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7 Traditional Colombian Cheeses to Try: A Complete Guide

Aguapanela with cheese and bread

Updated on 02/20/2024

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Did you know that in Colombia, more than 12 types of cheeses are produced? From the Andes to the Caribbean, here you will find a complete guide to the most popular national cheeses.

How Did Cheese Arrive in Colombia?

Cheese arrived in America before anything else, thanks to Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. It is known that both he and his crew had a typical Mediterranean diet, including fish, bacon, and flour. In the Canary Islands, specifically on the Gomera islands, they stocked their ships with a variety of cheeses.

Types of Cheeses in Colombia

Before exploring Colombian cheeses, you should first know that the cheeses produced in the country are classified into 3 categories:

  • Non-acid fresh cheeses: These cheeses generally have a smooth texture, also due to their lack of maturation. They can be pressed or unpressed, kneaded and ground.
  • Acid fresh cheeses: These are characterized by requiring a much more elaborate preparation than non-acid fresh cheeses.
  • Mature cheeses: These cheeses have an extensive maturation period, allowing them to be exposed without the need for packaging. They can last weeks or months without losing their characteristics.

Now that you have a clear understanding, let’s get to the point!

Traditional Colombian Cheeses

Costeño Cheese

As the name suggests, Costeño Cheese has its roots in the lands of the Colombian coast. Its tradition dates back to the colonial era.

This cheese is an essential part of the culinary culture and diet of the coastal people and has been crafted for generations, especially in major Caribbean cities such as Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla.

Characteristics, Flavor, and Texture

Costeño Cheese is a non-acid fresh cheese, pressed, giving it a hard consistency with a soft and salty interior.

It has a highly salty taste, and its high salt content allows it to be preserved for a long time. This makes it perfect for dishes that don’t require additional salt, as the cheese itself provides the perfect balance.

How is Costeño Cheese made?

It’s straightforward – fresh milk fat is cut with cow rennet. Rennet is a substance that coagulates milk. Then, it is allowed to harden, the whey is extracted, salt is added, and it is cooked.

Wooden containers called “seretas” and a press are used in the process to mold and shape the cheese.

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

Costeño Cheese lends itself to a variety of typical coastal dishes:

  • Arepas de Queso Costeño: Arepas are a typical Colombian food with hundreds of variations. In the Caribbean region, they include Queso Costeño in the dough preparation.
  • Bollos de Yuca con Queso Costeño: Bollos is a type of bun made with cassava dough. Queso Costeño is added to the dough for flavor.
  • Aborrajados de Plátano Maduro con Queso Costeño: Aborrajados are fried snacks made with ripe plantains filled with Queso Costeño, coated in egg and flour batter. Very popular in the Caribbean and Valle del Cauca.
  • Suero Costeño: This is a fermented sour cream, typical of the Caribbean, used in many dishes such as soups, rice, beans, and almost all street food in the region.
  • Buñuelos: Fried flour balls, very typical at Christmas. Queso Costeño enhances the salty flavor of the dough.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Campesino Cheese

Campesino Cheese is another typical cheese in Colombia. Not only is it the most representative cheese in the country, but it also has the highest production. It has its roots in the colonization period when the Spanish brought their first dairy animals to rural areas of Colombia.

However, its tradition persists thanks to the rural communities that have been producing this cheese traditionally for generations, making it one of their most important food sources.

Characteristics, Flavor, and Texture

Campesino Cheese is a non-acid fresh white cheese with a soft and moist texture. Imagine a slightly neutral taste, smooth, and of course, with a touch of acidity.

Thanks to its creamy texture, it’s an ideal cheese to be cut into pieces or grated. For example, when heated, this cheese melts a little and doesn’t easily crumble. Its preparation method is similar to that of non-acid fresh cheeses, and sometimes it may or may not contain salt. It’s perfect for handling.

How is Campesino Cheese made?

The production of Campesino Cheese is a biochemical process involving the coagulation of semi-skimmed pasteurized fresh cow’s milk (enzymatic coagulation) through the action of three factors:

  • Rennet
  • Acidity
  • Temperature

After coagulating the milk, it is cut, whey is extracted, the cheese is mixed and heated, pressed into a mold, slightly salted, and finally allowed to mature.

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

  • Almojábanas: Cheese rolls made with corn flour and Campesino Cheese, very popular in Colombia.
  • Pandebono: Another roll made with cassava starch, Campesino Cheese, and eggs, a very popular snack in the country.
  • Arepas: Campesino Cheese is very popular in Colombia for filling both corn and “peto” arepas, providing a soft and creamy texture.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Queso Paipa

Paipa Cheese, as the name suggests, is an artisanal country cheese originating from the municipality of Paipa in the Boyacá department.

Its origin is interesting because, in the 19th century, merchants traveled on foot between the country’s municipalities, carrying cheese as a daily food source. During the journey, the cheese would harden.

You might not know this, but this cheese has a “designation of origin,” certifying that its quality depends exclusively on being manufactured in the municipalities of Paipa and Sotaquirá.

In 2011, the government awarded this cheese a certificate ensuring that authentic Paipa Cheese is made in Paipa and Sotaquirá, according to specific production and presentation requirements. This guarantees that there are no copies and defines its quality. It is one of the two cheeses with a designation of origin in Colombia.

Characteristics, Flavor, and Texture

Paipa Cheese is a mature cheese characterized by its waxed rind, giving it a distinctive appearance. Beneath the crust, you’ll find a semi-hard texture with a yellowish and pale color, slightly acidic, with a bitter and salty finish, and a strong and rancid aroma.

The texture of this cheese makes it easy to slice thinly or grate for preparations.

How is Paipa Cheese made?

It is made with fresh and freshly milked cow’s milk, using rennet and acidification. After cutting the mass, it undergoes a fermentation process. Finally, this cheese matures for 10, 20, or 30 days in maturation cellars.

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

Paipa Cheese is versatile in terms of consumption. For example, those with more discerning palates use it in pastas, pizzas, lasagnas, salads, or even paired with the best regional wines.

  • Beef tenderloin medallions with sauce: Tender meat with creamy Paipa Cheese sauce.
  • Aborrajado de plátano: A mix of ripe plantain filled with Paipa Cheese, fried until golden.
  • Arequipe and brevas: It is a traditional dessert that combines Paipa Cheese with “arequipe,” a sweet made from panela, in other words, it is a syrup made from sugarcane juice. It is also combined with honey, blackberry jam, or dulce de leche.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Queso Cuajada

Cuajada Cheese was initially a traditional dessert in the Basque Country, Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, and La Rioja, although its exact origin is uncertain.

Over 4000 years ago, it was discovered that milk curdled into curd when heated, thanks to an enzyme called rennet found in the stomachs of mammals.

In ancient times, dried animal stomachs were used to transport milk, and this led to the discovery of milk coagulation. Currently, Cuajada is identified as cheese, although it is simply coagulated milk without fermentation with animal rennet.

Characteristics, Flavor, and Texture

This is one of the mildest cheeses among Colombian cheeses. It is a non-acid fresh cheese, very soft in texture. It has a very white color with a distinctive milky aroma.

Cuajada usually has a very mild taste, imagine cow’s milk but very fresh. In particular, when eaten, it makes a squeaky sound in the mouth because its proteins rub against the teeth when chewing. Over time, when the Cuajada is not so fresh, these proteins become softer and stop making that noise when touching the teeth.

How is Cuajada Cheese made?

It is the easiest Colombian cheese to make, as you only need to:

  • Heat cow’s milk to 30°C.
  • Add rennet.
  • Let it rest for 30-40 minutes until it curdles.
  • Cut the mass and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
  • Drain the whey and finally mold it.

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

Cuajada is popular throughout the country. This cheese is usually combined with typical Colombian desserts or sweet ingredients. It truly works very well.

  • Arepa de Choclo: Sweet yellow arepas made with tender cornstarch, mixed with Cuajada cheese.
  • Cuajada cake: A cake made from Cuajada, wheat flour, and eggs. It is baked until golden and served only when it is cold.
  • Cuajada with “melao”: It is a typical dessert that combines Cuajada cheese with “melao,” which is a panela sweet, in other words, it is a syrup made from sugarcane juice. It is also combined with honey, blackberry jam, or dulce de leche.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Queso Pera

Pera Cheese is a gem in our country’s gastronomy. It is one of the most popular cheeses and is currently produced in Boyacá in municipalities such as Boativa, Belén, Duitama, and Tunja.

The story begins with two Italians who arrived in Colombia in 1923 and set up a small cheese company. They went door to door just to let Bogotans taste this new cheese.

The name “Pera” is inspired by the shape of the pears they cultivated in their orchard until they started shaping it like a pear.

Characteristics, Flavor, and Texture

It is an acid-fresh cheese; Pera Cheese has no rind or shell. It is distinguished by its pulled-type paste, allowing its crust to peel off easily. Additionally, it is semi-soft, rubbery, and elastic.

Its aroma is characteristic of milk and slightly acidic, and its taste is quite mild and pleasant. It is a cheese that I recommend you try.

How is Pera Cheese made?

You should know that the elaboration of Pera Cheese is a bit complex. It is made from whole raw or pasteurized cow’s milk at 71°C.

It is coagulated with rennet, incubated to achieve acidity, and then the curd is stretched in hot water, molded, brined to adjust its texture, and shaped into a pear.

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

Pera Cheese is usually consumed fresh, uncooked. For example, you can use it on bread or crackers, people combine it with fruits or pieces of fresh ham.

It serves as an appetizer and is widely used in December to make a snack called “queso con bocadillo,” which consists of Pera Cheese and guava sweet, both cut into cubes.

It is also a good option to consider for risotto preparations.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Doble Cream Cheese

Doble Cream Cheese is a typical product of the Cundiboyacense highlands, a region with a cold climate and a rich dairy tradition, specifically originating from the municipalities of Chiquinquirá and Ubaté.

This is a local cheese and very popular among Colombians, very delicious indeed.

Characteristics, Flavor, and Texture

This cheese is also acid-fresh; it is characterized by its high cream concentration, which gives it an extremely creamy texture, a smooth surface, and a very mild taste.

It is a fresh, slightly acidic, semi-fat, pulled-paste cheese with a salty taste. Its aroma and taste remind me of fresh milk and sour cream. However, what I like the most is its flexible texture and that it is easy to grate.

How is Double Cream Cheese made?

I have to tell you that the process of making double cream cheese is very laborious, but not impossible.

First, the milk is filtered, and rennet is added when it reaches 30°C. Then, acidic whey is added until the curd forms, and it is allowed to rest for a few minutes.

At this point, it is stirred, and heated until all the whey is removed, and the curd particles disappear. Afterward, it is molded and refrigerated. It’s ready!

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

This is the ideal cheese for pizzas, lasagnas, and hamburgers, as it is the easiest to melt for gratin.

  • Aborrajados: Ripe plantains filled with double cream cheese, fried until golden and the cheese is completely melted.
  • Cheese fingers: Cheese sticks wrapped in dough, fried until golden, and crispy, and the cheese can be stretched.
  • Gratin chicken breast: Chicken breast with a layer of double cream cheese and mushroom sauce, a well-known national dish.
  • Salchipapa: Sausage, French fries, and a layer of cream cheese on top, a local neighborhood dish, simple and quick.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Quesillo de Hoja (Leaf Quesillo)

Quesillo de Hoja is mainly made in territories like Huila and Tolima. It is customary to wrap this cheese in banana or bijao leaves, very common plants in the Andean region.

It is an ancient tradition, and if you didn’t know, these leaves keep the cheese fresh and protect it from heat. Additionally, the leaves give the cheese a particular natural flavor.

Characteristics, Taste, and Texture

It is also considered acid-fresh cheese with a highly elaborate preparation; it is pulled-curd cheese. Its rind is wrapped in banana or bijao leaves, as explained earlier, giving it a herb-like flavor.

Quesillo has a mild, semi-acidic taste, and it is soft on the palate. However, it has a very chewy texture and tends to stretch quite a bit when melted.

Culinary Uses and Popular Recipes

This cheese is very popular for mixing with bocadillo, a guava sweet paste, similar to pear cheese.

But you can imagine the desserts and sweet recipes you can create with this cheese, such as cakes, cheesecakes, among others. It is also eaten alone, either freshly made or fresh.

Does it require refrigeration? Yes

Pairing with Colombian Cheeses

  • Paipa Cheese: Enjoy a portion of this artisanal cheese with a bottle of red wine like Carmenere. Smooth wines go well with these semi-hard cheeses.
  • Costeño Cheese: I recommend Club Colombia Dorada or another “lager” type beer, as it contrasts perfectly with the saltiness of this cheese.
  • Double Cream Cheese: Try this creamy-textured cheese with a white or dry wine like Sauvignon Blanc; you can also pair it with nuts.
  • Pear Cheese: I recommend pairing it with full-bodied dry wines with slightly fruity flavors, something like a Chardonnay.
  • Campesino Cheese: An interesting proposal is to mix it with Colombian coffee. I recommend a premium coffee with a mild flavor, good acidity, 90% arabica, a Juan Valdez, for example, to pair with this rural cheese.
  • Cuajada Cheese: Anise is an essential ingredient for this occasion, so I bring aguardiente; you’ll notice how the freshness of anise mixes well with the slightly acidic taste of fresh milk notes and the type of curd this cheese has.
  • Quesillo de Hoja: A very traditional pairing I recommend is to have it with a cup of hot chocolate. Thanks to its chewy texture, you can easily melt and stretch it in any hot beverage.

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About Author

Frank

Frank

Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia.I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia.For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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