What is Oaxaca Cheese?

Oaxaca cheese, pronounced "wah-HA-kah", is a white, semi-soft cow's milk cheese that originated from the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. It has a mild, buttery flavor similar to mozzarella or young Monterey Jack, with a bit of saltiness and a texture that stretches when melted.

What is Oaxaca Cheese

Oaxaca goes by many names like queso Oaxaca, quesillo, Mexican mozzarella, Oaxacan-style string cheese, or rope cheese. It gets its stretchy texture from being part of the pasta filata (spun paste) family of cheeses, which also includes mozzarella.

How Oaxaca Cheese is Made

The pasta filata cheesemaking process used to produce Oaxaca cheese likely came from Italy to Mexico with the Dominican friars who settled in Oaxaca. Since water buffalo milk was not available, the technique was adapted to use more accessible cow's milk.

To make Oaxaca cheese:

  • Pasteurized cow's milk is curdled by adding rennet.
  • The curds separate from the whey and are immersed in hot whey or water to become elastic.
  • The soft curds are then stretched and kneaded into long thin ribbons.
  • The ribbons are cooled in salted water then cut into rope-like pieces.
  • Finally, the rope-like pieces are gently braided or wound into balls resembling yarn.

This unique production method gives Oaxaca cheese its distinctive presentation and texture.

Key Takeaway: Oaxaca cheese is made using the pasta filata process of kneading and stretching cow's milk curds into long ribbons then winding them into balls.

Where Oaxaca Cheese Comes From

As its name suggests, Oaxaca cheese originated in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, where most of it is still produced today.

While initially made only in Mexico, Oaxaca cheese is now also produced by some dairy farms and cheesemakers in the United States using the traditional production process.

Uses in Mexican Cuisine

The mild flavor and incredible stretchiness of Oaxaca cheese has made it popular for melting. It is a key ingredient in many iconic Mexican dishes:

  • Quesadillas
  • Tacos
  • Chile rellenos
  • Enchiladas
  • Nachos
  • Empanadas
  • Queso fundido (melted cheese dip)

Oaxaca also works well raw in dishes like:

  • Tostadas
  • Molletes (bread rolls)
  • Tlayudas (large tortillas)
  • Refried beans

Because it is so kid-friendly, Oaxaca is often used as a snacking cheese as well.

QuesadillasGrilled tortillas stuffed with cheese
Chile rellenosRoasted chile peppers stuffed with cheese
NachosTortilla chips topped with cheese
EnchiladasCorn tortillas rolled around filling and covered in sauce
Queso fundidoMelted cheese dip, often with chorizo

Where to Buy Oaxaca Cheese

In the past, Oaxaca cheese was only found in Mexico, but its popularity has spread internationally. Here are some places you can buy it:

  • Mexican markets or tiendas often stock fresh Oaxaca cheese
  • Major grocery store chains may carry it in the specialty cheese section
  • Online retailers specializing in Mexican ingredients
  • Direct from U.S. dairy farms now producing this cheese

Brands like Cacique and El Mexicano are common. You can buy Oaxaca cheese in balls, ropes, or pre-shredded.

If no authentic Oaxaca is available, asadero, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or string cheese can work as substitutes in recipes requiring melted cheese.

How to Eat Oaxaca Cheese

Oaxaca cheese is extremely versatile. Here are some serving ideas:

  • Melted in quesadillas or tacos for incredible stretchiness
  • Stuffed into poblano peppers for chiles rellenos
  • Topping enchiladas in place of other Mexican cheeses
  • Drizzled over refried beans
  • In cheese dips and spreads, especially queso fundido
  • Snacked on fresh as string cheese

Oaxaca also makes a great melty cheese for pizzas, sandwiches, baked pastas, omelets, and more. Try getting creative with this uniquely textured Mexican cheese!

Key Takeaway: Known as the "mozzarella of Mexico", Oaxaca cheese shines when melted but also has many applications eaten fresh. Its mild flavor pairs well with the complex spices of Mexican cuisine.

Here are two delicious ways to enjoy melty, gooey Oaxaca cheese at home:

Easy Oaxacan Cheese Crisps (Chilaquiles)


  • Corn tortilla chips
  • Oaxaca cheese, shredded
  • Salsa verde
  • Sour cream
  • Cilantro (for garnish)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. On a baking sheet, layer tortilla chips, salsa verde, Oaxaca cheese, and dollops of sour cream.
  3. Bake 5-7 minutes until cheese is fully melted.
  4. Top with cilantro and serve immediately. ¡Buen provecho!

Savory Squash Vampiro Tacos

A vegetarian taco with smoky roasted squash inside melty Oaxaca cheese tortillas. Easy to make at home for a fun twist on taco night!


Is Oaxaca cheese salty?

Oaxaca has a subtle saltiness as it's briefly soaked in salted water during production. This helps preserve the cheese without becoming overly salty.

Can you freeze Oaxaca cheese?

Yes, you can freeze Oaxaca cheese to extend its shelf life. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using. The texture may become more crumbly when thawed.

What is the difference between Oaxaca and mozzarella?

While their production method is similar, mozzarella has more springiness and elasticity compared to the creamier, smoother texture of Oaxaca cheese. Oaxaca is also more buttery in flavor vs. mozzarella's clean milky taste.

Can I substitute mozzarella for Oaxaca?

Mozzarella makes an acceptable melty substitute, though the flavor and texture won't be exact. For raw Oaxaca applications, part-skim mozzarella or string cheese are better subs.

How should I store Oaxaca cheese?

Store fresh Oaxaca cheese in its original packaging in the refrigerator. Once opened, rub with a little vegetable oil to prevent drying out and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. It will keep this way for up to a week.


From its origins in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, delectable Oaxaca cheese has won over palates worldwide with its mild creamy flavor and stretchy melted texture.

Made via the pasta filata process, Oaxaca can be formed into balls or ropes which allow you to tear off bite-sized pieces.

In the kitchen, Oaxaca adds its unique smooth and luscious quality to quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos, and many classic Mexican dishes. It also shines on pizzas and sandwiches.

AGAH Productions
AGAH Productions