Creamy like Jack cheese and stringy like mozzarella, Queso Oaxaca is an integral piece of the Mexican cheese puzzle. Also known as Quesillo, this delightful cow’s milk cheese should definitely be part of your cooking arsenal. I’m here to give you the skinny on everything about Oaxaca cheese in this blog post! 

package of cacique brand oaxaca cheese on a wooden cutting board.

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

Oaxaca (pronounced “wah-HAH-kuh”) cheese is named for the state in southwestern Mexico where it was born. It is a semi-soft, fresh, white, cow’s milk cheese that is similar in flavor to mellow Monterrey Jack and has a consistency like string cheese. (In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as “Oaxacan-style string cheese!”)

Mexican woman pulling and stretching ribbons of queso oaxaca.

Also known as quesillo (which roughly translates to “rope cheese”), queso Oaxaca is produced using the Italian pasta filiata method, which was brought to Mexico by the Dominican friars in the early 1500s.

This method of cheesemaking is complicated, involving kneading the fresh curds in hot water, stretching them into long ribbons that are cooled in saltwater, then winding the cheese ribbons into a ball that resembles a skein of yarn. If this all sounds crazy, it shouldn’t: mozzarella is also produced using the pasta filiata method.

While visiting Oaxaca, I loved seeing artisans make queso Oaxaca as well as vendors selling balls of the famous and delicious stringy Oaxaca cheese at the markets.

Mexican man selling balls of queso oaxaca in a market.

How To Use Quesillo Cheese

Since queso Oaxaca grates, slices, and melts like mozzarella, it is an ideal cheese for most baked preparations. Authentic Mexican dishes like quesadillas, queso fundido, chiles rellenos, and enchiladas all rely on the buttery flavor and stretch consistency of this yummy cheese.

While you’ll find lots of Mexican recipes using quesillo on this blog, you can also feel free to swap in Oaxaca cheese in any recipe that calls for melty cheese. It’s delicious in:

Since the flavor of queso Oaxaca is quite mild, it’s also a great cheese for serving kids or picky eaters. It’ll also pull apart like string cheese, making it a particularly satisfying snack.

ball of quesillo cheese that has been partially grated on a wooden cutting board.

Queso Oaxaca Substitutes

While I strongly encourage you to go out and find Oaxaca Cheese, there are several perfectly acceptable substitutes if you just can’t get your hands on it. Try using:

  • Asadero Cheese — If you want to stay in the Mexican cheese family, asadero is probably your best bet. It is mild, melty, and cow’s milk cheese, making it a fine substitute for queso Oaxaca.
  • Mozzarella, Monterey Jack (Unaged), or Muenster — If your grocery store doesn’t have a huge selection of cheeses, you should be able to find at least one of these options.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does queso Oaxaca melt?

It sure does, like a darn melty cheese champ! If you want a super impressive cheese pull for your next Instagram post, Oaxaca cheese is an excellent option.

Where can I buy quesillo cheese?

Balls of queso Oaxaca have become more and more commonplace over time. If you have a well-stocked supermarket, it’s likely that they’ll carry it in their specialty cheese section or Hispanic aisle. Some places also sell it pre-shredded, but try to grab it in whole form if you can; the shreds are coated with a powder to keep them from sticking together, which inhibits the delightful melting power of quesillo. You can also purchase Queso Oaxaca on Amazon.

Is Oaxaca cheese okay to eat when you’re pregnant?

So long as the milk has been pasteurized, I’d personally feel fine about eating quesillo while pregnant. That said, the CDC recommends women avoid any soft cheeses during pregnancy, and since quesillo is a semi-soft cheese, you may wish to wait until after baby arrives.

Recipes Using Oaxaca Cheese

Did you find this post on Oaxaca Cheese useful? Or do you have any more questions about it? If so, let me know in the comments below!

Photos by Jenna Sparks