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Oaxaca cheese: from error to gastronomic tradition

Who has not enjoyed a delicious quesadilla prepared with traditional Oaxaca cheese? Its fresh and artisanal flavor, make it one of the best to prepare a wide variety of dishes or to be eaten only as a snack. Image by Javier Lastras.

Who has not enjoyed a delicious quesadilla prepared with traditional Oaxaca cheese? Its fresh and artisanal flavor, make it one of the best to prepare a wide variety of dishes or to be eaten only as a snack.

But do you know what the origin of this Mexican cheese is? Well, today we tell you the story.

At the end of the 1800s, in Reyes Etla, Oaxaca, lived Leobarda Castellanos, a little girl who was in charge of the production of cheese prepared by the family. One day, in the curdling process, (in which the cheese coagulates and becomes solid) the little Leobarda was distracted and the mixture did not reach the right point.

When this happens, the end result for cheese is that it loses its characteristic moisture and is not firm when it is broken. Leobarda, seeing what happened, decided to add hot water to the mixture and the result was that of a slightly chewy paste that was divided into the characteristic strands of Oaxaca cheese, in addition to having given it an unparalleled flavor. And since it looked like cheese, but in reality it wasn’t, that’s when the family decides to name it quesillo

There is no historical record that supports history, but for the inhabitants of Reyes de Etla, it is part of their tradition.

With everything and the doubts of this fantastic history that give birth to one of the richest and most traditional cheeses of our country, the reality is that Oaxaca cheese is made in a similar way to how it is said that Leobarda had done it. This cheese is produced by hand based on fresh and sour milk, which are put to curdle until they reach their solid-state. Once this point is reached, it is divided into cubes and immersed in boiling water to achieve its casting. Once melted, the cubes can be stretched to form their characteristic strands, which are subsequently rolled and form the recognized balls with which we know this cheese.

In Reyes de Etla, the elaboration of the quesillo continues to be the main economic activity of the town and they continue to do it in an artisanal way resorting to the cows of their locality and carrying out the process by hand and this process puts in difficulties the cheese artisans of the community, since in Mexico the majority of Oaxacan cheese is produced industrially and of course, it does not have the same flavor, but it is often cheaper; In addition, these artisan cheesemakers do not have sufficient support from the livestock sector, which makes them less competitive compared to other states to offer their product to the market.

A region proud of its gastronomy

Oaxaca, being one of the states of the Mexican Republic with the greatest cultural and gastronomic wealth, has festivities such as the Guelaguetza, which we have already talked about before. In this festival, all the communities offer and show the best of their regions, and Reyes de Etla is not far behind. Here, the cheesemakers make samples of the elaboration of the quesillo to publicize its entire process.

Now you may wonder why we talked about cheese and cheese. Well, quesillo and Oaxaca cheese are the same. It is called Oaxaca cheese because the state of Puebla named it that way to make a distinction and recognition of the origin of this product and it is recognized as such throughout the national territory, except in Oaxaca. Why? Because for Oaxacans cheese can be any other type of this product.

How to enjoy Oaxaca cheese or quesillo?

Image of typical food with Oaxaca cheese.

Image by Dahyana Yasada R. R.

This cheese is characteristic within Mexican gastronomy and is the perfect companion for a wide variety of meals; from tortas, tlayudas or for dishes that have won international awards as the best gastronomic sample of a country, as Mexico did with the classic and emblematic chile relleno. Nor can we forget a delicious melted cheese and of course, a quesadilla. What would a quesadilla be without this cheese?

Continue traveling through the beautiful state of Oaxaca, visiting the following articles:

Gastronomía en Oaxaca, deleita tu paladar con estos platillos.

Barro Negro en Oaxaca: Artesanías Emblemáticas

Disfruta las raíces del mezcal, la bebida espiritual más antigua de México desde Quiegolani.

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