Scotch Bonnet Queso Fresco

Scotch Bonnet Queso Fresco

This is my second foray into cheese-making; my first was making paneer, that I made according to this post: Paneer 101.

As far as I know, Mexican queso fresco is pretty much the same thing as paneer, except usually saltier and is made using vinegar to cause the milk to curdle, instead of lemon juice.  It’s a simple, fresh, crumbly, non-melting cheese that is great for Mexican dishes.

If you’ve followed my blog, you might have noticed I’ve been having a love/hate, hmm no, just a relationship with scotch bonnet peppers. I’ve loved habaneros for both their heat and flavor, but most recently bought about 10 scotch bonnets instead, after seeing their similarity and learning they’re related varieties. Unfortunately, I’m not enjoying them as much. To me, the scotch bonnet has just been a ridiculously hot and a less flavorful, red version of the tasty orange habanero. Oh, well, I only have one scotch bonnet left so I’m determined to use it; I thought, “Why not put it in a cheese, to be soothing from its heat and impart some nice color and spice to this typically mild cheese?”

Preparing to make queso fresco.

Ingredients:

  • milk, 1 gallon; I used 2% just because that’s what I had on hand.
    (Higher fat content means higher yield, so one would typically use whole milk.)
  • vinegar, white or other, ~6 T.
  • salt, 2 T., plus more to taste
  • optional: 1-3 scotch bonnet peppers, finely minced and lightly sautéed

Since the scotch bonnet addition was an experiment, I decided to prepare 2/3 of the cheese as plain queso fresco, and 1/3 with the pepper, hence I used only one pepper.

Preparation:

You know what? I’m not going to describe this. It’s written up well in both of these recipes:

Squeezing the whey from the curd in cheese cloth

Scotch Bonnet Queso Fresco before pressing

Using plates to press moisture from the cheese
(I pressed it with the plates held vertically over the sink.)

Drying queso fresco under weight

I will leave you with these tips from my experience, however:

  • The first time, when I made paneer, I didn’t squeeze enough of the moisture from the cheese.  This time, at a friend’s suggestion, I pressed it between plates, and that did the trick.
  • Still concerned that I hadn’t removed enough moisture, I made the mistake of letting it sit in the refrigerator, in cheese cloth after pressing, for 6-8 hours, intending to dehydrate it;  this was a bit too much.  If it’s squeezed properly, 2 hours on the countertop is probably plenty “drying” time.
  • Queso fresco is typically quite salty.  Even though I added 2 T. of salt to the milk, the result wasn’t very salty, so before squeezing it in cheese cloth, I added some more salt (at the same time as the minced hot pepper); in my opinion it still wasn’t enough salt.  Next time I will add even more salt when squeezing it, before pressing it.

Scotch Bonnet Queso Fresco

This was a good Cinco de Mayo project, and I was left with two varieties of queso fresco ready for my forthcoming Chicken Tinga tostadas and tacos!

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