This cheese is most commonly known as queso Oaxaca. It is the only cheese made in Mexico of the Pasta Filata style. The name "de hebra" refers to the long and thin shreds that form long pieces of cheese and are then braided into a small ball and sold fresh.
Traditionally, it was made with raw cow's milk only in the state of Oaxaca, where it is used to make "tlayudas." Now it is produced all over the country and in the US with pasteurized milk. The flavour of the original cheese made with raw milk is tangy almost sour but also slightly sweet. Its aroma is that of fresh milk and most times some left over whey is released when the ball is unbraided.
This cheese became popular for its capacity to melt, but not brown. This makes it the perfect quesadilla cheese, because it allows for the quesadilla to be soft in the center. Also its mild flavour is great for pairing with many different types of salsas.
As of right now, there is no initiative by producers in Oaxaca to seek a DO, which means that you can get excellent quesillo everywhere, but also allows large commercial outfits to make poor examples of it readily available in super markets and major retailers.
If you have the oportunity to travel to Mexico look for pick-up trucks parked in corners of major cities with big banners announcing "Productos Oaxaquenos." There you will find fresh examples that you will need to consume right away. The best age of this cheese is at about day one to day four of being made, and you obviously should look for the hand pulled versions as they are always fresher.
Commercial versions and those made in the US lack moisture and the cheese is gummy. If you don't have the option of buying the real deal. Look for one of the commercial ones that looks more loose and make your own whey and let it sit on it for a day to allow for the wet environment to moist the dry curd.
Quesillo is one of my favourite cheeses and everytime I get to see a good ball I ask for a taste and buy a big chunk. In my local Mexican market they have a good version made with pasteurized milk, the only problem is that I don't know the source of the milk and therefore it is more likely cheap milk from dairy facilities that tend to produce unhealthy milk that must be pasteurized to prevent outbreaks of listeria.
Nevertheless, this is a great cheese style.
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