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How to Use Queso Panela in Mexican Cooking

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Mar 31, 2020 • 1 min read

Queso panela is a versatile Mexican cheese that can be crumbled on top of a salad or enjoyed by itself, either fried or baked.



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What Is Panela Cheese?

Panela is a semi-soft, white, cow’s milk cheese from Mexico made from skim milk. Queso panela is firm, flexible, and will not melt when heated. It’s gently salted and can be eaten plain as a snack, or it can be sliced and used as a sandwich filling.

How to Make Queso Panela

Like most Mexican cheeses, queso panela is a cow’s milk cheese.

  1. Queso panela is a curd-style cheese. It is made by heating skim milk (not whole milk), then adding rennet to encourage the milk to form curds.
  2. The curds are then cut and placed in a cheesecloth, where they are seasoned with sea salt and left to drain mostly dry, with just a little whey leftover (about 3 hours).
  3. Once drained, you are left with a smooth, fresh cheese. The whey can be used to make queso requesón (Mexican ricotta).

4 Ways to Use Queso Panela

Panela cheese is incredibly versatile:

  1. Crumbled. It can be crumbled up and used as a topping for huevos rancheros, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, nopal salads, and more.
  2. Sliced. Add sliced queso panela on top of Mexican sandwiches, like a cemita or a torta. For an easy, no-cook snack, tuck panela slices into corn tortillas.
  3. Fried. Queso panela is also great when fried. Since panela cheese holds its shape, try frying thick slices in olive oil. Serve fried panela with lime juice and cilantro for a simple appetizer.
  4. Baked. Try baked panela cheese—the panela will soften, rather than melt, to be spreadable on tortilla chips or crackers.
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What Are Alternatives to Queso Panela?

If using panela cheese as a topping, you can substitute other Mexican cheeses such as cotija, queso Oaxaca, or queso fresco. Grated low-moisture mozzarella is another good substitution for grated queso panela.

If frying or grilling panela cheese, look for something with a similar texture, such as Indian paneer or halloumi.

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