We’ve been asked how to put together a cheese plate for Cinco de Mayo. Truth to tell, Mexico’s signature cheeses, from fresh to aged, are white cheeses made for cooking. They’re not intended to be nibbled during cocktail hour or as a cheese course.
For a cheese course, we have three recommendations. You can serve one or all:
Panela. A fresh cow’s milk cheese, queso panela is used for snacking and in recipes. Similar in taste and texture to mozzarella, it’s commonly served with fruit. You can get creative and toss cubes of panela in a fruit salad or with berries, or serve it with bread or crackers and a light white wine.
Queso Criollo. This semi-hard yellow cheese is similar to Munster, but not easy to find in the U.S. If you want to be flexible, substitute a Monterey Jack made with jalapeño or other chile, and a hearty red wine.
Creative presentation: wedges of Manchego cheese topped with wedges of membrillo and a sprinkling of chili powder. Photo courtesy The Best Spanish Recipes.
Manchego. The famous sheep’s milk cheese from Spain (the breed of sheep is manchega) is also popular in Mexico, served for dessert with dulce de membrillo (quince paste*) and marcona almonds†. The cheese can be aged from six months to two years; the older the cheese, the more complex. Serve it with Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine.
We’re already getting hungry for this cheese plate!
*Quince paste, often made in a loaf form, is a sweet, thick, jelly made of the pulp of the quince fruit. It is sliced and served with the cheese.
†Marcona almonds, imported from Spain, are a variety of sweet almond. They’re slightly shorter and plumper in appearance compared to the almonds typically found in U.S. markets. But you can serve any raw or roasted almonds with manchego or any cheeses.