Monday, February 28, 2011

Chilean Cheese

It is difficult to start a post about Chilean cheese without invoking the old saw about France having one religion and 100 kinds of Cheese while England has 100 religions and only one kind of cheese… but I will restrain myself.  Chile has four major kinds of cheese:  queso mantecoso or Chanco, buttery cheese; queso fresco or quesillo, farmers’ cheese; queso de cabra, goat milk cheese; and “gauda” an industrial cheese that usually comes sliced.  (...and one religion.)

Quesillo and queso mantecoso.

Queso Chanco

The cheese from Chanco is exported along the entire coast and is preferred by aficionados for its excellent taste.  It is very buttery and always sells for a higher price than the rest. In the countryside they are content to get a little dry rennet from a cow’s innards and dissolve it in water and this is used to coagulate the milk. The curd is placed in a wooden mold and is well pressed to squeeze out the whey, and then salt is added and it is pressed for another day and then left to dry.  Claudio Gay 1860s[1]

Queso Chanco, now a generic term interchangeable with Chilean queso mantecoso (“buttery cheese”) produced anywhere in Chile, continues to be preferred by aficionados. It is an excellent cheese, mild tasting, soft but firm enough to slice.  And it melts beautifully.  It is similar to American supermarket Munster in texture and to some degree, in taste.

Queso mantecoso is produced by cheese makers of all levels, from fully industrialized processors like COLÚN and Soprole, that together produce almost 60% of Chilean cheese (other than farmers’ cheese)[2]; to authorized gourmet artisanal producers like Puile, producer of 5,800 kg of cheese a year;[3] to small farmers who make a few kg. a week from the raw milk of their own cows using traditional methods like those Gay recorded in the 1860s.

The chanco cheese most Chileans buy is, of course, from the industrial processors whose cheese is sold in supermarkets.  Supermarket queso mantecoso sells from around 4,000 to 6,000 Chilean pesos a kilo ($3.75 to 5.75/lb.) and on any given day, one brand may be more and another less expensive.  If you prefer your cheese to be a little sharper—although none will be very sharp—choose the least expensive:  it is likely to be older and nearer its expiration date.[4]

In a 2005 blind tasting of these cheeses three judges from the Circle of Chilean Food Writers (Círculo de Cronistas Gastronómicos de Chile) considered “aroma, glossy appearance, presence of abundant eyes [holes] and of course, intense and complex taste in the mouth: salty, slightly acid, also sweet, and hopefully, the characteristic taste of herbs that good milk has.  And soft texture, very soft.”  The best “attack the nose with a delicious buttery elegance; melt in the mouth with sweet, acid and intense tastes of milk and of the country.  Unfortunately all are industrial cheeses…, but some are very good; really notable.”[5]

Farm cheese vendor, Temuco market

To my taste the farm cheeses are better, but perhaps that’s just from knowing that they are made by farmers rather than corporations.  When we go to the Chilean lakes district I by cheese from small merchants in Pucón or Temuco, or from the ladies selling cheese along side their eggs and produce on the street corners. Some are flavored with merkin, smoked chilies ground with colander, or with oregano.  There is a certain risk involved; these cheeses are made from raw milk under hygienic conditions that leave much to be desired, but it’s a risk that I’m willing to take.  They are really good cheeses (but see below “Safety and artisanal farm cheese”). 

Quesillo or queso fresco – Farmer’s Cheese

Quesillo is a simple fresh cheese made from cow’s milk (from full fat to skim), rennet and a little salt.   It is silky smooth, just firm enough to slice or cut into cubes, and with a clean, fresh, mildly acidic taste, similar to cottage cheese, but much better since it has much less salt, and no preservatives, flavorings, sugars, gums, colorants, etc. (Cottage cheese has a bunch.[6])  We eat it at breakfast, as an appetizer, in salads (especially layered with slices of tomato and basil leaves), on sandwiches, and in place of ricotta in lasagna and similar dishes.

 It is widely available in supermarkets (67% made by Soprole) but can also be made at home.  Chilean-American blogger Pilar has an illustrated recipe for Quesillo Chileno.  

Queso de Cabra – Goat milk cheese
Photo: Ellen Nas
Chilean goat milk cheese is made by nationally known industrial producers like Quillayes, by gourmet artisanal producers like Quesos Arturito, and by hundreds (thousands?) of small family producers.  The industrial and gourmet artisanal varieties are usually semi hard.  Quillayes describes theirs as having “smooth texture and intense aromatic flavor.”  They are similar to feta (which is very difficult to find in Chile) and make a good substitute for it.

Chilean farm goat milk cheese is a semi soft cheese, with low acidity and mild flavor.  It is usually made by family producers from the Santiago area north into the norte chico, from the unpasteurized milk of their own goats.  Following an outbreak of food poising in Santiago in 1990, public health regulations were imposed on cheese production. As explained by American anthropologist William Alexander: 

The law requires that all sites of cheese production have potable water, hygienic services for workers, sterilized equipment, special corrals with concrete floors or milking rooms where goats are milked one at a time on platforms away from animal feces, and clean rooms where cheese is pressed and set out to mature. Families who have been making and selling this product for generations milk their animals in their corrals, press the cheese into hoops by hand in their kitchens, and leave it on shelves in cool, dry rooms in their houses, most of which have neither running water or electricity.[7]
Several cooperative cheese factories, meeting these regulations, have been set up in the norte chico, but most farm goat cheese producers continue to make cheese under traditional (unhygienic) conditions. Alexander says that cheese vendors on the roadsides of the Pan-American highwayRuta 5 (and presumably other public locations) are inspected regularly and sell only cheese from registered makers, but a great percentage of farm goat cheese is made by unregistered producers. 

In the Santiago area goat cheese is available from artisanal producers in the cajon del maypo in the mountains south east of the city. It is delicious cheese, usually only a day or two old, thought the flavor improves with a week or so in the refrigerator. 

Photos: Ellen Nas 


Safety and artisanal farm cheese

Although the artisanal farm cheese makers I have met seem careful about cleanliness, their cheese is produced under potentially unhygienic conditions, and there is some risk in eating it.  

The most serious risk is brucellosis, a chronic disease which may persist for life, but which is rare in Chile, with frequencies similar to those of the United States (Chile has .06 cases per million population; the US .04/million[8].) Less serious food borne illness, with symptoms like intestinal flu, usually lasting a few hours to several days, may be caused by wide variety of bacteria that may contaminate cheese.[9]

Chilean studies of artisanal farm goat milk cheese making in the late 1980s found:
…serious sanitary defects in all the cheese making process, although the major contamination occurred during milking, followed by the process of cutting the curd and filling the moulds in which there is excessive manipulation and a complete lack of hygiene. While no Brucella melitensisI bacteria were found in the goat milk, the food poisoning associated with cheese consumption is attributed to a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureusI and the significant load of fecal coliform bacteria encountered. [10]
Your perception of the risk-benefit ratio of farm artisanal cheese may be different from mine (and should be, if you are very young, very old, have reduced immunities, or really hate the likely symptoms), but we buy and enjoy farm goat cheese a few times a year and have been lucky: no illness.  Alexander writes: 
In the countryside, everyone eats it. In the city, those coming from a rural background or with family in the country were often enthusiastic about its cheese. This enthusiasm sometimes seemed like a badge of honor showing their support for the crianceros [goat herders] in the controversy [over the regulations]. Others who identify themselves as urbanized and "modern" may only buy the factory variety of handcrafted cheese sold in the supermarket. (For my firmly middle-class 80-year-old landlady in the city the cheese I brought in from the countryside was a guilty pleasure. She believed the risks as reported in the media, but could not resist eating it from time to time and she found my interest in it to be amusing.)[11] 
Gauda or gouda type cheese, Chile’s most popular

Chilean gauda is an industrial cheese, usually sold sliced in supermarkets or in large blocks to restaurants or food processors. It is the cheese of sandwiches, fast food, frozen pizza, mass produced empanadas, etc., filling the role that processed “American cheese” does in the USA. Gauda comprised 70% of the cheese sold in Chile in 2004.  At that time Chile’s annual per capita cheese consumption was about 4 kg., compared to over 14 kg. in the US,[12] but consumption is rising in both countries, as cheese is a major ingredient in fast food; cheeseburgers and the like.

According to a Chilean urban myth, it is made of potatoes, but an expert on the Chilean cheese industry explained that “what happens is that gouda is an acid cheese, with a lot of humidity, and this texture feels like that of potato starch, but it really isn’t.”[13]

I think that means that gauda isn't made from potatoes; it just tastes like it might be. It's not terrible, and it's real cheese with no added ingredients, not processed cheese, "cheese product," or "cheese food" like some American counterparts.   But its similarity to gouda from the Netherlands is very remote.  

Other Cheese in Chile

In addition to these cheeses, there is hard cheese sold as queso parmesano and queso reggianito, grated and in pieces: the reggianito is pretty good.  There is also Chilean industrial cheese sold as Edam, gruyere, “tipo roquefort,” camembert, brie, provoleta, etc.; as well as gourmet artisanal cow, goat, and sheep milk cheese.  And there are imported cheeses from the US and the EU, as well as from Argentina and Brazil. Still, some cheeses are difficult to find, especially sharp cheeses which are not generally to Chilean tastes: feta, sharp cheddar, etc. (2014 Update: Sheep milk feta from Quesos Boladero is available at Sabores del Sur, Pres. Battle y Ordoñez 3635, Ñuñoa, Santiago.)

A few specialty cheese shops in Santiago are said to have good variety and quality.  Quesería Huelmo is a traditional shop located at Jaime Guzmán #3090, Providencia, Santiago that has an excellent reputation.  When an interviewer asked if the owner, Yolanda Gallardo, was interested in transforming her business into a “gourmet store,” she answered:  “I don’t have anything against those stores, they are very pretty and everything, but we are a more of a neighborhood store that for all its life has worked with artisanal products.” [14]

Another store with a good selection is El Mundo de Quesos, at Nueva de Lyon 36, Local 21, Providencia, Santiago.

And for sharp cheese it is worth asking the cheese vendors in La Vega if they have any queso añejo, "aged cheese." It may be a cheese that was too sharp to sell to their regular customers and has been waiting for a discerning buyer like you.



[1] Gay, Claudio. 1862-1865.  Agricultura, Tomo 1. París: En casa del autor; Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago, p. 442. On line at
[2] Situación del Mercado de queso en Chile. Leche y lácteos. Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias.  On line at;jsessionid=F9C194B0BDF9ACF5130E0F4A2C6C3ADC?idcla=2&idcat=7&idclase=99&idn=1670&volver=1
[3] Lorca, Elisa Barría. (Nov. 17) 200. Quesos Puile: sabor y tradición campesina en San José de la Mariquina.  Portal INDAP. On line at
[4] Merino, Augusto. 2008. Los quesos chilenos. Revista Vinos & mas.  On line at Cículo de Cronistas Gastronómicos,
[5] Fredes, César. Queso mantecoso, los diez mejores de Chile. La Nacion.Cl. August 14, 2005. On line at
The 10 top cheeses in the tasting were: 1. Los Tilos. 2. Pahuilmo. 3. Puerto Octay. 4. Los Monjes. 5. Las Pircas. 6. Cuinco. 7. Los Hornos. 8. Santa Matilde. 9. Don Leo. 10. Las Águilas.[6] Bareman’s Low Fat Cottage Cheese ingredients:  Cultured Fat Free Milk, Buttermilk, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cream, Salt, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavoring, Guar Gum Mono and Diglycerides, Xanthan Gum, Carob Bean Gum, Titanium, Dioxide(artificial color), Maltodextrin, Cultured dextrose, Postassium Sorbate, Calcium Chloride, Enzymes.  On line at Some Chilean quesillo has gelatin added; avoid it.
[7] Alexander, William L.  2004. Clandestine Artisans or Integrated Producers?: Standardization of Rural Livelihood in the Norte Chico, Chile. CULTURE & AGRICULTURE 26(1-2-March):38–51.
[8]Pappas, Georgias, et. al. 2006. The new global map of human brucellosis. Lancet Infect Dis 6: 91–99.  On line at
[9] About food poisoning. Virgina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. On line at
[10] Camacho, Lavinia & Cecilia Sierra. 1988.  Diagnostico sanitarion y technologio del proceso artisanal del queso fresco de cabra en Chile. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutricion. 38(4):935-945.
[11] Alexander, op. cit.
[12] El Mercado de los Lácteos in EE.UU. bUSiness Chile. On line at

[13] CNN Quesos: "En Chile hay mucha variedad y hay que experimentarla" Santiago,  June 2010. On line at

[15] Schmidt-Hebbel, H, I Pennacchiotti MTabla de Composición Química de Alimentos Chilenos, , Facultad de Ciencias Químicas y Farmacéuticas, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, 7th ed 1985* 61 pp. On line at


  1. Jim,
    Que excelente recuento, acá hay quesos excelentes, pero extraño el chanco y el quesillo obviamente.
    Gracias por poner un link a mi receta!
    En mi opinión el queso mas parecido al chanco acá es el Havarti.

  2. Havarti, hummm? No lo conozco, pero parece que el proceso de hacerlo es muy parecido al chanco. Pilar says that the American cheese she finds most similar to queso chanco is Havarti, which is made by a similar process.

  3. Thanks for the very informative report!
    Havarti is a Danish cheese, but readily found in the US (at least in the northeast).
    BTW-Have you ever seen any form of Queso Fresco in the US?

  4. A Mexican style queso fresco is available in the South West and other areas with Mexican populations. It is similar but has more salt and when aged is crumbled over enchiladas, etc.

    1. And--it should have occurred to me earlier--queso fresco and ricotta are virtually identical. Compare Pilar's recipe above with this ricotta recipe:

  5. Thanks for the overview of cheeses. I don't have much opportunity outside Santiago, so will look for those cheese shops in Providencia. For comfort food, queso Mantecoso makes a great grilled cheese or pizza topping.

  6. Thanks CT, glad you found it useful. If there was only one cheese to choose from (not quite our situation, but close) Queso mantecoso wouldn't be a bad choice. It's rich, buttery and melts beautifully. And good luck on your new blog; I look forward to reading it in the future.

    Best wishes

  7. There is one place in Chanco, where you can still get "Queso de Chanco". Just a few blocks off the main plaza, this small producer sells their chanco cheese plain, with oregano, and with marquen. All are delicious, althought the degree of aging varies. The older, the better.
    Another cheese issue to note, is how "machas a la parmesana" in chile have gradually degenerated from their original recipe whereby grated, aged parmesan cheese is sprinkled liberally on the machas before putting them for a couple of minutes in the oven, to a version nowdays in most places where a glob of "queso mantecoso" is plopped down on top of the macha, sometimes without any parmesan cheese at all. Too bad for macha eaters. The old way was so much better.

  8. Dave,

    I've never visited chanco, but it's now on my list.... though I understand it was hit pretty hard by the tsunami. And I'm with you on the machas.

    And if you haven't seen it, click on Dave's name above and take a look at his blog, "Dave's Chile." His relationship with Chile goes back 50 years to his Peace Corps days here, he writes well, and has a deeper understanding of Chile than us newbies.

  9. My Ex used to get this cheese, in New York city, and they are from Chile.... it's was very salty to me at first, but it grew on me, and for the life of me, I cnt remember the name of the cheese.... SOMEONE HELP!!

  10. Most interesting info. I am looking for cottage cheese in Chile - For natural cancer treatment the mix of Cottage Cheese and Flax Oil is highly recommended. For healthy people just a lower amount is said to be excellent as well. Would Quesillo be the one to go for??
    Kindest regards, Manuel

  11. All of these cheese look soooo delicious! I would love to try some, but here in the US I have no idea where to get some.

  12. Good luck, but as far as I know the only Chilean cheeses exported to the US are expensive specialty cheeses. Take a look at

  13. Excellent blog..I was not aware of all these different varieties of cheese,
    before reading this blog.Really,lot of things I learned here.Cheese consider as a protein and calcium rich option for those people who are trying to eat healthful,that consumption rate goes on increasing day by day. Industry Reports

  14. As a Chilean living in USA since 1969 , I have forgotten about the QUESO CHANGO , now de puro picao , I am going to find where I can find a cheese of similar taste and texture.
    Thank you mi guen amigo Gringo.

  15. Jesus , I just wanted to comment that as a Chilean living for over 40+ years , how much I appreciated your article about QUESO CHANGO and never expected to having to jump so many hoops to simply say THANK YOU , as I forgotten about this type of cheese.
    Now , de puro picao , voy intentar de buscar un queso similar al queso chango con mi familia.
    Fortunately , several of your participants , have indicated several types that may fit the bill.
    Best regards.

  16. To me Havarty was the closest thing to Chilean Gauda, until I found Lappi, which is a good substitute for those who crave the Chilean Gouda, add that a toasted baguette , and you have a piece of heaven.

  17. donde puedo encontrar informacion para producir queso de cabra

  18. Google tu pregunta para encontrar muchas recetas, en ingles y espanol, various con videos. Buena suerte.


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim