Don’t know what happened to December… seemed to have slipped me by.
Kathy likes to ask people; “if you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?” It’s a tricky question, and usually causes more discussion than answers. Kathy’s answer for herself is typically; “potatoes.” According to Wikipedia, there’s about 8,000 varieties. Not all of those are edible, but that’s a lot! For me, yeah, the answer is; “cheese.” According to an unofficial observation by the Cheesewench; “I think that saying that there are over 2000 different cheeses in shops and markets in the world would not be an exaggeration.” Sooooo… if Kathy and I could work together with our “single” foods to eat forever, we’d be doing pretty good.
This brings me, believe it or not, to Mexican food. Kathy asked recently what I’d do if we lived in Mexico. “Be fat,” I responded. Whenever given the chance, I LOVE eating Mexican food. Since there are so many excellent, and inexpensive, Mexican places in the Bay Area, I don’t make Mexican food at home too often. I was inspired this past weekend, however, by our friend Jeff (who is an excellent cook). He and Anna came over the other night with all of the ingredients to make home made tamales (with actual lard). They were fantastic, but we didn’t use any cheese in the meal. A day later, to use the remaining lard I prepared fresh, home-made refried beans. To really enjoy refried beans, Mexican-style cheese is needed, so we went to a local Mexican food grocery store to pick up some to go with it.
I’ve been to Mexican stores with over a dozen South American style cheese selections, and others with only a couple. This time I picked up only two; both fairly common and easy to find (and one wasn’t technically a cheese).
The first of the two, as I mentioned, isn’t a cheese; “Crema Mexicana” Basically, it’s a sour cream, but researching it further I found this write up from an “expert” named “Darwin” on an answer site called Askville:
“Mexican Cream is actually closer to sour cream than it is to heavy cream.
Commercially produced sour cream is made by inoculating pasteurized light cream with bacteria cultures, letting the bacteria grow until the cream is both soured and thick, and then repasteruizing it to stop the process. Mexican Cream is more like Crème fraîche, which is a slightly tangy, slightly nutty, thickened cream lightly fermented by a different bacteria. Before the age of pasteurization crème fraîche made itself as the bacteria present in the cream fermented and thickened it naturally. This is basically how Mexican Cream is made, except the appropriate bacteria have to be added back in now that pasteurization is standard practice.”
The effect, really is a creamer, less sour type of sour cream; one that if you like milk products as much as I do, might be tempted to simply eat with a spoon.
The other cheese, manufactured by Don Francisco in California, was a Mexican-style fresh cheese; Queso Fresco. As you might guess, this cheese is a soft cheese, not aged very long, and it actually not unlike Feta, except that it is much milder in taste, and as the name suggests, a very “fresh” taste. Although this cheese doesn’t stand out terribly with its flavor distinction, it is an excellent compliment to dishes such as the beans I made. If you’ve ever had, and enjoyed due to the consistency, cheese curds, then Queso Fresco might be yet another way for you to expand your horizons.
I may have mentioned in the past that the market for cheese in Hispanic demographics in California (and possibly other parts of the States as well), is a difficult one to break into. Traditionally, culturally, many people with South American roots are more accustomed to buying locally made cheeses, thus larger productions (such as the Don Francisco company) are not always favored when/if/as a local creamery and/or farmer may be making the cheeses that are used in South American cuisine. Despite this fact, I find, too often, that pre-shredded, mass-produced jack cheeses are commonplace substitutes at some Mexican restaurants.
If anyone has a suggestion of a BOOK about South American cheese, I’m always ready to explore them some more, so please let me know!
Happy New Year; may the new year bring plenty of cheese into your life.
Here’s an unrelated pictures of the Steam Train in Oakland’s Tilden Park: