Photo by John Linn
Let's not get distracted by the allegedly devious manner through which I acquired three complimentary packages of El Venadito cheese. Or, at the very least, allow me to first make my case in words and pictures before I make my confession. This being a food blog, the question of taste must be our chief concern. In short, can South Florida lovers of Spanish and Mexican cuisine trust a Wisconsin brand of queso blanco?
El Venadito means "little deer," a term of endearment in the cheese's native Midwest culture, where little deer grow into big deer so they can be blasted with one's .30-06 rifle, sportingly.
Like all queso blanco, this is a mild cheese, so it seemed only fair that we test its taste in combination with the basic complements. Namely, tortillas, pinto beans, salsa and sour cream, forged into quesadillas with an assist from a mini-grill named after some boxer. With three packages of El Venadito, why not try this experiment in the New Times newsroom?
Of the three varieties of El Venadito, we found that the package that specified its use for cooking had the most distinct taste. As you can see in the photograph at the top of this post, this was a fairly hard cheese. After tossing it in quesadillas, we found it a bit too prone to running.
But this form of El Venadito needed no help from extra ingredients. We cut thick, half-inch strips, then placed them on the grill surface, like so.
It made the outside hot, crunchy and caramelized. The inside was warm and gooey. It's an excellent topping for a cracker or a tortilla chip. See for yourself:
The package of "soft" El Venadito was best for quesadillas. We sliced the cheese, then covered half the tortilla with it. Then we folded that tortilla over and placed it onto the grill. The cheese melted, gluing itself to the tortilla, flowing to its edge -- and just a bit over the tortilla lip, as you can see in the shot below.
Dipping that cheese tortilla in sour cream and salsa proved itself better to the other method of preparation, in which we spread sour cream, beans and salsa inside the cold tortilla before grilling it.
In the course about 30 minutes we whipped up a dozen of these puppies. They were delicious -- even more so if we'd been ambitious enough to throw in some grilled meat or Spanish rice.
You can go hunting for El Venadito in the dairy aisle of South Florida Publix stores.
As for the question of how I came into possession of said cheese: Last month a Juice post of mine mentioning "Wisconsin" triggered a Google Alert for a social media marketer of El Venadito. The marketer guessed that I would be vulnerable to a dairy-based bribe: cheese in exchange for free publicity.
Yes, I sold my journalistic soul for a few savory slices of El Venadito. And I don't regret it. Not for an instant. Behold: the power of cheese!