Panela, also known as Queso Panela, Quesco Canasta or Queso de la Canasta, is a fresh Mexican cheese which is white in color, and has a smooth and creamy texture. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. The name of the cheese is derived from the Greek word 'basket cheese'. This is the most popular fresh cheese in Mexico and when aged for a bit, it turns crumbly.
Origin of Panela Cheese
While it is known for a fact that the cheese originated in Mexico, the exact year, decade or place are largely unknown. Whatever little details that are present are very hazy and sketchy and there are various theories about how the cheese came into being. Different people believe and retell different stories. There is, however, one common factor which is the fact that the cheese had its origins in the Mexican culinary world.
Culinary Uses of Queso Panela Cheese
While it is true that Panela is best eaten fresh as a snack and mostly there are no accompaniments required, it is also a popular ingredient in many preparations, both regular and specialty. In its fresh form, the cheese is generally used as a topping for salads and other cold dishes. After being aged for a bit, it is also commonly crumbled all over tacos or chili.
The cheese is a widely used ingredient in many Mexican preparations as well as pizzas and pastas, among other things. The unique feature of the cheese is that even when heated, it does not run. It will get very soft and creamy but will continue to hold its shape. This makes it a suitable ingredient in almost all preparations requiring cheese which is soft but not melted.
Nutritive Value of Panela Cheese
Being a cheese, the ingredient is high in calorie and fat contents. In 1 serving of the cheese, there are 80 calories and 6 grams of fat. Roughly, the cheese has an overall fat content of 69% which makes it a fattening food. It is, therefore, not a suitable consumption for people who are obese and/or suffer from health problems like heart disease, high cholesterol levels and hypertension. Consumption in small, controlled quantities is not discouraged and there are also low fat versions of Panela available in some stores.
Panela Cheese Trivia
When the cheese is not available, it can be substituted with dry-curd cottage cheese or dry Ricotta. The cheese itself acts as a great substitute for fresh Mozzarella.
One of the names of the cheese, 'Queso de la Canasta', directly translates to "basket cheese" in English. Panela is called so because it continues to carry the impression of the basket in which it molds itself.