Quesong puti is a local salty cottage cheese made with carabao milk. I suspect the Philippines does not have a history or lengthy tradition of cheese making because we didn’t have too many cows, sheep or goats with milk and the tropical weather made safe storage of dairy products a huge problem. Whoever introduced the concept of making quesong puti must have brought the idea from western shores and applied a process that is very similar to that of making cottage cheese. Recently, I tried several carabao milk products manufactured by the Carabao Center at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in Munoz, Nueva Ecija. Their Pastillas de Leche ng Kalabaw were delicious and they were a subject of an earlier post. I also tried two of their cheeses: a pasteurized quesong puti and carabao mozzarella.
Making quesong puti sounds simple enough but it isn’t a typical homemade delicacy. One takes very fresh carabao milk and strains it to remove large impurities, if any. Some of the water from an earlier batch of cheese is added, salt, and some rennet. Rennet is a natural enzyme obtained from the lining of the fourth stomach of young milk fed cows or carabaos that is used to curdle the milk. I kid you not. Rennet can also be extracted from some vegetables but the stomach lining source sounded the most cool. There are apparently two types of cheese, pasteurized where the milk is heated to kill bacteria and unpasteurized or “fresh” cheese. Unpasteurized cheese can contain the deadly bacteria listeria monocyteogenes which causes listeriosis. Thus the common warning that pregnant women should not eat unpasteurized cheeses as they are much more susceptible to this bacteria. Aging unpasteurized cheeses usually kills off much of this bacteria but it needs at least 60 days which we do NOT do with fresh quesong puti. At any rate, the curds are then packed up and water drained off and served soon after. They should be refrigerated to keep them fresh. It seems when you purchase quesong puti and open up the wrapper or banana leaves, the sometimes sour or “maasim” smell and taste is a result of using ascorbic acid or vinegar instead of rennet and also poor hygiene or refrigeration leading to fermentation. Good quesong puti must smell fresh. The quesong puti in the picture here was very good. It was tasty but not overly salty, had a dense texture that was not too watery, and it felt, looked and smelled very clean. It was superb seared for a few seconds in a hot pan then served on a slice of toasted wheat bread. It is excellent in hot pan de sal as well.
The mozzarella on the other hand was not a brilliant find. Although it tasted fine and had the outward appearance similar to Italian mozzarellas, it had a really grey pallor when sliced (that is not visible in these photos). The slices actually looked unappetizing though they tasted okay. I was so concerned about their appearance that I decided to keep them out of a tomato salad that I was preparing at the time. I served the mozzarella slices separately and though they didn’t make anyone sick, I would not be inclined to order them again. Texture was lacking in that it didn’t seem to have been “pulled” enough resulting in that stringy dense chewy mass that is associated with good mozzarella.
If you are interested, Bea Zobel, Jr. wrote a good piece on the making of quesong puti in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.