A family of cheeses that exists all over Latin America in various renditions. These cheeses were probably introduced by the Spaniards and particularly the cheesemaking monks that settled in the New World. Some are made like cottage cheese from skim milk, like queso fresco. Panela is a fresh white cheese made from either whole or partly skimmed milk; if drained in a basket it's called queso de canasta in Mexico. Fresh, pressed uncooked cheese made from whole or partly skimmed milk is called queso de prensa ("pressed cheese") in several Latin American countries. Most queso blanco cheeses are not aged but rather are eaten within a few days of being produced and fall into the ("fresh") category. Others, like queso de bagaces and queso de crema, are pressed and ripened anywhere from two weeks to two months. Some queso blanco cheeses are smoked for a few days, which produces a darker color and a smoky flavor; others have added flavorings such as green chiles. An interesting trait of all these cheeses is that they don't really melt when heated; they get soft but hold their basic shape. They're used in dishes like enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas and also make good frying cheeses, which are called queso para freír.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.