Mozzarella and Oaxaca are two types of fresh cheese that look similar in appearance — round ball-shaped, semi-soft and melty. They are often substituted for each other in recipes such as quesadillas, pizzas and sandwiches. But mozzarella and Oaxaca cheese are not the same.
Mozzarella is more widely known, available and is commonly found in supermarkets around the world. Oaxaca can be viewed as the Mexican version of mozzarella cheese, where they are produced using the same technique, read below.
Mozzarella is Italian; Oaxaca is Mexican cheese.
Mozzarella is Italian in origin and is made from cow’s milk or buffalo’s milk. It has a mild, delicate taste with a slightly sweet note. Its flavor is milky but not overpowering, however, buffalo mozzarella will have a much richer flavor. Mozzarella is very elastic and pliable and great for melting. Mozzarella can be enjoyed fresh or shredded in salads, baked into dishes like lasagna, melted on pizza or used as an ingredient to make sandwiches and wraps.
Oaxaca cheese, also called quesillo, is a Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk. It looks like a white string cheese wrapped in a ball shape, while mozzarella looks more like a springy and smoother ball. Oaxaca cheese has a semi-soft, chewy, stretched texture — just like mozzarella string cheese! It has a deeper flavor with a slightly mellower, buttery, also saltier taste, which is similar to unaged Jack cheese.
Oaxaca cheese also melts easily, and slowly and can form long strings when heated, which makes it ideal for making quesadillas or sandwiches with melted cheese. It is also commonly used in Latin American dishes such as enchiladas, tamales and tacos.
They’re both paste filata (stretched-curd) cheese
Traditionally, mozzarella and Oaxaca cheese are both using animal rennet to curdle the milk. They are known as a “paste filata” (or stretched-curd) cheese. The making process involves heating the curds with hot water, then stretching and kneading them in hot water until they reach the right consistency. The cheese is then shaped into balls and left in cool water.
Although both mozzarella and Oaxaca cheese are made using the same technique, what sets them apart is that with Oaxaca cheese, the curds are stretched before cooling them in water. This makes Oaxaca more elastic and strong than mozzarella, giving its signature chewy texture.
The other similar cheese is called Asadero, with an extra step where the milk will be boiled for 30 minutes before the pasta filata process.
Oaxaca is more of a string cheese, as it is made by pulling the curd into long threads. It is usually saltier than mozzarella and sold in ball form in vacuum seal packages; While mozzarella is often sold in brined water, slices, blocks or shredded cheese. With that, mozzarella (brined) usually has higher moisture than Oaxaca cheese.
They are both considered fresh cheese so it is best to consume them right away. Some variations of mozzarella cheese will be lightly cured for a few weeks to boost the flavor.