The new Administration’s immigration plans are likely to up-end California agriculture. Everybody knows that. But I hadn’t thought about the impact on the nation’s creameries until a cheesemaker told me about her terrified workforce. Hispanic immigrants make a lot of our cheese, so get ready for labor shortages and price hikes. And of course immigrants from many countries have introduced us to their own cheeses, from feta to Gouda.
My kitchen would be a lot poorer without Mexican-style queso fresco. Such an underappreciated cheese. I crumble it into spinach salads, sprinkle it on tomato soup and lavish it on tacos filled with onions and chard. I buy it from the Mexican market near my house, where it’s cut to order from thick white slabs in big tubs, and it costs almost nothing. The market carries queso fresco from two different producers, but neither choice has a label and I can’t tell them apart. When the clerk asks which one I want, I just say, “The better one.”
A rindless cow’s milk cheese with a moist, yet crumbly texture, queso fresco has a mild, milky, pleasantly saline taste. It is not briny like feta. I use it in dishes where I want the salt and the eye appeal but not the feta tang. Try it in spring salads with arugula or spinach, like this one:
Spinach Salad with Queso Fresco, Sesame Seeds
and Tortilla Crisps
Is your spinach salad due for a facelift? This version has lots of toasted sesame seeds, crumbled queso fresco and crunchy ribbons of fried tortilla. I had it years ago at Fonda, an Albany, California, restaurant that specializes in Latin American-inspired small plates. It’s no longer on the menu there, but it still is at my house. From Eating Local by Janet Fletcher.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 small clove garlic, minced to a paste or grated on a Microplane
- Kosher or sea salt
- Canola oil for frying
- 2 corn tortillas
- Kosher or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/2 pound baby spinach
- 3 tablespoons roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
- 1 watermelon radish, peeled and very thinly sliced, or 1 dozen red radishes, sliced
- ¼ pound queso fresco, finely crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 lime, halved
To make the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, fish sauce, garlic and salt to taste.
Pour canola oil into a small but deep saucepan to a depth of 2 inches and heat to 375˚F. While the oil heats, cut the tortillas in half, then stack the 4 halves. With the straight edge facing you, cut the halves into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Discard the end pieces, which will be too short.
Working in small batches, add the tortilla strips to the hot oil and fry until they darken in color, 1 to 2 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the temperature as close to 375°F as possible. Lift them out with a wire-mesh skimmer onto a double thickness of paper towels to drain. Sprinkle generously with salt while hot.
Put the sesame seeds in a small, dry skillet and toast over moderate heat, shaking the skillet frequently, until the seeds are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Let cool.
Put the spinach in a large salad bowl. Add the sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, radishes and queso fresco and toss to mix. Add just enough dressing to coat the spinach lightly; you may not need it all. Toss well and taste. The salad will probably need a squeeze of lime juice. Add the tortilla crisps, toss gently, and serve immediately.
Next Class: Raw-Milk Cheese Showcase
Monday, April 3
Silverado Cooking School
We’ll celebrate traditional methods in this tasting devoted to cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. For some classic cheeses, raw milk is required. For others, it’s the cheesemaker’s preference. Just in time for Raw-Milk Cheese Appreciation Day on April 15, I’ll introduce you to some of the stars of the realm. Just a few seats left. Reserve here.
Back to Butter
I wrote recently in Planet Cheese about my fondness for Kerrygold unsalted butter and implied that the butter was produced from cultured cream. It is not. The butter is produced from sweet (uncultured) cream using a faster process called the NIZO method, which involves injecting flavors into the butter after churning to give it a cultured taste. The Kerrygold label lists “cultured pasteurized cream” as the sole ingredient, which is misleading in my view but apparently legal.