A ‘fresh’ cheese that’s common in many Mexican and Latin dishes, queso fresco is a versatile and delicious cheese.
But, being a fresh cheese, it can also go bad easily and can be dangerous to eat once spoiled. That’s why it’s important to know how to tell if queso fresco is bad or not.
How to Tell if Queso Fresco is Bad
Whilst there are several commercial brands of queso fresco, you can also make your own fresh cheese at home.
As commercial and homemade cheese will differ in their shelf life, the signs of whether or not the cheese is safe to eat are the same. Here’s a useful reference for you to judge the state of your cheese:
Your queso fresco should be milky-white, and look something like feta or ricotta cheese.
Made from fresh milk that has been curdled (usually with lemon), with the milk solids removed from the whey before being pressed into a mould, your commercial or homemade fresh cheese should be one consistent colour throughout.
You can buy, or make, queso fresco that has had a flavouring added, like chopped herbs, and this will obviously add a slightly different appearance to the cheese.
However, flavoured or plain, you should never see any colours you’re not expecting; no shades of yellow, no flecks of orange, and definitely no green. Any of these signs are hints that your cheese has been compromised, read more below for greater detail.
Saying it should smell like cheese probably won’t help, so instead, give your cheese a good sniff and if it smells like anything else, proceed with caution.
Queso fresco shouldn’t really have a smell per se; it’s a freshly made cheese and should have a vague milky aroma. Queso fresco that has spoiled however can smell sour, like milk that’s gone off, and sometimes with a hint of mustiness if any mould has formed.
Similar in texture to ricotta and feta cheese, it is normally crumbly and soft when cut; it should be smooth and silken on the tongue, with no hint of grit or slime.
Cheese that’s spoiled can often feel wet and slimy, as the fresh cheese has developed a thin film coating of either mould or bacterial growth. If this is noticed, the cheese should not be swallowed, and all of it discarded.
Queso fresco has a tangy and salty flavour, a bit similar to a goat’s cheese, but stronger. This bold flavour makes it great for stuffing into olives or chillies etc, but can also confuse consumers if the cheese has gone bad.
In your mouth, it will taste thick and creamy, but the good news is that it’s not overly rich or fatty, which makes it even more enjoyable!
A spoiled queso fresco will differ slightly in flavour, where it was savoury and tangy, the prevailing taste will be sour or rancid, and be deeply unpleasant to your taste buds. You may also detect micro-lumps, where the cheese has lost its smoothness and begun to congeal.
If this sourness is detected, it is extremely unwise to consume the cheese; instead, it should be discarded immediately followed by rinsing out your mouth. Consuming spoiled dairy products can be dangerous and lead to food poisoning or worse.
This will be easy to identify on queso fresco that has gone bad, but it’s worth carefully inspecting any amount of cheese that has been left for longer than 24 hours.
Small white or green spots of mould can form on the outside of the fresh cheese, where bacteria have been able to grow. In extreme cases, where the fresh cheese has been mixed, these spots have been known to develop inside the cheese.
In any case, if small white or green spots are detected, the cheese should be discarded immediately as it is no longer safe to eat. In advanced cases, you may identify golden orange growths, and these too are dangerous to consume.
How To Tell if Queso Fresco is Bad When Cooked
Queso fresco is not a cooking cheese, instead, it is best served as a topping cheese on salads, tacos or enchiladas, or as a stuffing for chillies etc. Whilst the cheese can be warmed through, it is not ideal for melting.
As such, you’re unlikely to have a queso fresco that has gone bad after cooking. But, it’s worth considering the cheese if you taste or smell something that shouldn’t be there; if it has a sour smell or taste for example, as it is still possible to have ‘cooked’ with queso fresco that has already begun to turn.
How Long Does Queso Fresco Last
Ideally, your queso fresco will be made and eaten within the same day. As this is a cheese that should be enjoyed fresh, and not kept for long periods of time, you should carefully follow any storage instructions on commercially produced fresh cheese.
How Long Does Queso Fresco Last in the Fridge
Ideally if you have made your queso fresco at home, you should eat it within 24hours, but you can keep it for up to 3 days in some cases – see storage section below.
However, if you’ve bought your queso fresco from a supermarket or commercial producer, then you may be able to keep it for 3-5 days, with some commercial queso frescoes lasting up to two weeks (due to the preservatives used).
It is always wiser to adhere to the manufacturer’s Use By or Best Before dates and follow their storage instructions for the approved duration once the vacuum seal or package is opened.
How Long Does Queso Fresco Last in the Freezer
Queso fresco is not an ideal cheese to freeze owing to its high liquid density, and the formation of crystals when this liquid freezes. As the crystals are formed, the cheese is degraded, which will affect the flavour and consistency when the cheese is thawed.
But, if you’re prepared to adjust your serving expectations to allow for this change in texture, you can freeze your homemade queso fresco for up to two months, or between 3 and 6mths for commercially produced cheese.
This difference in time is due to the manufacturing process, and the preservatives used within the cheese itself.
How Long Does Queso Fresco Last on the Countertop
As you’ve probably guessed, the countertop is not a great idea for fresh cheese. As queso fresco is a high protein substance, and bacteria love to grow in it, an ambient room temperature makes your fresh cheese the perfect place to grow.
If you must leave your fresh cheese out, do so sparingly for only a few minutes, and only just prior to serving; this will allow for the cheese to not be fridge-cold and showcase the flavour of the cheese.
How To Store Queso Fresco
Fresh is best, but not always possible, in which case you’re going to have to plan ahead so your queso fresco still tastes its best.
How to Store Queso Fresco in the Fridge
Making and consuming this cheese in a single day isn’t usually a problem – it tastes really good, but if you need to hold some over for the next day, just place it in an airtight container.
You can use a bag, but this may be awkward to get the cheese out of later, or a container that is exactly the right size. Try not to use an oversized container, as you don’t want air coming in contact with the cheese even if it is chilled in your fridge.
How to Store Queso Fresco in the Freezer
As mentioned, queso fresco is not a great cheese to freeze. The development of ice crystals is unavoidable, and as these crystals thaw, the cheese takes on a bizarre texture, which you may not enjoy.
However, there is a trick that can be used to minimise the damage caused; and that is to crumble the queso fresco into a thin layer, and freeze that.
Once frozen, you can bundle the little pebbles into a fresh freezer-proof airtight bag or container, and this can be stored safely for a couple of months.
The reason for this is that freezing it in a thin crumbled layer is quicker than as a lump, and by freezing it quickly it develops smaller crystals. These smaller crystals cause less damage to the cheese as it’s frozen, and as it thaws.
But, ultimately the cheese will have changed in texture due to freezing, so be warned your thawed queso fresco won’t be exactly the same as it was when fresh.
How to Store Queso Fresco on the Countertop
As mentioned, not the greatest idea. Only have it on your countertop prior to use, and still in its container to help avoid any contamination. Bacteria will grow quickly on exposed fresh cheeses.
If you have any leftover queso fresco, look to keep it chilled or frozen for later use.
To Sum Up
A fresh and tangy topping for foods, queso fresco should be made and eaten within 1 day.
You can store it in the fridge for up to 3 days, or a couple of months in the freezer. Always check it’s safe to eat by using our handy guide.