state of origin. It can also be known as Menonite Cheese (for the people who make it) or Quesadilla Cheese (for its popular culinary application). Like Oaxaca cheese, Chihuahua cheese is one of Mexico’s melting cheeses and is widely available all over the country.
Queso Chihuahua is a cow’s milk cheese with a flavor that resembles mild, young cheddar. It is salty, mild and slightly sour, very much like Oaxaca cheese. The biggest difference is that it does not pull apart into strings the way Oaxaca cheese does. Chihuahua cheese does melt well and is great for queso fundido or melted on top of nachos. You can also cut it into sticks to be breaded and fried as a snack. This is a very versatile cheese that works just as well cold on salads and tortas as it does hot for quesadillas, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches and even macaroni and cheese.
Outside of Mexico, Chihuahua cheese may be difficult to find in your local grocery store but if can, this makes a great substitute for Oaxaca cheese in many recipes.
Panela (pronounced pa-NEH-lah) is a semi-soft, fresh Mexican cheese made from skimmed cow’s milk, rennet and sea salt. Panela cheese is commonly known as “queso canasta” or “queso de la canasta”. It takes its name from the baskets in which the cheese is commonly made and the characteristic imprint left on the exterior of the cheese after it has been pressed.
Predominantly made from skimmed or low-fat milk, it is lower in fat than many other Mexican cheeses. Panela is one of Mexico’s most popular “fresh cheeses”. It is widely produced and distributed throughout Mexico and is starting to be seen in grocery stores internationally as well.
Panela cheese can be used in place of Oaxaca cheese tossed in salads, shredded over sopes and tostadas or sliced for sandwiches. Because Panela can stand up to high heat it will not work in dishes calling for a stringy, melting cheese. However, while Panela cheese will hold its shape it will still become wonderfully soft and creamy in hot dishes. Therefore, it can make a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese as a filling in chiles rellenos, squash blossoms and stuffed pasta dishes. You can also bread it and fry it as a cheese stick appetizer.
Queso Panela will serve as a perfect alternative to Queso Oaxaca in certain recipes. However, if you are not in Mexico and cannot find Oaxaca cheese in your local supermarket or grocery store, Panela cheese may be difficult to find as well.
Queso blanco (pronounced KAY-so BLAHN-koe) is white, semi-firm Mexican cheese. Queso blanco is always made from 100% cow’s milk and uses an acid like vinegar or lemon juice in place of rennet as a coagulating agent. In Mexico, dishes that are meant to be vegetarian are often made with Queso blanco in place of Oaxaca cheese for this reason.
Queso blanco is a Mexican fresh cheese which means it can be consumed as soon as it is made. Young Queso blanco is mildly salty, moist and spongy. Queso blanco does not melt when heated and in hot dishes would not make a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese. However, cold, it makes a delicious vegetarian cheese substitute for Queso Oaxaca and can be crumbled on top of salads and tostadas. It will offer the same punch of creamy saltiness goodness that Oaxaca cheese adds to a dish.
There are several Mexican cheeses that would make a better substitute for Oaxaca cheese. However, given the right application in a recipe, Queso blanco can be used in place of Oaxaca cheese, especially if you need a vegetarian option.
Mexican Manchego (pronounced man-CHEY-go) can be a great substitute for Oaxaca cheese in a great number of dishes. Not to be confused with Spanish Manchego, Mexican Manchego is a semi-firm, pale yellow cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk. It is mass-produced and widely available in grocery stores across Mexico. It is sold in blocks, wheels, sliced, cubed and shredded.
Mexican Manchego can be used as an alternative for Oaxaca cheese in any recipe that calls for a good, melting cheese. Manchego is a great ingredient for stuffing into quesadillas, enchiladas and other dishes that require a mild gooey cheese. Manchego cheese grates well and can be used to melt over nachos or on the Mexican breakfast staple, molletes. Of course, you can always eat it on its own as a snack.
Manchego cheese makes a very good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in so many dishes. In Mexico, Manchego is very easy to find. In the United States, it may not be readily available and the following options may be easier to come by.
Other Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese
Traditional Mozzarella is also be referred to as aged, block or processed mozzarella It is also known as “low-moisture” mozzarella which is how we will call it moving forward. Low-moisture mozzarella is a common dairy commodity in the United States and Canada and is sold packaged in blocks or sticks, cubed, sliced or shredded. Italian fresh mozzarella can be made from water buffalo milk or cow’s milk or a combination of the two. Low-moisture mozzarella is made entirely from cow’s milk just like Oaxaca cheese. All varieties of mozzarella are made using the same “pasta filata” cheesemaking method. In fact, it is believed that Dominican monks brought these traditional cheesemaking techniques with them from Italy when they settled in the New World.
Low-moisture mozzarella and Oaxaca cheese are both semi-firm in texture and mildly salty in flavor. Both cheeses melt well when heated and can be used almost interchangeably in many recipes. If you are looking for a cheese that will give you those long silky lines when melted, this is the best option to reach for. Stuff it into pasta shells, shred it over lasagna or enchiladas, grate it atop nachos or melt it into a cheesy dip. It’s the go-to choice as a pizza topping and is commonly used in many Italian dishes.
Anytime you can’t find Oaxaca cheese, reach for traditional mozzarella. Low-moisture cheese is readily available in any supermarket in the United States and Canada and is one of the best substitutes for Oaxaca cheese when your recipe calls for a smooth melting, mild cheese.
Fresh Mozzarella is a semi-soft, white cheese made from water buffalo or cow’s milk and produced with a process called pasta filata. This means it is a “pulled curd” cheese where after the curds are formed, they are re-heated in water or whey, then kneaded and “pulled” until they form strings and the desired elasticity is reached. This is actually the same process by which Queso Oaxaca is made but the texture of Fresh Mozzarella actually ends up being more like Panela than Oaxaca cheese.
Fresh Mozzarella makes a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in salads and is delicious on its own. Fresh Mozzarella will eventually melt so while you can certainly use it in quesadillas, it is less elastic than Oaxaca cheese and will not produce the same strands of soft melted cheese. You may look for a better option to melt over nachos or enchiladas. You can shred Fresh Mozzarella by hand into nice creamy chunks but it does not grate well. Cut into cubes or slices it is a great alternative for Oaxaca cheese on pizza, casseroles and in stuffed pasta dishes.
Another difference to keep in mind is that fresh mozzarella has a much higher moisture content than Oaxaca cheese. It is packaged for sale in its own brine and that extra liquid needs to be accounted for. Unlike Oaxaca cheese, it is highly perishable and must be consumed shortly after it is made. All cheese varies somewhat and you may find that some mozzarella will not shred into strings quite like Oaxaca cheese. However, fresh mozzarella is a suitable substitute for Oaxaca cheese in many dishes and it is easy to find in most grocery stores or supermarkets in Mexico and abroad.
American String Cheese is the best substitute for Oaxaca cheese if you are looking for a cheesy snack. Both cheeses are semi-firm and have an almost identical moisture content. They both have the same texture and a similar flavor albeit the flavor and aromas of string cheese are less complex. It is generally packaged in individually wrapped sticks, perfect for snacking on.
If you don’t mind the packing waste, you can certainly use string cheese in any recipe calling for Oaxaca cheese. It will shred into long strings to put on quesadillas or sandwiches. You can grate it to melt atop nachos, lasagna or pizza. You can cut it into cubes for salads. String cheese is easy to find in any supermarket in the United States and Canada and is one of the best substitutes for Oaxaca cheese available.
Muenster is an American cheese made most commonly from cow’s milk. This is a buttery, mild cheese that is similar in flavor to a mild Monterrey Jack cheese. Muenster cheese is easily recognized in the cheese aisle by its distinctive orange-red rind with a delicate criss-cross pattern. This is made by rubbing the exterior of the cheese with mild paprika which does not affect the flavor of the cheese. The rind is soft and edible and is colored this way to look a bit more like its French cousin, Munster and to distinguish it from other semi-hard American cheeses.
If Oaxaca cheese is called for in a recipe for its wonderful melting quality, Muenster will make a very good alternative. You can use Muenster in almost any recipe that calls for Oaxaca cheese if it is to be used as a cheese filling or melted on top of a dish. Muenster cheese is easy to slice, cube or grate. It works well cold on sandwiches and hot in quesadillas. You can shred it to scatter over nachos or even on pizza. You can cube it for salads or as part of a cheese platter. One difference to keep in mind is that Muenster may be slightly saltier and will not shred and pull apart into strings the way Oaxaca cheese will.
American Muenster cheese is readily available in grocery stores all across the United States and Canada. If you cannot find Oaxaca cheese in your local supermarket, you can use this cheese as an easy replacement in almost any dish.
Unaged Monterey Jack Cheese
Monterey Jack is an American cheese made from cow’s milk. It is ivory-white and semi-hard in texture. If you are looking for a cheese to use as a substitute for Queso Oaxaca Monterey Jack is a great option. You will want to look specifically for “unaged” Monterey Jack which will have matured for less than 60 days. Regular, aged Monterey Jack will be far too strong in flavor to match the mild, earthy flavor of Oaxaca cheese. The taste of unaged Monterey Jack may still be considered a bit stronger but like Oaxaca cheese, it melts beautifully. You can slice it for sandwiches, cube it to toss into cold salads and it is interesting enough for use on an assorted cheese board.
If your recipe requires a good melting cheese like Queso Oaxaca, Monterey Jack is a very good option. You can substitute Monterey Jack in almost any recipe that calls for Oaxaca cheese to be used as a cheese filling or melted on top of a dish. Monterey Jack is great in quesadillas or on molletes. It can easily be grated for nachos or to top off any pasta dish. The only way that Monterey Jack truly differs from Oaxaca cheese is in its “stringiness”. It will not shred and pull apart into strings the way Oaxaca cheese will.
Monterey Jack cheese is readily available in grocery stores all across the United States and Canada. If you cannot find Oaxaca cheese in your local supermarket, you can use this as a replacement as it will give you the same results in your dishes.
Sometimes called “poutine cheese” or “squeaky cheese”, Cheese curds are little chunks of mild cheese that haven’t gone through the aging process. Cheese curds are usually made from cheddar, although it’s possible to make them from other cheeses, like Muenster, Colby or another cheese that has gone through the “cheddaring” process.
Cheese curds are meant to be consumed fresh within a few days of being made. They are characterized by the unmistakable squeak they make when you bite into them. Cheese curds are most famously used for Canadian poutine and are easier to find in Canada and the northern part of the United States.
Cheese curds and Oaxaca cheese are both semi-firm and have a similar moisture content. They both have a similar texture and a mild flavor. The curds hold up to heat well but will become soft and gooey. Cheese curds are small and difficult to shred or grate. In place of Oaxaca cheese, they can be chopped up smaller or used as is in enchiladas, casseroles, lasagna and even on top of pizza. Depending on your location, both Cheese Curds and Oaxaca cheese may be readily available or difficult to find but you can certainly substitute one for another.
Ricotta (pronounced rih-CAH-tah sal-LAH-tah) is a milky-white, crumbly cheese made by salting, pressing and aging fresh ricotta cheese for at least 90 days. Ricotta, in its fresh state is a soft, white cheese Italian cheese that is made with either sheep, goat, water buffalo or cow’s milk. It is mildly salty and earthy and it’s flavor profile is similar to that of Oaxaca cheese.
Ricotta, which means “recooked” in Italian, is technically not a cheese but rather a by-product of the cheesemaking process. Ricotta is made from whey, the watery liquid that remains after another cheese is made. After maturing for 90 days, the cheese is firm and crumbly, has a much lower moisture content and is considered Ricotta Salata. Ricotta Salata can be used as a substitute for Oaxaca cheese as part of the filling for enchiladas, stuffed chiles, taquitos. It is also useful in egg dishes and casseroles.
Outside of Mexico, this cheese may be easier to find in grocery stores and supermarkets in the United States and Canada. For this reason, Ricotta Salata makes the list as a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in any recipe that requires a cheese filling.
Is there a Vegan Substitute for Oaxaca Cheese?
Firm or extra firm Tofu is the best vegan substitute for Oaxaca cheese but will not work for all applications. Tofu is mild and porous and absorbs flavors well. It can be crumbled, cubed and sliced easily and makes a good substitute for Oaxaca cheese in cold sandwiches and salads.
Unlike Oaxaca cheese, tofu does not melt when exposed to heat. As such, it’s not the best option for recipes that require a soft stringy cheese. However, it is a great vegan substitute in lasagna, on pizza or as a stuffing in place of cheese. It can also be breaded and deep-fried to replicate deep-fried Oaxaca cheese sticks. However, tofu does have a high moisture content and you may need to press some of the liquid out before pan-frying or deep frying.
It is certainly not a perfect match, but if you need a vegan substitute for Oaxaca cheese, tofu is the best option and it’s readily available in all major supermarkets.
Considering the Best Substitutes for Oaxaca Cheese
As you can see, the particular characteristics of Oaxaca cheese make it challenging to replace. When choosing a substitute for Oaxaca cheese, the most important consideration is how it will be used in a particular dish.
If you need a savory substitute for Oaxaca cheese to use as a filling in enchiladas, lasagna or any stuffed pasta dishes, you can reach for Queso blanco, Ricotta Salata, fresh mozzarella, cheese curds or tofu.
If you need a great cheese that melts well to put on top of a dish like nachos, enchiladas, pizza or inside quesadillas you have a lot of great options. Asadero, Queso Chihuahua or Mexican Manchego cheese will be perfect. In the United States and Canada you may look for unaged Monterey Jack, Muenster, or low-moisture mozzarella.
Asadero cheese and American string cheese are by far the very best options if you are looking for a cheese that shreds well and pulls apart into strings.
The next time you are working from a recipe that requires Queso Oaxaca, you now have a complete resource for choosing the best substitute for Oaxaca cheese that will be right for your dish.