Oaxaca Cheese vs. Monterey Jack Cheese

Oaxaca cheese and Monterey Jack cheese are two popular Mexican-style cheeses. While they share some similarities, there are also some key differences between these two cheeses that impact their flavor, texture, and best uses.

Oaxaca Cheese vs. Monterey Jack Cheese

Oaxaca cheese, also known as queso Oaxaca, originated in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is a white, stringy cheese that melts easily.

Monterey Jack cheese was first made in Monterey, California by Mexican Franciscan friars. It is a semi-soft white cheese with a mild flavor.

Production Methods

Oaxaca and Monterey Jack cheese are both made using the pasta filata method, meaning the curds are stretched and kneaded to develop stringy texture. However, Oaxaca cheese uses a more extensive stretching process.

The curds for Oaxaca cheese are submerged in hot water and kneaded into long ribbons that are wound into a ball. Monterey Jack curds are briefly stretched by hand into small chunks.

This extra stretching gives Oaxaca cheese more strings and a bouncier, mozzarella-like consistency. Monterey Jack has a softer, more crumbly texture.


Oaxaca and Monterey Jack have similar mild, creamy flavors. However, there are some subtle differences:

  • Oaxaca cheese is slightly tangier and more buttery.
  • Monterey Jack cheese has a hint of nuttiness.
  • Oaxaca cheese tends to taste fresher, while Monterey Jack's flavor intensifies with age.
  • Monterey Jack can range from mild to very sharp depending on age. Oaxaca cheese is always mildly flavored.

So in terms of taste, Oaxaca offers bright, clean flavor, while Monterey Jack is more adaptable based on aging time.


The textures of Oaxaca and Monterey Jack cheese vary:

  • Oaxaca - Stringy and elastic, similar to mozzarella. It has a smooth, pliable consistency.
  • Monterey Jack - Softer and more crumbly. When melted, it becomes creamy rather than stringy.

Oaxaca's strings allow it to melt into long, stretchy pieces. Monterey Jack melts into a thicker, more flowing sauce.

Melting Ability

Both Oaxaca and Monterey Jack cheese are considered excellent melting cheeses. However, Oaxaca melts a bit differently:

  • Oaxaca becomes extremely stretchy when melted. It can form long, elastic strings when pulled apart.
  • Monterey Jack melts into a smooth, creamy consistency rather than forming strings.

So Oaxaca is the best choice for achieving that satisfying "pull-apart" effect on dishes like quesadillas, grilled cheese, and pizza. Monterey Jack will melt evenly into dips and sauces.

Best Uses

The different characteristics of Oaxaca and Monterey Jack cheese make them better suited for some dishes more than others:

Oaxaca Cheese

  • Quesadillas, tacos al pastor, burritos - Oaxaca's strings allow it to melt between and around fillings.
  • Chile rellenos - Oaxaca makes an ideal melty filling.
  • Pizza - Oaxaca's stretchiness creates cheese pull.
  • Nachos - Oaxaca stays stringy and tacky when melted, unlike Monterey Jack which can become oily.

Monterey Jack Cheese

  • Enchiladas, chili, baked pastas - Jack melts smoothly into sauces.
  • Grilled cheese, quesadillas - Provides creamy melted texture.
  • Dips and fondues - Jack incorporates well into liquid mixtures.
  • Snacking - Monterey Jack's firm yet crumbly texture makes it an excellent snacking cheese.


Oaxaca and Monterey Jack have similar nutritional values. Both are high in calcium and protein, and lower in fat than many cheeses:

  • 1 oz Oaxaca cheese: 80 calories, 6g fat, 7g protein
  • 1 oz Monterey Jack: 101 calories, 8g fat, 7g protein

So in terms of nutrition profile, there is not a significant difference between the two cheeses.


Oaxaca cheese is often more expensive than Monterey Jack, by $2-4 per pound on average. This is likely because the extensive stretching process required to make Oaxaca cheese increases production costs.

However, at many large chain grocers like Costco, the prices are comparable between Oaxaca and Monterey Jack. Shopping at specialty cheese shops or Mexican markets can result in higher prices for Oaxaca.


While originally from Mexico, Oaxaca cheese is now produced by some US companies as well. So it has become more readily available at mainstream grocery stores. However, Monterey Jack is still easier to find than Oaxaca in most areas.

Specialty cheese shops and Latin markets offer the best selection of Oaxaca cheese. Monterey Jack can be found pretty ubiquitously - any grocery store will carry it.

Key Takeaway: Oaxaca and Monterey Jack have similar origins and nutritional value. But Oaxaca's extra stretchiness gives it better melting properties for dishes like quesadillas.

Taste Test

The best way to appreciate the differences between Oaxaca and Monterey Jack is to do a side-by-side taste comparison. Here are some key differences you may notice:

Unmelted Texture

  • Oaxaca is bouncy, smoother, and more elastic. Monterey Jack is crumbly when cut or shredded.
  • Oaxaca cheese strings cling together. Monterey Jack crumbles apart more easily.
  • Oaxaca has a firmer, denser bite. Monterey Jack is lighter in the mouth.

Flavor When Unmelted

  • Oaxaca has a fresh milk flavor and slight tang. Monterey Jack is nuttier, with a hint of butter.
  • Oaxaca tastes brighter and saltier. Monterey Jack is milder upfront.
  • Aged Monterey Jack can have sharper, more complex flavors. Young Oaxaca stays mild.

Melted Texture

  • Oaxaca cheese gets incredibly stretchy when melted, with elastic strings. Monterey Jack is smooth and creamy.
  • Oaxaca keeps some firmness when melted. Monterey Jack liquefies more.
  • Monterey Jack can become oily when melted. Melted Oaxaca stays tacky.

Flavor When Melted

  • Oaxaca maintains its fresh, tangy flavor when melted. Monterey Jack remains mild but develops nuttiness.
  • Oaxaca's saltiness is pronounced melted. Monterey Jack has well-rounded melted flavors.
  • Sharp Monterey Jack becomes sharper melted. Oaxaca's flavor doesn't intensify.

Key Takeaway: Oaxaca has a tangy, salty flavor and stringy melted texture. Monterey Jack is nutty, mild when melted and gets creamy rather than stringy.


Is Oaxaca cheese the same as mozzarella?

No, Oaxaca and mozzarella are different types of cheese. However, they are both string cheeses made with the pasta filata method. So they have a similar bouncy, elastic texture when melted. But Oaxaca has a more tangy, salty flavor than mild tasting mozzarella.

Can you substitute Monterey Jack for Oaxaca?

Monterey Jack makes an acceptable substitution for Oaxaca cheese in most recipes. However, the texture and melting properties will be different. Monterey Jack doesn't get as stringy or clingy melted as Oaxaca does. For dishes where stretchy melted cheese is important, like quesadillas, Oaxaca is a better choice.

Is Oaxaca the same as queso fresco?

No, Oaxaca and queso fresco are completely different Mexican cheeses. Queso fresco is a soft, crumbly farmer's cheese. It does not melt well. Oaxaca is a semi-soft string cheese that melts smoothly. Aside from both being Mexican cheeses, they have very different characteristics.

What is the most popular Mexican cheese?

The most popular Mexican cheeses are queso fresco, Oaxaca, cotija, and queso quesadilla (asadero). Oaxaca could be considered the most popular Mexican cheese used for melting, since it is a key ingredient in so many traditional dishes like quesadillas, tortas, and gorditas.

Is Oaxaca healthier than Monterey Jack?

Oaxaca and Monterey Jack have very similar nutritional profiles. Oaxaca cheese is slightly lower calorie and fat than Monterey Jack, but only by a small margin. Both cheeses can be considered relatively healthy options as far as cheeses go due to their high calcium content and lower fat compared to many aged cheeses.


While Oaxaca cheese and Monterey Jack share some characteristics, they each have their own distinct flavors, textures, and best uses.

Oaxaca is the king of stretch - great for melting into long, elastic strings. Monterey Jack is more crumbly and melts into a creamy sauce. Oaxaca shines in quesadillas and rellenos. Monterey Jack is perfect for dips and fondues.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!