Cheese in Ecuador

A long long time ago, some Spanish dudes put a bunch of cattle on a ship and brought them over to South America.

Fast-forward to now and Ecuador’s dairy industry is selling 1/4 billion dollars of dairy products in a year.

Cheese, milk, ice cream, yogurt, and more.

Ecuador produces 5.2 million liters of milk a day, and a lot of that is used for cheese.

cheese in ecuador
Queso fresco (fresh cheese) in Ecuador

According to a study done by Pulso Ecuador, 84% of Ecuadorian households regularly consume cheese.

But what kind of cheese? How are they eating it? Why are expats so down the cheese here? Is it cause most of them are knob heads?

That’s what we’re going to find out right now!!!!

Think reading is for nerds? Watch the video that inspired this article instead.

Queso Fresco

Ecuador prefers fresh cheese – queso fresco.

This is good for the industry because you can make it faster. You don’t have to age it.

Queso fresco is eaten as is and used for cooking many traditional Ecuadorian dishes. Locro de papa infuses fresh cheese in a potato broth. Fresh cheese is used in Ecuador’s most popular empanada – empanada de viento. It’s often included in bolon de verde – a ball of fried green banana dough that’s popular for breakfast.

bolon de verde - ecuador's most popular banana dish
Bolon de verde with chicharon and cheese.

Fresh cheese is also used in desserts and sweet drinks. Hot chocolate with cheese is popular. They’ll put sweet cheese in breads, and they’ll eat it with sweet grilled bananas.

Dulce de Higos con Queso

One of my favourite Ecuadorian desserts is called dulce de higos con queso, or sweet figs with cheese. It’s pretty obvious what this dessert entails: figs and cheese. But it’s not just as simple as combining the two. The figs are cooked in panela with spices like cinnamon. It’s quiete sweet, but the cheese helps to balance out the sweetness. To make these figs takes around 2 to 3 days. You soak them, boil them, soak them some more, and boil them some more – this time in the spiced panela syrup. Panela is popular in Latin America as a sweetener. While it looks like brown sugar, it’s actually unrefined whole cane sugar made by boiling sugarcane juice and evaporating the water out of it. Brown sugar, on the other hand, is just refined sugar with molasses in it.

higos con queso
Figs with cheese and brown sugar panela syrup.

A great place to try dulce de higos con queso in Quito is En Dulce, a cafe in the historical district.

Cheese for Breakfast

One of the most popular times to eat cheese in Ecuador is for breakfast.

We’ve been to a lot of guesthouses that serve a couple slices of fresh cheese for breakfast along with some bread and eggs.

A survey in Ecuador showed that 53% of people ate fresh cheese most days for breakfast.

They consider it a healthy breakfast because queso fresco is usually high in protein and lower in fat than aged cheeses.

Manaba Cheese

But there are many different types of fresh cheese in Ecuador. Each province has their own spin on it with different levels of fat and salt.

For example, Manaba cheese which is produced in Manabí, one of Ecuador’s coastal provinces, is usually quite salty and firm.

Manaba cheese is often eaten with plantains, corn on the cob, or in salads. It doesn’t really melt or disintegrate. I’ve used it as a substitute for paneer, the cheese often used in Indian cooking. It also works as a sub for feta.

Queso de Hoja

Another unique Ecuadorian cheese is called queso de hoja, or ‘leaf cheese’.

To me, this cheese is about as close as you can get to the cheese strings I ate back in the 90s. It’s very similar to mozzarella.

Queso de hoja is a sierra cheese. It’s made in areas like Cotopaxi and Latacunga. Driving down the Pan-Am highway you’ll see many booths selling the cheese in it’s traditional form – wrapped in a leaf.

The Industry

In Ecuador, cheese production is a good way to make money off of cows. 10 litres of milk produce 3 lbs of cheese. That’s about $10 of milk but in cheese it’s worth about $13, plus people eat 135 grams of cheese faster than they finish a litre of milk, and they require the same amount of milk to make.

That being said, the industry is changing. It’s traditionally made with unpasteurized milk using a natural rennet that’s taken from the gut of the cow. Now the industry is being regulated and laws are being made that are forcing the pasteurization of the milk, and forcing the use of chemical rennet.
Whether it affects the taste, I’m not sure, but it does make the cheese-making process more expensive.

Other Types of Cheese Available in Ecuador

cheese in Ecuador
Cheese section of an Ecuadorian grocery store.

There are many other types of cheese sold in the grocery stores of Ecuador. After queso fresco, mozzarella is the second most popular, which is mainly used for cooking.

You’ll find a good selection of Ricotta here as well.

While cheeses like cheddar are almost only sold in slices to be used in sandwiches and on burgers.

In order to get a good cheddar here you have to put in a bit of an effort.

There’s a company in Cayambe called Productos Lacteos Yaznan. I believe it was ether started by an American, or maybe he just showed them how to make the cheddar. At any rate, it’s a good option if you want cheddar in Ecuador. You can put in an order through email or contact them through whatsapp.

I got a cheddar with chili pepper in it. This cost was $5 including delivery, which is a pretty good deal when you consider that Cayambe is an hour or so away. I found the cheese to be very delicious.

Fresh cheese definitely rules the cheese kingdom in Ecuador. While I do miss some other varieties of cheese, I love queso fresco and I think Ecuador’s cheese game is pretty strong.