Expand Your Palate With 3 Ethnic Cheeses

There are almost as many cheeses in the world as there are cows, and if you’re limiting yourself to cheddar, Monterey jack and Parmesan cheese, you are missing out on some incredible flavors.

Paneer, queso fresco and halloumi are three cheeses loved by millions of people all over the world, and they all have one special property in common: they don’t melt. Paneer, queso fresco and halloumi cheese all soften when heated, but retain their shape and do not melt.

Ideal for hot dishes, grilling and cooking, these non-melting cheeses offer a universe of flavor for the intrepid home chef. You can find all of these cheeses in a specialty food store or ethnic supermarket. Introduce them to your kitchen to take your taste buds on a tour.

Paneer Cheese

If you frequent Indian restaurants, you will recognize this fresh cheese (pictured above) from its popular appearance in saag paneer – a spinach-based dish served with chunky cubes of paneer. Also called “farmer cheese” in South Asia, this curd cheese gets its tang from lemon juice or vinegar. Paneer is the least salty of these three ethnic cheeses, and is rarely eaten by itself. Paneer cheese can have different consistencies, from a dough-like snack to hard slices. Paneer can also be battered and deep fried for a decadent treat. Try paneer drizzled with olive oil and served with slices of fresh tomato and whole wheat crackers, add chunks to a salad, or grill and serve with hot potatoes.

Queso Fresco

Translated as “fresh cheese,” queso fresco is the creamy Latin version of non-melting cheese that’s made with a combination of goat and cow milk. You may also have heard of queso blanco (white cheese), which is a similar variety made only with cow’s milk. Both cheeses are soft, white and mild, and queso fresco is used extensively in cooking in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, especially Mexico. You’ll see it crumbled on top of enchiladas, tacos, salads, soups and anything else that needs a punch. Add queso fresco to the top of your eggs in the morning, try it on sandwiches and go wild on Mexican dishes like nachos, beans and burritos.

Halloumi Cheese

Also called “squeaky cheese” for its unique bite, halloumi is a dense Greek cheese that’s distantly related to feta. Originally produced from sheep’s milk on the island of Cyprus, today halloumi is usually made from a blend of sheep, goat and cow milk. A salty cheese with a tang, halloumi is used most often on the grill – in fact, you can throw it directly on the heat just like they do all over the Middle East and Mediterranean. Serve it up slab-style with crackers and vegetables alongside, or pan fry a slice and eat with a salad of dates, toasted walnuts and arugula. You can also cube halloumi and thread onto skewers with hunks of meat for tasty grilled cheese shish kabobs.

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Image: Stanhopea