Anyone who has spent considerable time in Argentina, preparing their own meals or dining at modern restaurants, has probably come across queso blanco (white cheese) or, as some may refer to it, queso crema (cream cheese) during their stay. Before I go further with this, hold on second. I may be repeating myself here, but I really wish that food scholars, historians, and top chefs would get together to form some sort of Argentinean authoritative collection similar to Larousse Gastronomique. Maybe there is one, out there and out of my reach, but a wealth of historical information about food still remains to be digitized for online access. If it even exists. Whatever information is online, is rarely sourced and the major newspapers offer no archival search for clues. For the latter, the reason is probably quite obvious but I’ll leave that to your imagination. So, we are left with personal interpretations and romantic myths when it comes to the origin of a dish or the naming of one. Do we really know if chimichurri came from Jimmy McCurry? And what about that milanesa a la napolitana?
Getting back to cultured dairy, from what I gather, queso crema is basically cultured cream while queso blanco is formed with milk, cream, and rennet. However, one’s version of queso crema can also be another person’s queso blanco. So, let us just leave that part alone for now.
Industrial companies associated with dairy have their own line of products, offered in plastic pots of various sizes. La Serenisima’s Casancrem and Nestlé Argentina’s Mendicrim are the dominant brands followed by regional or supermarket brands. Each product has its own unique properties but the texture of queso blanco usually lies between runny sour cream, whipped ricotta, or thick velvety Philadelphia-style cream cheese. It is not uncommon to find someone smearing queso blanco on piece of toast or a cracker with, perhaps, an additional smear of jam. The cheese is also great for adding creamy flavors and textures to soups, sauces, and cheesecakes, not unlike cream cheese and sour cream. You should find a slight acidic tang in the background but nowhere near as pronounced as its creamy counterparts. I would have to say similar in taste, not texture, to freshly whipped ricotta. Although some products such as Mendicrim, have a more noticeable tang.
The following recipe may look complicated but it is not. You will taste a bit of tangy yogurt in the background but the cream helps to cut that.
Homemade Casancrem – Queso Blanco – Queso Crema
Modified from the recipe Queso Crema by Alejandra Chacón at Utilisima.com (In her book it’s called queso blanco)
1 Quart Whole Milk
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons Powdered Whole Milk
1/4 Cup Fresh Plain Yogurt
1/4 Large Rennet Tablet or 1 ml Liquid Rennet**
1/4 Cup Cold Water (not directly from tap)
1 1.5+ Quart Stainless Steel or Non-Reactive Pot
1 Sterilized Cheese Cloth
1 Yogurt Maker (see notes below)
1 Cooking Thermometer (instant or attachable candy type)
1 Large Stainless Steel or Non-Reactive Colander
1 Large Bowl (large and deep enough to set the colander over)
Add yogurt to a container that is large enough to include a little of the milk mixture later on.
Dissolve Rennet tablet in water and set aside. (No need for water if using liquid rennet)
Add milk, cream, and powdered milk to pot, mix well. Gently heat milk mixture until the temperature rises to 104º F (40º C). Remove from heat and add a little of the milk mixture to the yogurt to thin it out a bit. Add yogurt to pot and mix for about 30 seconds.
Swirl the rennet water to lift any sediment and add to pot. (Add liquid rennet) Mix for about 30-60 seconds.
Add mixture to yogurt maker and leave it for at least 6 hours or until the mixture has set. Cover yogurt maker container(s) and place in the fridge to cool. Depending on the cream you use, a yellowish or butter colored skin may form on the surface. When the mix has cooled gently scoop or scrap it out with a spoon. It’s not harmful but you don’t want to ruin the creaminess of the cheese with slimy chewy chunks of protein and fat.
Cover the colander with the cloth and set it over the bowl. When the mixture has cooled, gently pour or scoop cheese on to the cheesecloth.
Cover the colander with a large plate or plastic wrap to help retain moisture as well as prevent anything from accidentally falling in. Allow to sit 8 hours or overnight in the fridge. (Depending on your colander and bowl, check from time to time to make sure the colander is not sitting in a pool of drained whey. If so pour off whey and store it in a covered non-reactive container.)
When the cheese is ready it should be slightly firm to the touch. If you pull an edge of the cheesecloth up and toward the center of the colander, the cheese should easily separate from the cloth.
Gently lift the cheesecloth out of the colander and flip the cheese into a clean bowl. It should all come out in one clean PLOP!
Whip the cheese with a spoon. If it seems too thick, add a bit of the drained whey, in very small parts, until you reach the desired consistency. I find that salt is not really needed due to the tang from the yogurt culture, but add at this point if you feel the need to do so.
There are quite a few things you can do with the leftover whey but I’ll usually pass it off to my dogs. They go crazy over it!
Use within a week.
1. One of the main components of this recipe is to allow the milk mixture to set for about 6 hours at a certain temperature. Yogurt makers prepare yogurt at the same temperature so they are perfect vessels for this recipe. I have the type with 6 little cups but you can use a single container maker as long at it is large enough to hold the mixture. Unless you have a maker that can hold more than one quart, you will end up with a little extra. If you don’t have a maker there are numerous guides online for homemade yogurt using ovens, coolers, heat pads, etc. If you want to buy one, there are some inexpensive models in the $30-40 range.
2. If you have the multiple small cup yogurt maker, here is an easy way to pour the milk mixture into them. Mix the heated milk, yogurt, and rennet in a pitcher or pourable container and use that to fill the cups.
3. Try using a double boiler or rig one up with two pots to warm the milk. This will help to prevent scorching.
4. This recipe works best with mass-produced milk found in supermarkets. Do not use Ultra-pasteurized milk.
**Where to find rennet: