Queso Seco Nicaraguense: Juan’s Mom’s Cheese

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It was only after he heard her footsteps fade and the bedroom door shut that he dared to open the refrigerator door. He would have to be quick. His mother, who felt uncomfortable eating food someone else cooked in her kitchen, would be out in a matter of minutes to determine how her domain warmed three degrees without her at the helm.

But it might take a while to find what he was looking for. After she saw him looking at the small cream-colored, crumbly, prized block only days before, his mother had moved the cheese. It was very special to her. He heard stories of padded suitcases, decoys, and Nicaraguan and American customs agencies and suspected they had at something to do with the cheese.

Eleven minutes, a carton of spilled milk, and several quickened heart palpitations later, he found what he was seeking. From it he cut a thick slice the size of a card deck, wrapped it in a baggie, and ran to his car.

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It was my birthday and Juan was supplying the Queso Seco Nicaraguense.

Pressed, and of a firmer consistency and tighter grain than feta, Queso Seco Nicaraguense is as hard to find in the United States as a non-hybrid SUV in Berkeley.

Unlike brie or mozzerella, Nicaragua’s version of queso seco is not meant to be eaten sliced and fresh. Lightly smoked and very salty, this cheese was created with the intention of flavoring beans, rice, and meats in a country where cheese used to cost less than salt.

If, after hearing Queso Seco Nicaraguense, you guessed its name to mean dry Nicaraguan cheese, very good.  But there’s more. The specific cheese that Juan’s mother worked hard to acquire comes from one particular region within Nicaragua known for their queso seco. Like Parmesan Reggiano, the cheese is named after that region. But Juan and I don’t know its name because his mother is keeping it a secret, perhaps in jest, perhaps in the name of revenge for Juan stealing a slim slice.

What do you do with it?

It’s a tasty little cheese but is more appropriate for cooking and crumbling than slicing, although eating a sliver or two of it fresh did make my tummy feel warm inside.

In Juan’s mom’s kitchen:

After cooking beans, she’ll crumble the cheese over the legumes and rice. Then she’ll hide it with love.

Elsewhere in Nicaragua:

Unbeknowst to a former roomate and myself, sometimes this cheese is included as a filling in flaky cookies. Surprise! It makes a smoky, salty pastry similar to… nothing I’ve ever tried before. A little more like a cheese pastry or savory cheese biscuit than cookie.

In my kitchen:

I cooked up a stash of wheat berries that had been sitting in my baking cupboard for a month or five, steamed some green beans and tossed it all with argula, basil and queso seco.

In honor of the cheese’s original intention as a savory flavoring, my especially thin wallet and a ridiculously expensive Parmesean Reggiano wedge that was taunting me with its price at my local cheese shop, I made an impromptu pesto with this salty savory beauty on another day. It made a rustic, nutty pesto that topped spinach noodles nicely.

Has anyone ever tried this cheese? What do you do with it, besides sneak it in cookies? And…do any cheese lovers know its proper name?

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17 thoughts on “Queso Seco Nicaraguense: Juan’s Mom’s Cheese

  1. tom

    ive had queso seco in nicaragua as well, its really good. i like it with gallo pinto (basically beans and rice) but the best way to have it is fried until its just a little melty on the outside. ive never heard it called anything but queso or queso seco in nicaragua, but it must have some name. good luck!

    Reply
  2. Harold

    I’m from Nicaragua livin in Belgium and I can tell you that the name is and always has been Queso Seco :p
    I like to eat it with tortillas and gallopinto.
    Even better is with fried ripe plantains. It just brings water to my mouth…
    Does anybody know the recipe? It’s as hard to find over here as a lion riding a bycicle.

    Reply
  3. Ana

    I realize this thread is pretty old, but I just came across it. There are several kinds of queso seco in Nicaragua and I tend to confuse the names, but if you go by taste, it’s easier to tell. I do think the one you are referring to is queso seco chontaleño, from the state of Chontales, although the majority of cheeses and dairy products come from there. There’s also queso seco ahumado, which, if I’m not mistaken, is hard as a rock!

    How do we eat it . . . we accompany food with it, but not just any foods, mostly comfort and informal dishes, like gallo pinto, beans, tortillas, fried plantains (both kinds), as ingredients (usually grated) in more elaborate dishes and of course, a lot of our pastries and baked goods have cheese and corn as major ingredients.

    Reply
  4. Campeador

    Kudos to Anna for her knowledge of Nicaraguan cheeses. As to their scarcity in the U.S., it’s all relative. If you lived in or near Miami (Fla., not Ohio), this cheese would be as ubiquitous as drunk college students at Mardi Gras. Many ‘groceritos’ (small latin food shops) carry it, though you must be careful not to buy similarly-looking Salvadoran and Honduran cheeses, which leave much to be desired vis-a-vis the Nicaraguan stuff. Hint: If the distributor is based in Miami, it will likely be Nicaraguan. You might also look for the Nicaraguan flag on the package,which some cheeses display. Good luck!

    Reply
  5. Downtown Foodie of Richmond

    I loveeee this cheese in the stuffed plantains they sell here in Miami. For the longest time, I was wondering if they were frying the plantains in lard because the cheese was so smoky. When I finally slowed down to taste the cheese alone, I tasted that it was the cheese imparting that wonderful smokiness!!

    Queso seco is the only name I’ve ever heard used to refer to it. That is the actual name. Anywho, it is used for both sweet and savory dishes. It is used with sugar to fill a triangular sweet bread called picos, it’s used to make the plantains I mentioned, called maduros in gloria, which are ripe plantains with cinnamon, sugar, and queso seco. The most delicious sweet/savory combo! You also use queso seco in indio viejo, which is a creamy beef dish with a sauce that has a base of white corn flour and queso seco. There is also a sopa de queso or cheese soup made with queso seco. In short, it has tons of uses in Nicaraguan cuisine, as you can see, lol.

    Really cool blog, by the way. I just happened upon it looking up Nicaraguan recipes. If you come to Miami, you have to check out some Nicaraguan food to see for yourself how queso seco is used. I recommend tortilleria carne asada (10404 W Flagler St
    Miami, FL 33174). You can see the food cafeteria style yet it’s always fresh and delish with tons of different options.

    Reply
  6. Sheila

    Hi everyone, i’m from Nicaragua but i live in france and let me tell u guys, that i really miss my chease, i tried to find it here, but obviously it’s imposible, the recepy that my mother used to made was mixing the gallopinto while she was cooking it with the chease it was so delicious, U also can use even for pastas, fried it’s really good too with fritanga that basically consist on grilled meat, cabbage and gallopinto. There is also the famous chease soup :) my favorite ever.

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  7. armando gomez

    Hey every one ,please stop wishing I sell queso seco from nicaragua and we sell this cheese all over the states, hispanic areas , queso ahumado , crema sula de honduras , duro blando de salvador, cuajada etc
    Ourfriend in france sorry dear,,, I see you went you get to the state You can buy queso seco en california , houston and Dalllas San Antonio , New O , Atlanta , N and S corolina Maryland , west Virginia NJ and NY , Denver Oklahoma city
    All you got to do is look
    Our brother the mexican are buying this product as queso viejo
    the cheese is sold bulk and every one put on their on private label and you may find” want to be queso seco” on the market , so you need to know what the product looks and smell like before spending your money
    please eat more cheese , bussines is slow !!!! lol
    take care everyone

    Reply
  8. Maria

    You guys have no idea how much this thread helped me! I am attempting to make Soupa De Queso (Nicaraguan style, as my husband is Nica 100%) I found an awesome video on youtube but once the cook said the name of the cheese i was stuck. i know there are more than just one type of Queso Seco, and i wasnt able to make out what he said! Well, Anna, with her awesome Nica Cheese knowledge helped me out! Soupa De Queso is my husbands favorite dish! I hope it comes out right. We live right here in Miami, FL and there are 100’s of Nicaraguan bodegas everywhere!!!
    Even our Publix (major supermarket) sells Nica cheeses!

    Reply
  9. Tatiana

    The cookies you are referring to are calling Rosquillas and they are far from what you have described. Rosquillas exemplify the taste of queso seco but add the needed accompaniment of a sort of condensed brown sugar. They are flaky, with a sweet/smokey favor that makes them one of the best ways to eat queso seco. Besides that, queso seco fits in just about every Nicaraguan dish. From nacatamales to gallopinto, queso seco add the best slice of needed smokey and salty favor to eat bite.

    Reply
  10. dennis dino tlachac

    Is it the same as caso blanc? We had it for many meals with red beans and rice. Sliced thin 1/2 inch on the side and fried. But some very fancy restaurants serve it warm with live fly maggots in it ;( but that is local taste.

    Reply

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