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 has 100 religions and only one kind of cheese… but I will restrain myself. England 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.) Chile
Quesillo and queso mantecoso.
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
Queso Chanco, now a generic term interchangeable with Chilean queso mantecoso (“buttery cheese”) produced anywhere in
, 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 Chile in texture and to some degree, in taste. Munster
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.
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.”
Farm cheese vendor,
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
, 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”). Temuco
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.) 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. (Click here for a translation.)
Photo Querida Comida
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
) and make a good substitute for it. Chile
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
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.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
Santiago area goat cheese is available from artisanal producers in the cajon 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. del
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 .04/million.) 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. US
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. 
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.)
Gauda or gouda type cheese,
’s most popular Chile
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, 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
is an acid cheese, with a lot of humidity, and this texture feels like that of potato starch, but it really isn’t.” gouda
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 is very remote. Netherlands
Other Cheese in
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
, 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 Edam US and the EU, as well as from Argentina and . Still, some cheeses are difficult to find, especially sharp cheeses which are not generally to Chilean tastes: feta, sharp cheddar, etc. Brazil
A few specialty cheese shops in
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.”  Santiago
Another store with a good selection is El Mundo de Quesos, at Nueva de Lyon 36, Local 21, Providencia,
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.
 Gay, Claudio. 1862-1865. Agricultura, Tomo 1. París: En casa del autor; Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago, p. 442. On line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/documentodetalle.asp?id=MC0002688
 Situación del Mercado de queso en Chile. Leche y lácteos. Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias. On line at http://www.odepa.gob.cl/servlet/articulos.ServletMostrarDetalle;jsessionid=F9C194B0BDF9ACF5130E0F4A2C6C3ADC?idcla=2&idcat=7&idclase=99&idn=1670&volver=1
 Lorca, Elisa Barría. (Nov. 17) 200. Quesos Puile: sabor y tradición campesina en San José de la Mariquina. Portal INDAP. On line at http://www.indap.gob.cl/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=413
 Merino, Augusto. 2008. Los quesos chilenos. Revista Vinos & mas. On line at Cículo de Cronistas Gastronómicos, http://www.cronistas.cl/articulo134_Los_quesos.html
 Fredes, César. Queso mantecoso, los diez mejores de Chile. La Nacion.Cl. August 14, 2005. On line at http://www.lanacion.cl/prontus_noticias/site/artic/20050813/pags/20050813172554.html
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. 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 http://baremandairy.com/lowfatcottagecheese.pdf. Some Chilean quesillo has gelatin added; avoid it.
 Alexander, William L. 2004. CULTURE & AGRICULTURE 26(1-2-March):38–51.
Pappas, Georgias, et. al. 2006. The new global map of human brucellosis. Lancet Infect Dis 6: 91–99. On line at http://agronica.udea.edu.co/talleres/Medicina/Prof%20Nicolas%20%20Ram%C3%ADrez/reyes/The_new_global_map_of_human_brucellosis_.pdf
 About food poisoning. Virgina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. On line at http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/foodsafety/poisoning.shtml
 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.
 Alexander, op. cit.
 El Mercado de los Lácteos in EE.UU. bUSiness Chile. On line at http://www.businesschile.cl/imprimir.php?w=old&lan=es&id=237
 CNN Quesos: "En Chile hay mucha variedad y hay que experimentarla" Santiago, June 2010. On line at http://www.cnnchile.com/economia/2010/06/20/quesos-en-chile-hay-mucha-variedad-y-hay-que-experimentarla/
 La picada de quesos y cecinas artesanales en pleno Providencia. Las Ultimas Noticias On line at http://www.lun.com/lunmobile/Pages/NewsDetailMobile.aspx?dt=2010-06-21&BodyId=0&PaginaID=6&NewsID=9784&Name=I3&PagNum=0&Return=R&SupplementId=3
 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 http://mazinger.sisib.uchile.cl/repositorio/lb/ciencias_quimicas_y_farmaceuticas/schmidth03/parte02/tabla%20cont.1.html