Queso fresco, or fresh cheese, is a mild, salty and slightly acidic Mexican cheese that can be crumbled atop everything from salads to tacos to grilled vegetables. Easily created at home, rennet, which is a complex enzyme derived from young calves, is added to heated milk to create a curd. The curd is then broken down, salted and drained until firm. Refrigerate for at least an hour until chilled, and you’ll have fresh, homemade queso fresco to sprinkle atop your next dish.
Homemade Queso Fresco
Bring a gallon of whole milk to a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit slowly over low heat in a pot on the stovetop. Keep an eye on the milk while bringing it to temperature to avoid it boiling over; whisk frequently to prevent the milk from sticking to the pan or skin from forming on the surface.
Add a spoonful of liquid rennet, or crush 1 tablet of rennet and dissolve in 2 spoonfuls of water and add to the heated milk. Stir it to combine. Maintain the 100 degree F temperature in the pot for 1 to 2 hours by either placing it in the oven with the pilot light or viewing light on, or placing the pot, covered, in a sink filled with warm water. The milk and rennet mixture will gradually congeal into a curd during this time.
Break the congealed mixture up into small curds, using your fingers or a kitchen utensil such as a knife. Strain the curds through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or colander. Let the whey, the resulting liquid that separated from the curd, gradually drain away, which should take approximately a half-hour.
Pour the drained curds into a bowl. Add a spoonful of salt and work it into the curd using your fingers.
Return the salted curds to the cheesecloth-lined funnel or colander. Tie the cheesecloth tightly around the queso fresco and let drain for at least an hour. The queso fresco should be firm.
Unwrap the queso fresco from the cheesecloth and refrigerate it. For best results, refrigerate it at least an hour before using. Homemade queso fresco is best used within a week, but it will keep for up to three weeks refrigerated in a covered storage container or sealable bag.
Select the best quality whole milk you can find for making queso fresco.
Vegetable and microbial versions of rennet are also available and may be used instead of rennet derived from calves.