What Are these Colombian Cheeses and What’s the Difference?
Supermarkets here in Medellín have a mind-boggling array of Colombian cheeses with unfamiliar names like “cuajada,” “quesito,” and “campesino.” And “queso.” “Queso”! How can a type of cheese simply be called “cheese”?
Making matters worse, they all look the same. They’re white, moist, and packed in square or round blobs.
To figure out the difference between all these Colombian cheeses and hopefully be able to face the supermarket cheese aisles with confidence, we did the only thing we could. We bought them all.
Kim and I stockpiled 18 different Colombian “quesos frescos” (fresh cheeses) and invited a dozen friends over to blind taste test them using our tried and true (and super fun) methods.
What we discovered was revealing, comforting, and sometimes just plain disgusting.
Dictionary of Colombian Cheeses
Here’s a quick intro to the types of Colombian cheese we included in our blind taste test:
- Cuajada – Prounced “cua-ha-da,” cuajada literally means curdled in Spanish. An extra watery white fresh cheese, its quite simply the pressed-together curds of whole pasteurized milk .
- Quesito – A traditional Antioquian cheese, quesito is basically cuajada with salt added.
- Queso – Simply called queso on packages, but also known as queso blanco, its a denser version of cuajada.
- Campesino – A semi-hard, more rubbery, version of cuajada.
- Costeño – Coming from Colombias coast, hence the name, its a very salty crumbly cheese thats sometimes described as feta cheese made with cows milk
- Pera – Called pear cheese because of the way its packaged in a pear-like shape. The name has nothing at all to do with its flavor. This is considered to be the Colombian mozzarella
These measly descriptions were all I could patch together after hours researching on the internet and even exchanging emails with Colanta, Colombia’s largest cheese producer.
I’m starting to think nobody really knows what these cheeses are.
At least the nutritional information is easily available. Below are the average nutritional values, by type, of the cheeses we tested.
Colombian Cheese Nutritional Info
Nutritional values of 30 grams of each type of Colombian cheese:
|Total Fat (g)||8||8||6||6||7||7|
The Blind Taste Test
Just as we did for Colombian beers previously and to find the best coffee in Medellín, we used a blind taste test to deliver the truth about which are the best Colombian cheeses. The 18 Colombian cheeses we tested were of the following varieties:
- 6 quesitos
- 5 campesinos
- 4 cuajadas
- 1 pera
- 1 costeña
- 1 blanco
Each was cut into little cubes and placed on a code-numbered plate so nobody knew which was which. Our twelve brave tasters then sampled each all as many times as they needed to rank them from best to worst.
It was maybe the most difficult blind taste test we’d ever done.
Ranking 18 of anything is hard enough. Ranking 18 indistinct-tasting fresh cheeses? It was a greater challenge than any of us had bargained for.
First of all, the cheeses tasted so similar one taster gave up on trying to rank them. Second, they weren’t all particularly delicioustasters had to spit some out on occasion. And third, eighteen fresh cheeses is a lot of curd to swallow.
Surprisingly, despite these challenges everyone’s results were quite consistent. And quite compelling.
Here are the answers to the biggest questions we had coming into our Colombian cheese taste test:
Is Expensive Colombian Cheese Better?
The cheeses we tested varied in price from under 10,000 COP ($3.50 USD) per kilogram to over 27,000 ($9.50). Were the more expensive cheeses worth it?
As is often the case with blind taste tests, the answer was: Not really.
As you can see in the table further below, while two of the most expensive cheeses took the top spots in the final rankings, there was minimal correlation between price and quality. For example, our favorite cuajada came from the budget supermarket D1 and the most expensive quesitos were third and fourth out of the six quesitos we tested.
In short, we learned that if we’re going to buy a queso fresco, we might as well get the cheapest one.
Do Colombians and Foreigners Have Different Preferences?
Was it possible that Colombians have developed a different taste for their cheeses compared to us foreigners?
Since half of our twelve tasters were Colombian and the other half were foreign (Canadian, American, Swiss, and French), the taste test would tell us.
The answer: Nope.
While the Colombians could sometimes tell a cuajada from a quesito, their average rankings compared us foreigners’ rankings were remarkably the same.
Apparently queso fresco is not an acquired taste.
Which is Better: Cuajada, Campesino, or Quesito?
Did the average scores of the six quesitos we tested differ significantly from that of the five campesinos, or four cuajadas?
Cuajada was easily the worst of the three types of cheese. The average ranking of the four cuajadas was 14th out of 18.
For campesinos the average ranking was 7th out of 18, and for quesitos it was 8th.
As for the types of cheese we only had one of, the queso blanco was 14th, the costeño was dead last, and the pera was…
Which is the Best Colombian Cheese?
The grand champion of our Colombian cheese taste test was the queso pera.
This result wasn’t much of a surprise. Being mozzarella-like, queso pera is the most familiar-tasting to foreigners, and amongst the Colombians it has a reputation for being a tasty snack.
Unfortunately, queso pera is also by far the most expensive type of cheese among the ones we tried. The one we tested was from the cheapest supermarket in Colombia, D1, and costed about $10 a kilo. It’s twice that or more at more upscale shops. So even though it was the best it’s not going to become a regular in my fridge.
Here are the complete rankings of the 18 Colombian cheeses (the lower the score, the better):
|Brand||Type||Supermarket||Price/kg||Total Score||Final Rank|
In Defense of Colombian Cheeses
All of the above discoveries need to be taken with a grain of salt. (That is, unless you’ve just finished eating a bunch of Colombian cheeses, in which case you don’t need more salt in your life.)
That’s because Colombian cheeses arent meant to be eaten on their own.
If we had done the taste test with the cheeses served on top of arepas, a quesito might have won, since that’s how it’s traditionally eaten. The same goes for queso costeño in buñuelos, cuajada drizzled with some sweet syrup, or queso dropped in a cup of hot chocolate (yes, hot chocolate!).
On the other hand…
I’m pretty sure there are French and Swiss cheeses that both taste great on their own and could have given those Colombian cheeses a run for their money no matter what they’re served with. That may just be a big reason why per capita cheese consumption in Colombia is only 1.5 kilograms a year compared to 26 kilograms in France (and 31 kg in surprise world-leader Greece).
Nevertheless, if you find yourself face-to-face with an intimidating Colombian cheese aisle hopefully our efforts haven’t been in vain and this will help you make the right decision. It’s certainly helped me approach the cheeses with confidence at last.
And when in doubt? Get a non-Colombian cheese.
More Tasty Colombian Tips
More Colombian blind taste tests:
If you’re traveling to Colombia
43 thoughts on “We Ate 18 Colombian Cheeses so You Don’t Have To”
My fave Colombian cheese is Asar the grillable stuff. Its a lot like Haloumi, I started off using it for salad and then started adding it to everything. Just put in a pan for a few mins on each side to get a charred exterior x
Us too! We did the exact same: starting with salads then progressing to include it in everything. How funny. The “quesos maduros” here are definitely tastier than the “quesos frescos” that we tested.
There is nothing to test…
Because there is no Chees in Colombia!
Is not to compare the customs and test from one country. While you can think some european cheese are better, i would not change my colombian cheese, for any of that dried ones. – is like have you tried most of the fruits and vegetables in Europe and usa, they surely dont teste as good as ours. – are they dog food?? No, because we are respectful and not an ignorant like you.
colombian food and supermarket products if you read the labels even in the so called health food stores is full of chemicals. colombia is a country full of chemical dangerous food products. read the labels for yourself. even the so called health food stores sell not one natural soap or shampoo. all dangerous chemicals. the supermarkets are pure poison. a few products are somewhat clean i guess. some cheeses have natural ingredients written on the labels.
the food in colombia is dog food and overpriced for what your getting. its basically fast food with a fancy name.
Oh. We just thought those chemicals on the labels are Spanish words we hadn’t learned.
And who the fuck are you to say that all Colombian food is dog food? Im pretty sure you have no idea about the reglamentations of the INVIMA among other food controls that the government has to make sure every food company is providing the best quality products to the citizens. Dont be a moron and read a little before talking shit. Ignorant.
I’m with Chris
Colombians: Foreigners come here to party with cheap coke and prostitutes
Foreigners in Colombia: We tried and ranked over 15 colombian cheese types and brands
Colombians: Jajaja. Foreigners in Colombia: Hahaha.
Wow, so much negativity!! Have you ever visited Colombia at all!!
Whilst i would agree as a Brit that most cheese in Colombia is bland and i tend to buy Spanish cheeses here line Manchegos..and imported as the locally made ones are not strong enough, the level of your comments makes you sound, in case you didnt realise, like one of those gringos (though i guess your name might be Italian origin) who visits or even lives in Colombia but just denigrates the country all the time. It seems a particular tendency with Yanks who come here and esp like to bad mouth most things Colombian incl and often esp Colombian women etc.
Hey Im from Colombia, just to let you guys know Cuajada is an ingredient which we use in desert with melado, queso Costeño we use it in Buñuelos a Christmas appetizer and for topping like you would use feta cheese.
And yes some parts of Colombia the hot chocolate is eaten with diced queso fresco or queso pera and we dipped in toasted bread,
Hey Natalia, yeah we tried to mention this under the “In Defense of Colombian Cheeses” section. Thanks for elaborating!
I’m trying to make Pandebonos, and the recipes I’m finding are calling for queso fresco and feta cheese. Could you please tell me what kind of cheese I’m actually supposed to buy?
Mmmm pandebonos. We have no better idea than you do on what cheeses to use, sorry. Maybe Natalia will be able to help you…
I live in California. I use cotija with a little feta. The taste isn’t exactly the same as in Colombia, but still very good
If you are in Colombia and trying to make pandebonos I think you should go with either queso doble crema which is better or close to queso pera in texture or even queso costeño also known as queso salado (try to find the least salty one) the drier the cheese the better because if your pan de Bono gets too moist it will tend to harden up once their cool down. While Im in California I used string cheese and my pandebonos were hard, next time I will use oaxaca cheese and see what happens.
The most similar cheese to costeño is feta cheese. You can use mozzarella or feta and it work pretty well.
Very interesting reads, this one and the aguardiente taste tests. However, coming from Vermont (one of the cheese Mecca’s of the US) I can say Colombians have absolutely NO idea what good cheese is and how many different styles of cheese exist in the world. Comparing these brands in the test is like comparing different leaves of the same tree. Good cheese is perhaps one of the only things I miss from my home. I love the food here but damn all this weird cheese curd. With all these cows, you would think the cheese would be amazing and diverse.
I could easily tell you if a cheddar is 1, 2, or 3 years aged, just by the flavor. Until Colombians try a room-temp, 2 year old, cave aged, clothbound cheddar, they will never truly know the meaning of cheese!
Thanks Derek. I feel your pain. I believe there’s a solid cheesemaker in El Retiro. Estanta if memory serves me right. Might be worth a visit. Speaking of visit, sounds like Kim and I need to head to Vermont when you’re back there for a real cheese taste test!
Hi, What do you folks think about the Americanized brands, such as Tropical, El Viajero,Rio Grande, and Cacique ? Am a “gringa” Hispanic foods (all kinds) lover stuck in Virginia, and there aren’t many Hispanic groceries here, much less ones that are specific to a given nationality.I do however know how to make homemade arepas ( taught to me by the Colombian national wife of a friend). Is the cheese stuffed inside the arepa. or placed on top ? If you view my question as naive, perhaps it is, but try to be nice, okay ? : )
Hi Lynn. Kim and I aren’t familiar with those brands because maybe the don’t make it to the West Coast of Canada, where we’re from. I’d suggest doing your own blind taste test to figure out which satisfies your own palate!
As for arepas, it depends on the country. Colombia generally does cheese on top. Venezuela inside. Every country’s got their own style.
Thanks for the comment and good questions. Provecho!
Oh, and thank-you !
If you want to experience good eating cheese in Colombia you need to visit some of the queserias (cheeseries) direct. For example there is a small artisan queseria south east of Medellin called Estana, which produces world class cheddar, emmental, blue, brie and camembert. I believe they have a website. Well worth finding.
Hey Stephen. I actually mentioned you guys in a previous comment as I’d already heard good things about your products. We didn’t mention you in this post because it’s about traditionally Colombian cheeses, not all cheeses (like brie and cheddar) made in Colombia. Keep up the good work providing tasty cheese to the people!
Obviously, someone in Colombia should buy the book and devote some effort to cheesemaking.
When I lived in Mendoza, Argentina, I noted a number of dairy cows standing around and realized someone should be making cheese. I built a jacketed bucket with an electric heater and thermostat. I produced only fresh cheeses because it disappeared so fast I couldn’t age it.
If you can read, that proves you are smart enough to make cheese.
Congrats on your initiative to get into cheesemaking in Argentina, Slack. Why not come to Colombia and do the same?
Im Colombian and grew up eating cheeses from all over the world and I still adore Colombian cheese specially queso costeño which you guys spoke crap about. Sorry honey but French cheeses are not better.. some are so smelly and repulsive just no. Stick to your weird smelly cheeses and bland af American cheese lol
Haha, fair enough, Isabella. I can see how costeño is an acquired taste just as much as weird smelly cheeses or bland American cheeses. I managed to acquire the taste of black licorice in 30 days, so maybe there’s still hope for those of us with undistinguished palates for Colombian cheeses.
Perhaps you wrote this article with the best of intentions but you come across as arrogant, close-minded, and condescending gringos.
Ok, thanks for the feedback Andrea. You’re right about our intentions!
Colombian cheese (food in general) is maybe the worst I’ve ever tried in my life, sorry “parces”.
Agree… only the Colombian fruits and coffee have exceptional flavor.
I’m not a cheese “connoisseur” as you guys seem to be, but I was wondering about why you didn’t try any Doble Crema? Is easily one of the most popular cheeses in some departments like Bogotá or Boyacá. Maybe it was too much like Pera or maybe it wasn’t available in Antioquia?
I know you already talked about this in your “In Defense” section, but we know that cuajada sucks, I don’t know anyone in their right mind that would eat it alone, but if you have the opportunity to visit Boyacá, try to find Cuajada with Dulce de Mora, it’s really delicious.
Also, something I forgot to add, if you visit Boyacá try Queso Siete Cueros and Queso Paipa! Siete Cueros is easily the best cheese I’ve tasted in Colombia. Cheers.
Thanks for your helpful comments and cheese recommendations, Juan. Not including doble crema was a big mistake on our part. I don’t know why or how we missed it. Alas.
Do not mess with my Colombian cheeses!! I am here to offer my passionate opinion ð
I really really like cheese! I lived in Colombia until age 13 and have lived in the US for the remaining 21 years of my life… and yet, there is nothing I miss more than the fresh quesito and the cuajada (I like queso too, but mainly fresh quesito and cuajada, the more bland, soft, fresh, and less salt, the better).
Now, I am a self-proclaim cheese connoisseur, so I know what I’m talking about. I have extensive experience eating cheeses and cooking with them in soups, salads, and chicken: goat cheese, brie, manchego, parmesan, fresh mozzarella, gouda, swiss, provolone, feta, and many many many more. If it is a cheese chances are I probably have tried it at least once.
The thing with eating some other cheeses, like aged cheeses, is that they are meant to be eaten in a very different way than Colombian cheeses. I would not serve a table of 18 different Colombian cheeses like you guys did, but I sure can sit down and eat a few slices of cuajada and quesito on their own and feel like I won the lotto, and enjoy them even more than a deliciously aged European cheese. But, most likely I’m not going to pair them with wine, while chatting with friends, picking at them slowly. It is just a totally different experience. Now, when it comes to eating arepas, well, there is no oponent. I suffer away from Colombia because even at the Latin store the quesito doesn’t taste even close to the Colanta quesito ð my arepas just don’t taste the same here.
And as someone who is half paisa (Medellín from mom’s side) and half costeña (Sincelejo, Cartagena and Barranquilla from dad’s side), all I can say is, paisas know almost nothing about “comida costeña” or food from the Atlantic coast of Colombia. In fact, most Colombians know nothing about “comida costeña”. I have yet to find a single Colombian restaurant here in South Florida that serves any “comida costeña”.
The queso costeño is essential for a mote de queso soup!!! My favorite soup of all times (and yes, I have tried lots of soups too). So please, have more respect for this respectable cheese that only the best of chefs like my grandma (R.I.P.) know how to properly work with.
Hugs from a Colombian!
Wow! You’ve successfully made me want to eat Colombian cheese again. (It has been a few years since this taste test ) If Colanta ever wants to expand to the US, they really ought to consider hiring you. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!
I’m a Colombian living in London. When I first moved to this country I yearned for arepas with cheese for breakfast. I worked at Selfridges’ food hall (one of the best department stores in the world) and I was stationed in the cheese counter. It was an eye opener experience. I didn’t know how many cheese were there to try and the distinct depth of flavours. Comte is prob my fave cheese. Aged cheddars, stiltons, vacherins.
We Colombians need to be more adventurous with cheeses. Every time I’ve been to Colombia, I’m disappointed by the lack of choices.
Dude seriously, thank you on writing about this topic. I’ve been wanting to make my aunts famous pandebono but have no idea where to buy queso cuajado or even know what it resembles to. So far I know that queso cuajado is like fetta or ricotta cheese..
Colombia is NOT a country where the palette is built on cheese country the way Italy and France are. Mexico seems to be one of the few exceptions in Latin America where nearly every traditional dish has some type of cheese involved. This is why the Colombian and many Carribean nations have cheeses with less sodium and they’re DEFINITELY NOT into aging cheeses. Food that sits is food that gets eaten. That being said many Colombian baked products rely on cheese but as you obviously see nobody is making a meal out of pan de bono the way Italians make a meal out pizza or foccacia. I think that’s something Americans don’t quiet understand. Colombian food is very protein centered and the diverse agriculture means fiber is also a big component. It’s just not a carb centered palette. One thing I noticed is that Colombian women tend to be on the taller and have really great hair and skin. So the protein and healthy fats from avocados, fruits and legumes makes sense here.