Quesadillas are a popular Tex-Mex dish that typically consist of a tortilla filled with cheese and other ingredients, then grilled or pan-fried until the cheese melts.
Two cheeses commonly used in quesadillas are quesadilla cheese and mozzarella. But what's the difference between these two cheeses, and which is better for quesadillas?
What is Quesadilla Cheese?
Quesadilla cheese, also known as queso quesadilla, is a cheese that originated in Mexico. It's specifically made for melting and using in quesadillas and other Mexican dishes.
Some key facts about quesadilla cheese:
- It's a semi-soft, mild white cheese that melts smoothly when heated.
- It's made from a blend of milk from cows, goats, or sheep.
- It has a mild, creamy, slightly salty flavor.
- It has a stringy, stretchy texture when melted, similar to mozzarella.
- Common brands include Cacique Quesadilla Cheese and El Mexicano Quesadilla String Cheese.
- It's sold shredded or in blocks. The shredded kind is convenient for quickly making quesadillas.
Quesadilla cheese is the traditional cheese used for quesadillas in Mexico, which is why it's tailored specifically for this dish. The smooth, melty quality makes it easy to get that perfect gooey quesadilla texture.
Key Takeaway: Quesadilla cheese is a mild, melty Mexican cheese specially made for quesadillas. It has a stringy texture when melted.
What is Mozzarella Cheese?
Mozzarella is a classic Italian cheese that originated in the regions of Campania and Lazio. Fresh mozzarella and low-moisture mozzarella are the two main varieties:
- Fresh mozzarella is soft, mild, and has high moisture content. It's made from cow or buffalo milk.
- Low-moisture mozzarella is firmer and drier, with a more pronounced flavor. It's used for shredding and melting.
Some key facts about mozzarella:
- It has a creamy, milky flavor and soft, pillowy texture when fresh.
- Melted mozzarella has an irresistible stretchy, gooey texture.
- It's a primary ingredient on pizza and in Italian dishes like lasagna and caprese salad.
- Popular brands include Galbani and BelGioioso.
- It's sold as balls or bocconcini (small balls), blocks, and shredded bags.
While originally from Italy, today mozzarella is popular worldwide, including in Mexican cuisine. The melty properties that make it perfect for pizza also work well in quesadillas.
Key Takeaway: Mozzarella is a soft, mild Italian cheese known for its melting qualities. It has a creamy flavor and can be stringy when melted.
Quesadilla Cheese vs. Mozzarella: Key Differences
Though they share some similarities, quesadilla cheese and mozzarella have distinct differences:
- Quesadilla cheese originated in Mexico, created especially for quesadillas.
- Mozzarella traces its roots to Italy.
- Quesadilla cheese is extremely mild, with just a hint of saltiness.
- Mozzarella has a slight tang and richness. Fresh mozzarella is milky tasting.
- When melted, quesadilla cheese is stringy and stretchy.
- Melted mozzarella tends to be gooey, with less strings. Fresh mozzarella is soft and moist.
- Quesadilla cheese has excellent melting properties, even when pan-fried.
- Mozzarella also melts smoothly, especially low-moisture varieties. Fresh mozzarella can turn rubbery when melted.
- Quesadilla cheese is moderately priced but can be expensive to find outside of Latin markets.
- Mozzarella is easy to find and one of the more affordable specialty cheeses.
Use in Dishes
- Quesadilla cheese is specially made for quesadillas and Mexican food.
- Mozzarella is prominently used in Italian cooking, especially pizza.
So in summary, quesadilla cheese is milder, more stringy when melted, and traditionally used in quesadillas. Mozzarella offers more complex flavor, gooeyness, and broad usage in Italian cuisine.
Key Takeaway: Quesadilla cheese has a very mild flavor and stringy melted texture. Mozzarella is tangier and gooey when melted, with broad use in Italian cooking.
Quesadilla Cheese vs. Mozzarella: Which is Better?
Whether quesadilla cheese or mozzarella is “better” depends on your preferences and the type of quesadilla you're making.
Benefits of quesadilla cheese:
- More authentic flavor for quesadillas and Mexican food
- Melts smooth with excellent stretchiness
- Specially designed not to weep oil or separate when pan-fried
- Mild taste lets other ingredients shine
Benefits of mozzarella:
- Adds rich, creamy flavor
- Signature gooey melted texture
- More affordable and easier to find
- Varieties like fresh mozz can add moisture
- Familiar flavor for those new to quesadillas
Most restaurants and home cooks in Mexico use quesadilla cheese or other regional Mexican cheeses like asadero or Chihuahua. This gives quesadillas an authentic texture and flavor profile.
However, mozzarella makes a very tasty quesadilla too, as long as you drain excess moisture from fresh mozz. Many restaurants outside of Mexico use mozzarella since it's cheaper, more accessible, and familiar to customers.
If you want true authenticity, quesadilla cheese is the way to go. But both cheeses make delicious quesadillas with their own perks. Mixing the two is also an option to get the best of both worlds!
Key Takeaway: Quesadilla cheese offers an authentic taste and texture, while mozzarella provides a familiar, crowd-pleasing flavor. Using a mix provides balance.
Does mozzarella work well in quesadillas?
Yes, mozzarella melts beautifully in quesadillas! For best results, opt for low-moisture mozzarella and drain any excess liquid from fresh mozzarella first.
What's the difference between Oaxaca cheese and quesadilla cheese?
Oaxaca and quesadilla cheese are very similar - Oaxaca is a Mexican cheese that imitates quesadilla cheese. Most of the time, the two names can be used interchangeably.
Is quesadilla cheese sold at regular grocery stores?
You can find quesadilla cheese at many large supermarkets, especially those with a Latin foods section. Otherwise, check at Mexican markets for the best selection.
Can I substitute mozzarella for quesadilla cheese in a recipe?
Mozzarella makes a fine substitute for quesadilla cheese, though the flavor and texture won't be quite authentic. For best results, use mozz + a little Monterey Jack.
What other cheeses work in quesadillas?
Some other good melty cheeses to try are Monterey Jack, pepper jack, Colby, cheddar, asadero, and Chihuahua. Grated Parmesan can also add tasty complexity.
While quesadilla cheese and mozzarella share some similarities, they are distinct cheeses that each bring something different to quesadillas.
Quesadilla cheese offers a genuinely authentic Mexican taste and texture, while mozzarella provides a tangy creaminess that is familiar to many.
There's no "right" choice - just decide which cheese profile sounds best for your quesadilla creation! Both will melt deliciously between those tortillas.