From the popular cheddar cheese to more traditional cotija cheese, Sarah Bond – food scientist and nutrition expert – is discussing the best cheese for tacos, from simple beef tacos to fun and flavorful street tacos!
When it comes to choosing the best cheese for tacos, it’s a matter of personal preference, and the type of cheese you select can vary depending on the specific type of taco you’re making. Today we are going to look at some popular cheese options that work well with tacos, but don’t be limited to just this list. There is a whole world of cheese types out there.
How many tacos does America eat every year? Scroll to the bottom for the answer!
- 285 Million
- 4.5 Billion
- 31 Billion
- 100 Billion (said with an Austin Power’s accent)
Two Ways to Use Cheese in Your Tacos
As a melted layer: Use your favorite cheese in your flour tortillas to grill or bake. After the tortilla is crispy and the cheese melts, add your other ingredients then fold the tacos. We like this best with cheeses like asadero, cheddar, or Monterey Jack.
Best Cheeses for Tacos
Table of Contents
- Manchego Cheese
- Monterey Jack
- Oaxaca Cheese
- Pepper Jack
- Queso Añejo
- Queso Asadero
- Queso Fresco
Origin: Asadero cheese, also known as Queso Oaxaca, Oaxacan string cheese, or quesillo, originates from the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
Taste: It has a mild, buttery flavor with a hint of tanginess. It’s not as strong as some other cheeses, making it quite versatile for various dishes. The aroma of asadero is typically mild and pleasant, without being overly pungent.
Texture: Asadero cheese has a unique stringy and stretchy texture, similar to mozzarella. When heated, it melts beautifully, making it ideal for tacos, or for that matter quesadillas, enchiladas, and pizzas.
Origin: Cheddar cheese is a cow’s milk cheese that comes from the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England, and is believed to date to the 12th Century. Today it is one of the most popular and widely produced cheeses worldwide and is America’s top-selling cheese constituting 19% of all sales. Cheddar is also one of the most commonly used cheeses on tacos in the USA.
Taste: Cheddar cheese has a rich, sharp flavor and melts beautifully. It adds a nice creaminess to tacos, especially when used with meat fillings. Cheddar cheese can range from mild to sharp, depending on the aging process. Younger cheddars have a creamy and mellow taste, while aged ones have a sharper and more robust flavor. The smell of cheddar cheese can vary, but it is generally a rich and earthy aroma, becoming more pronounced as it ages.
Texture: Cheddar has a firm and crumbly texture, especially when aged. It’s easy to slice and grate, making it perfect as a topping on your tacos. You can buy it pre-grated, or do it yourself very quickly.
Origin, & taste: Chihuahua cheese, or Queso Menonita, is named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It has its roots in the Mennonite community that settled there. Chihuahua cheese has a buttery and slightly tangy flavor, similar to Asadero. It’s a popular melting cheese, which makes it great for dishes like queso fundido and nachos. The aroma of Chihuahua cheese is typically mild and appealing, with no overpowering smells.
Texture: Chihuahua cheese has a semi-soft and pliable texture, making it excellent for melting. It doesn’t stretch as much as Asadero but still adds a creamy and gooey element to tacos you want to have a gooey cheese presence.
Origin: Cotija is a cow’s milk cheese that hails from Mexico and is named after the town of Cotija in Michoacán. It is one of the most commonly used cheeses on tacos in the USA.
Taste & texture: Cotija is an aged, dry, salty, and robust cheese with a crumbly texture often likened to parmesan. It’s known for its sharp and savory taste. Its smell can be quite strong, especially in aged versions that often have a pungent and tangy aroma.
It is typically sprinkled or grated over tacos to add a salty kick. You will also find it used in a variety of other Mexican cuisines like enchiladas, and nachos.
Origin: Crema cheese, also known as Queso Crema or Crema Mexicana, has its origins in Mexico.
Taste: Crema cheese is a creamy, mild, and slightly tangy cheese. It is not as intense as cream cheese but has a pleasant taste. The smell of Crema cheese is not strong and is generally mild and fresh.
Texture: Crema cheese has a soft, spreadable texture similar to cream cheese. This presents unique opportunities for tacos as you can spread it on a hard or soft shell as you might avocado or guacamole.
Origin: Feta cheese originated in the regions around the eastern Mediterranean perhaps as long as 8,000 years ago. It is a white cheese made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk, and stored in brine. Brined cheeses are soaked in saltwater to give them an acidic tangy flavor, and feta cheese has exactly that.
Uses: Now, as to Taco uses, hear us out on this. For the right taco recipe, feta is the perfect option as it crumbles well and its tangy briney flavor goes perfectly with Roasted Cauliflower Street Tacos or Pulled Mushroom Vegetarian Tacos. Neither of these unique taco recipes would work well with cheddar, but feta hits them just right.
Origin: Manchego cheese comes from Spain, specifically from the La Mancha region.
Taste & texture: Manchego cheese is known for its distinctive nutty and buttery flavor with a hint of sweetness. As it ages, it becomes more robust and slightly sharp. The aroma of Manchego cheese is pleasant and may have a slight earthy or grassy note, especially in the younger varieties. Manchego cheese has a firm and compact texture. Younger Manchegos are semi-soft and creamy, while older cheeses become hard and crumbly.
Frugal Tip: You can buy Manchego at Costco as the Kirkland brand comes from Spain aged six months. It is pretty good and at a great price. Whole Foods sells a 12-month-aged variety for a good bit more.
Origin: Monterey Jack is an American pasteurized cow’s milk cheese that originated in California.
Taste: Monterey Jack is a mild and slightly sweet cheese when young. However, it can develop more flavor as it ages. The smell of Monterey Jack is typically mild and subtle, especially in the younger versions.
Texture: When young, Monterey Jack has a smooth and creamy texture. As it matures, it becomes firmer but remains sliceable and melts well with a high melting point. It’s a great option for chicken, fish, or vegetable tacos. Its high melting point means you can’t just put it on the top of your tacos and expect it to melt in. Use Monterey Jack with recipes that call for melting the cheese in with other ingredients, or as we suggested earlier melt it on the tortillas as you pre-cook them.
Don’t use this cheese only for tacos though! It is a great option for quesadillas, chiles rellenos and tamales as well. We like it in two other Mexican-inspired recipes: Enchilada Quinoa Stuffed Peppers and Huevos Rancheros.
Origin: Oaxaca cheese, also known as Quesillo, comes from Mexico, specifically the Oaxaca region (southern Mexico near Guatemala).
Taste: Oaxaca cheese has a delicate, milky flavor with a slightly salty taste. It is not overpowering and pairs well with various dishes. The aroma of Oaxaca cheese is fresh and milky, and it may remind you of other mozzarella-style cheeses.
Texture: Oaxaca cheese has a semi-soft stringy and stretchy texture, similar to mozzarella. It is often used in Mexican cuisine and is excellent for melting in dishes like enchiladas. It’s commonly used in quesadillas and melts wonderfully in tacos too.
Origin: Pepper Jack cheese originated in the United States, particularly in California. It is a derivative of Monterey Jack cheese, with the addition of spicy peppers, usually jalapeños, and sometimes other types of chili peppers.
Taste: Pepper Jack cheese has a creamy and mild flavor similar to Monterey Jack cheese, but with a noticeable kick of heat from the added peppers. The spiciness can vary depending on the brand or producer. The smell of Pepper Jack cheese is typically mild, with a slight aroma of the added peppers.
Texture: Pepper Jack cheese has a semi-soft and slightly crumbly texture. It is easy to slice or grate and melts well. If you want a little heat in your tacos, it is a great choice perhaps with some diced jalapeño peppers mixed in as well.
Origin: Queso añejo originates from Mexico. The name “añejo” translates to “aged” in Spanish, indicating that this cheese is aged longer than most Mexican cheeses.
Taste: Queso añejo has a sharp and tangy flavor profile. As it ages, it becomes harder and its taste intensifies, similar to the taste of aged Parmesan or Romano cheese. The smell of Queso añejo is usually pungent and somewhat nutty due to the aging process.
Texture: This cheese is crumbly and firm, similar to Parmesan. It is typically grated or crumbled and added to tacos, salads, soups, or beans to add a burst of flavor. It is drier and harder than fresco, and can be bought pre-grated.
Origin: Queso Asadero, also known as “queso quesadilla,” is a Mexican cheese from the State of Chihuahua.
Taste: Queso Asadero has a mild, buttery flavor with a slightly tangy taste. It is not as strong as aged cheeses, making it a popular choice for dishes where the cheese’s texture and melting capabilities are more important. The smell of Queso Asadero is mild and creamy.
Texture: This cheese has a smooth and elastic texture that melts easily when heated. It is commonly used in tacos, quesadillas, chiles rellenos, and other dishes when a creamy, melted cheese is desired.
Origin: Queso Fresco is a popular cheese in many Latin American countries, including Mexico and several Central American nations. Its name simply means fresh, and it is considered one of the freshest cheeses available.
Taste: Queso Fresco has a mild and slightly salty flavor. It is not aged, so it retains its fresh taste. The smell of Queso Fresco is typically mild and milky.
Texture: This cheese has a soft and crumbly texture, similar to feta cheese. It’s a classic choice for tacos and complements a wide range of fillings. It doesn’t melt much, so it’s often used as a topping or garnish for tacos, salads, tostadas, and other dishes.
Other Common Tacos Options
The most common taco ingredients in the US include:
- Sour Cream
Do Tacos Need Cheese?
No. Not at all. Street tacos in Mexico generally don’t have cheese. Cheese is really more of an American preference! Here are our favorite taco recipes that don’t contain cheese.
- Hibiscus Tacos
- Korean Eggplant Tacos
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos
- Mushroom Carnitas Tacos
- Soyrizo Tacos
- Vegan Breakfast Tacos
- Crispy Avocado Tacos
- Tempeh Tacos
- Kimchi Tempeh Tacos
We hope you found this article helpful for Taco Tuesday, and as always happy cooking from your friends at Live Eat Learn.
The answer is 4.5 billion tacos. This equals about 13 per person yearly. (We thought it would be higher.)