Mexican dishes just don’t feel complete without cheese.
Whether it’s a cheese topping on soups or tamales, or a burrito stuffed full of Monterey Jack, cheese is just the perfect addition to the fresh vegetables and hearty meat. Authentic Mexican cooking uses a number of local cheeses that add a perfect flavor and texture to the food.
One such cheese you may have seen in recipes is queso fresco. This Mexican cheese is soft and crumbly and perfect on almost everything! But what are you supposed to do if you haven’t got any at hand?
Use a queso fresco substitute, of course! There are lots of things you can use instead of queso fresco, without much of a change in flavor. From this list, you can find a cheese similar to queso fresco and use it in your Mexican cooking.
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What is Queso Fresco?
Queso Fresco means fresh cheese and is made from raw cow’s milk or a combination of goat and cow milk. When it comes to taste and texture, it is similar to ricotta, feta, and feta. This cheese has a very mild flavor, with an almost overwhelming freshness, making it perfect for hot weather.
It is white in color and has a firm texture, which makes it an ideal choice to use as a topping. Crumbled queso fresco makes for a great topping in salads and things like tacos and birria. You can even eat it by itself, or mixed with things like corn, guac, and salsa.
Because of its light and slightly tangy taste, fresco cheese balances out rich sauces and heavy meats perfectly. The creaminess cuts through the spice and seasoning of Mexican dishes and the fact that it isn’t very salty makes it a safe choice for everyone.
Although it is a soft cheese, it doesn’t melt very well like cheddar or mozzarella. This is great if you want the cheese to retain its shape and texture when using it as a stuffing. However, it does become a very lovely golden-brown when baked or broiled as a topping for enchiladas and fajitas.
10 Best Substitutes for Queso Fresco
Now that you’ve met queso fresco and know what it is meant to do for your cooking, let’s take a look at substitutes for queso fresco. If you don’t have any in your pantry while making Mexican or Latin American dishes, you can use one of the alternatives mentioned below.
You need to remember that some of these substitutes will work better than others. Also, different dishes will work better with certain fresco alternatives.
So if you want to find out which queso fresco substitute will work best for your dish, keep reading!
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01. Feta Cheese:
This is the most common and easily available queso fresco alternative. It also comes very close to matching the mild taste and soft crumbly texture of queso fresco. Feta cheese is also white and looks almost exactly the same, with the creaminess that you are after.
However, feta cheese is brined and aged, making it tangier than Fresca cheese. As a result, you should use mild feta as a substitute or rinse your block of cheese in cold water to get rid of the bolder, saltier taste.
Feta is made from either cow’s milk or sheep’s milk. This is why it has a delicate, yet tangy flavor. The rich and creamy profile makes it great for pairing with warm spices like cayenne, cumin, and paprika.
Because of its cooling, and refreshing flavor, and soft crumbling feel, you can use it to replace queso fresco in almost any recipe that calls for it.
Although feta has Greek origins, we suggest using the French varieties which are a little drier to crumble over food as a topping.
On the other hand, Danish feta cheese is creamier, which allows you to slice through them without any breakage. This makes it a better choice for using as a stuffing or added to salads. Avoid using Greek-style cheeses as they have a pronounced salty and tangy taste.
Best for: Grilled dishes, stuffed peppers, salads, burritos, enchiladas
Not Recommended for: Soups and desserts
02. Ricotta Salata:
While ricotta is known for its fluffy and soft texture and is one of many cream cheese substitutes, Ricotta Salata is its dried, aged version. It is typically made from the whey of cow or sheep milk. It has a rich milky flavor, with a hint of tang and saltiness.
What makes it a good substitute for queso fresco? The fact that it is white, firm, and crumbly. It is ideal for use as a topping for kinds of pasta, salads, and soups.
The older the ricotta Salata, the less salty it gets. However, aged Ricotta Salata becomes slightly yellow.
Having some of this cheese around is a great idea because you can use it in most dishes that call for queso fresco, feta, and ricotta. As a result, you can use it for both Mexican and Mediterranean cooking.
Like feta, you can use Ricotta Salata in any dish that calls for queso fresco. It browns very well when used as a topping, and also works well as a filling in a variety of recipes. However, it isn’t a very spreadable cheese because of its dry firmness.
This cheese works very well when stuffed into thick breads, and also when added in chunks to baked or roasted vegetables. However, when grilled at very high temperatures, the cheese becomes rather grainy and goopy, which can mess with the texture of your food.
Best for: In salads, as a garnish for stews and salads, and stuffing in bread, burritos, or tacos
Not Recommended for: Sandwich spreads and grilled dishes
03. Queso Blanco:
What could be a better substitute for queso fresco than another kind of Mexican cheese? Queso Blanco is a white cheese that is so similar to queso fresco that many people think they are the same thing.
This kind of cheese is made from either cow’s milk or a mix of cow and goat milk. The cheese has a mild, milky flavor without too much saltiness or tanginess. It is soft but rather dry and crumbly. Because of its signature firmness, Queso Blanco will not melt.
The slightest hint of sourness makes this cheese the perfect counterpart to rich, heavy, and spicy dishes. It is great for grilled and meaty recipes, as the cheese can hold its shape without melting.
Queso Blanco is also great as a replacement for queso fresco crumbling cheese dip. It will make for a rich and heavy dip for things like nachos, chips, and even breadsticks.
A good block of Queso Blanco is moisture-free with a slightly milky sweet smell. You can crumble it over thick soups, fusion curries, and pastas, dice into salads, as well as stuff into peppers, burritos, tacos, and similar dishes. The cheese is very versatile and is great for pretty much any recipe that calls for queso fresco!
Best for: Topping for refried beans, and dips and sauces, in tostadas, tacos, and salads
Not Recommended for: Sandwiches and other dishes that need a spreadable cheese
This traditional Indian cheese is soft with a sweet, mild, and milky flavor. As far as taste and texture go, it is a great queso fresco cheese substitute because of its firm, yet soft feel and the fact that it doesn’t melt.
It is typically made from either cow or buffalo milk. It has a unique balance between firmness and softness, which allows you to cut it up into squares and crumble between your fingers. Paneer isn’t too salty or tangy, so it is used in both savory and dessert dishes.
This cheese is fresh and unaged and is meant to be set in acid. Although it is crumbly, it has a rather chewy texture. Because of this, it works great as both a topping and cut into cubes and added to stews, curries, and crumbled into tacos, fajitas, and taquitos.
Paneer works as a great substitute for queso fresco because it fulfills a very similar function in Indian cooking. Like Mexican cuisine, Indian dishes use a good deal of spices and the cheese offsets a lot of the heat and intensity.
This cheese is also a great option for grilled dishes because its firm and chewy texture won’t melt. Instead, the surface of the cheese browns beautifully while the inside softens up. Because of this, you can use cubes of paneer in things like pizza, skewered with kabobs, and even in fresh salads.
Best for: Stews, curries, salads, burritos, tortillas, and grilled dishes
Not Recommended for: Soups and sandwiches
05. Monterey Jack:
Although it may sound strange first, many cooks like using Monterey Jack instead of queso fresco. It is an aged cheese, but its mild flavor and semi soft texture make it a good replacement for fresco cheese.
However, it does look different from queso fresco, as it has a pronounced yellow color, which intensifies with age. Monterey Jack is typically made from full-fat or skim cow’s milk. The creamy taste and buttery texture complement the heat from jalapenos, paprika, cayenne, and chili powder perfectly.
Another advantage of using this cheese is how readily available it is. You will be able to find it in any grocery or chain store no matter where you are. Because it has a texture similar to butter, you can shred it and use it as both a filling and a topping.
It also melts quite well, which makes it a good stuffing for gooey, cheesy burritos and enchiladas, and even as a topping to spruce up warmed tamales and stale tacos. Monterey Jack also cuts through the spice of stews, soups, and curries, which makes it a staple in Mexican and Spanish cuisines.
You do need to remember that Monterey Jack is a very rich cheese with high-fat content. Because of this, you may need to use a smaller amount of Monterey Jack than whatever the recipe calls for.
Best for: Tacos, burritos, fajitas, salads, and rice bowls
Not Recommended for: Soups, stews, and curries
06. Farmer’s Cheese:
To put things simply, this is an aged, drier version of paneer. It is also made the same way as queso fresco. Farmer’s cheese is made from cow, sheep, or goat milk. It is white, with a milky and slightly tangy flavor.
The texture of farmer’s cheese is dry, firm, and crumbly. The dry curds of this cheese are also similar to those of cottage cheese. Furthermore, the cheese will have a slightly different texture based on the kind of milk used during production.
It is also a good option for people with lactose intolerance because all the lactose in this cheese has been fermented completely. The mild and milky flavor goes well with spices, roasted vegetables, herbs and aromatics, and meat. As a result, you can use it in almost any recipe that needs queso fresco.
Farmer’s cheese can be blended into sour cream, mayo, and even Greek yogurt to make a rich and flavorful dip. You can also use it as a filling for sandwiches, wraps, and rolls. Because it has such a mild flavor, you even use it to stuff dessert dishes like blintzes, pierogies, and pancakes.
However, because this cheese has a mild and subtle flavor, you may need to use more of it to substitute it for queso fresco, especially in spicy, richer dishes.
Best for: Wraps, tacos, fajitas, burritos, and as a topping or garnish
Not Recommended for: Soups, stews, and curries
Product Recommendations: Lifeway Farmer Cheese
07. Pot Cheese:
This is a kind of variation of the more conventional cottage cheese. It gets its name from when farmers and home cooks would turn a pot of fresh milk into cheese on the stove. The curds of pot cheese are much larger than those of cottage cheese.
Furthermore, it has a richer and thicker consistency than cottage cheese and can be made from cow, sheep, or goat milk. And although it is richer, it is drier than cottage cheese and has a texture similar to that of farmer’s cheese.
As a result, it is a high moisture cheese that is soft and crumbly. Because it is fresh and rather wet, pot cheese needs to be consumed in a few days. It is similar in flavor to ricotta, cottage, and farmer’s cheese, and can be used as their substitute when cooking.
The almost sweet and milky tasty makes it a good option for use in pies, blintzes, and many other dessert recipes. Pot cheese is also added to cheesecake and souffle batters to keep things moist and rich. You can also add it to cookies and other baked goods for a rich and dense texture.
The cheese is also great when crumbled as a topping over soups and stews. You can also tear chunks of it to stuff into bread, as an omelet filling, in quiches, and in salads. Seasoning the cheese with fresh herbs and olive oil and using it as a side or dip is also a great idea.
Best for: Salads, as a filling, in baked foods like lasagna, stuffed shells, and desserts
Not Recommended for: Stews, soups, grilled dishes
Product Recommendations: Fairway Market Pot Cheese
This is another Mexican cheese that you can use instead of queso fresco. It is made from cow’s milk and is known for its rather salty flavor. The texture is crumbly and firm and comes in two forms: fresh and aged.
The fresh kind is soft and can be torn apart in chunks with your hands. On the other hand, aged cotija is a lot more like parmesan cheese and can be grated or cut with a cheese slicer. If you are looking for a replacement for queso fresco, the fresh kind is the best bet.
Cotija doesn’t melt, which makes it a good option to use as a stuffing in wraps and burritos, and similar dishes. It is also used to finish off dishes like tostadas, chicken Tinga, corn, and refried beans as a garnish.
Because it doesn’t melt you can also use it in Mexican-fusion pasta and pizza recipes that call for queso fresco. You will find that it also works well in cheesy kabob skewers, grilled meats, and even over-baked/roasted vegetables.
Recipes that call for feta, and other Mexican cheeses can use cotija instead. However, you need to remember that this cheese is saltier than queso fresco, so you may need to use less of the cheese, or decrease the overall amount of salt in the recipe.
Best for: Salads, baked, Mexican/Spanish cooking, elote, and grilled items
Not Recommended for: Desserts and soups
Together with queso fresco and cotija, this forms the trio of must-try Mexican cheeses. Mexican goat cheese is also a good option to use instead of queso fresco, especially if you can get your hands on the mild variety. But Oaxaca is much easier to find and is more convenient to track down for home cooks.
It is a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk and is white and soft, so it looks a lot like queso fresco. The sweetish, mellow flavor has buttery notes that go very well with spicy and savory dishes. Oaxaca has been compared to mozzarella as it is soft and stretchy and melts well.
Moreover, it is a very good substitute for Monterey Jack, so you can use Oaxaca in a pinch if you have neither that nor queso fresco. Because it is a quintessential Mexican cheese, you can use it in a variety of Mexican, Spanish, Latin American, and fusion dishes.
Oaxaca melts into a gooey rich fondue-like goodness, but it can also hold its shape well. This makes it a great option for baked meals and as a topping for lasagna, pasta, and even open-faced breakfast sandwiches.
To use this kind of cheese, either shred it with a grater or slice it with a cheese knife. If your Oaxaca is particularly fresh and soft, you can also tear it apart with your fingers into chunks.
Best for: Enchiladas, salads, chiles rellenos, quesadillas, queso fundido, and baked dishes
Not Recommended for: Grilled foods and desserts
If you are looking for vegan queso fresco, I’ve got just the thing for you. Tofu is made from the curds of soy milk so the process isn’t all that different from making a lot of regular cheeses. Moreover, you can find several different kinds of tofu; soft, firm, and extra firm.
Tofu is commonly used in South-East Asian dishes but is used in countless dishes to replace cheese, meat, and even eggs nowadays. It is also extremely versatile and can be used in both desserts and spicy, savory dishes.
You can use tofu to replace queso fresco in almost any recipe. It works well as a stuffing or filling, can be crumbled into a topping. Tofu bakes beautifully and won’t melt the way other cheeses do.
Using a firm or extra-firm variant tofu is the best option especially if you are looking for something to crumble over your enchiladas or as an addition to meaty stews and fusion-style curries.
Best for: Stews, fajitas, tacos, burritos, baked dishes, and desserts
Not Recommended for: Soups and curries
Queso Fresco vs Cotija: How Do They Square Up?
Since fresco cheese and cotija are commonly used in Mexican cuisine, and people often use them interchangeably, you are bound to wonder if they are the same thing. At first sight, there isn’t much of a difference between queso fresco and cotija.
However, they are both slightly different when it comes to composition and flavor profile. Here’s how the two hold up against each other:
How They are Made:
Both queso fresco and cotija are made from cow’s milk. While queso fresco is traditionally made from raw, full-fat fresh milk, cotija can be made from skim milk as well.
Moreover, queso fresco is very soft and moist and is sold fresh. On the other hand, you will be able to find both aged and fresh versions of cotija.
The appearance and taste of fresh queso fresco and cotija are pretty similar. They are both on the milder side and have a subtle milky taste. But aged cotija has a tangier flavor. In fact, it has been called the Parmesan of Mexican cheeses.
Texture and Melt-ability:
As mentioned, the two cheeses are soft and moist. However, they are also firm enough to crumble with your hands.
Queso fresco doesn’t melt completely and becomes very creamy and rich. It also browns splendidly when broiled or grilled as a topping.
Similarly, cotija isn’t very meltable and holds its shape. Because it is a little drier than fresco cheese, it crisps up when heated directly and browns instead of melting and becoming gooey like queso fresco.
Have More Questions?
Below you’ll find answers to questions we get asked the most about queso fresco substitutes.
01. What is Similar to Queso Fresco?
Cheeses like cotija, paneer, and feta are very similar to Mexican cheese.
02. Is Queso Fresco Similar to Mozzarella?
Mozzarella has a certain salty flavor, is drier, and melts very easily, and becomes stringy when heated. This makes it pretty different from fresco cheese which is softer and won’t melt easily.
03. Does Queso Fresco Taste Like Feta?
Feta tastes very similar to queso fresco but has tangier notes. However, you can rinse out a block of feta to tone down the tangy flavor.
04. What Can I Use Instead of Mexican Cheese?
If you don’t have any Mexican cheeses on hand, it is best to use something like paneer, halloumi, or ricotta Salata. If all else fails, you can easily make a batch of potted cheese at home.
05. Does Queso Fresco Melt Well?
Queso fresco doesn’t melt easily and becomes softer. Because of this, you shouldn’t use queso fresco if you need melting cheese.
06. Can I Substitute Feta for Queso Fresco?
Feta is a great substitute for queso fresco as they have a very similar appearance, taste, and texture.
07. What is Crumbled Queso Fresco?
Tearing chunks of queso fresco and roughly tearing or crushing it to bits with your fingers is known as crumbled queso fresco. This makes a great topping for various dishes.
08. What Can I Do with Queso Fresco Cheese?
Queso fresco is a very versatile cheese and can be used in cheese sauces and dips, as a topping or garnish, as a stuffing in rolls and wraps, and in salads and sandwiches, as well as grilled and baked dishes.
09. Is Cotija Cheese the Same as Queso Fresco?
Cotija is very similar to fresco cheese, but they aren’t exactly the same. Cotija is a little more aged than queso fresco and this causes subtle changes in taste and texture.
10. Can I Substitute Queso Fresco for Cotija Cheese?
Yes! Queso fresco and cotija can be used interchangeably in most cases.
Before You Leave
Mexican cooking is full of delights and the world of traditional cheeses is delicious and fascinating. Although some of them are harder to find, thanks to this article you now know what you can use as a queso fresco substitute.
Keeping track of what you are making and the properties of the cheese needed will also help you pick a substitute that comes the closest to fresco cheese.
If that doesn’t work, just use whichever one of these alternatives you have on hand. After all, it’s cheese and we love cheese, no matter what kind it is!