Queso Panela is a white, fresh, and smooth soft Mexican type cheese made with raw milk. Not only is it delicious, it’s easy to make at home!
I don’t know anyone that doesn’t enjoy a really good cheese ~ from cheddar to mozzarella, swiss and even feta, cheese is almost a univerrsal love language.
At least it is for me.
Over the last year I have been infatuated with making my own soft cheeses at home. While I haven’t quite conquered hard cheese, I feel that soft cheeses (like Queso Panela) can be done by most.
Also known as “basket cheese”, Queso Panela is a popular cheese in many Mexican, or Mexican-American households. In our home, it’s quite important to the kids – they slice it and stuff it inside of corn tortillas for a snack at random times of the day.
I’m not sure if it’s just my kids, but a pound of cheese can be destroyed (eaten) in less than an hour.. obviously keeping me quite busy.
Basic Cheesemaking Knowledge
While you can typically find Queso Panela at most hispanic markets, it’s made with pasteurized milk. If you have access to raw milk, then you can easily make it at home.
Milk is made of proteins , sugar (lactose), fat, minerals, enzymes and minerals. The main players in making cheese are the casein and the whey.
Turning milk into cheese requires that you change the properties of the proteins. The caseins will coagulate into curds and leave behind the whey (the byproduct). You can help propagate this change with rennet, and with acid (lemon or vinegar).
Aged cheeses typically use rennet (parmesan, brie, etc.), as does Queso Panela. Cheeses like queso fresco use an acid – which makes them crazy easy to make at home.
How to Make Queso Panela
Making queso panela requires a really good, high quality milk that hasn’t been ultra pasteurized. We opt for raw milk, since the proteins are kept in their natural state and form curds easily.
Check the raw milk laws in your state & see if raw milk is an option for purchase (whether from store or from farm).
Here in Arizona, raw milk is legal – and so we have the unique opportunity to be able to use this milk to make our own cheese. It’s quite fabulous!
Grab a heavy bottom pot, and pour your [raw] milk inside. Turn the stovetop on low/medium and carefully heat to 95F. Watch your milk at this stage to prevent scorching.
You might want to continue to stir to keep the heat well distributed. It’s better to go slow and steady than crank up the heat and deal with a yucky pot of scorched milk.
Once the heat has reached 95F, turn off the stove. Add 1/4 tsp extra strength rennet to 1/4 C. of water in a cup and stir well.
Once that is distributed, carefully pour into your milk on the stove. Stir for a period of 30 seconds, making sure to distribute that rennet evenly.
Allow that milk/rennet mixture to sit for 20 minutes, undisturbed. After 20 minutes, you’ll notice that the curd has floated to the top few inches — use a serrated knife to slice a checkerboard pattern.
Take care to extend that knife all the way to the bottom of the curd.
Then, ladle your curds into a colander lined with a cheesecloth – we usually use two placed diagonally over each other so we have enough give to tie up after it has drained. Add a tsp or two of salt to the cheese as it drains — stir the salt in to the curds.
Then, tie up the cheesecloth to form a ball (as pictured above) and hang that ball of cheese from a cabinet knob, taking care to put a pot underneath to catch the whey.
The whey makes an incredible marinade for meat and can be used to soak grains. My favorite way to use whey is to make caramel (so so delicious!)
Allow the whey to drain from the cheese for at least one hour. It’s important for the cheese to keep at least a small portion of the whey or it will be too dry. Then gently unwrap the cheesecloth from the cheese.
Keep on a plate, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.