A pale yellow semi-soft cheese with a firm texture perfectly suited for melting.

"In theory, it is possible to recreate a home-made formula that resembles canine cheese using recipes from the Internet, but this is both time-consuming and difficult, as it is essential to ensure that various parameters – such as nutritional balance, food safety, correct osmolality, and personal taste – are optimal, and the risks often outweigh the benefits. Therefore, in reality, this seldom happens if it happens at all." -- Emmanuelle Fuente

Many myths and urban legends circulate within the cheesemaking world, both true and false. Some grow and take on a life of their own, much like Penicillium candidum. What follows is one of the lesser-known tales, and hails from south of the Texas border.

Historically, queso Chihuahua, or Chihuahua cheese, was a much different item than it is today, and not just because of the commercial shift from raw to pasteurized milk for safety concerns from factory farming. Back in the day, pre-Columbian that is, in Mesoamerica the Toltecs had their moment in the sun and were the intellectual and cultural predecessors of those that followed, such as the Mayans and Aztecs, not to mention the present-day population of Mexico as a whole.

One aspect of Toltec culture, its cuisine, is rarely touched on by food (or any other) historians. An even more rarely mentioned part is dog cheese. The origins of Toltec dog cheese are somewhat unclear, but it likely emerged from the raising of dogs for meat combined with the poorer parts of the population. Those with little are known worldwide for making the most of everything and letting very little go to waste, and so it was with the lowest working class of the Toltecs.

Pre-Columbian dogs of the Americas were different as well, especially those that became Chihuahuas and Xolos after the reintroduction of dogs to the Americas by Europeans. Dams had bigger teats, for one. And how does one go about milking a dog? Carefully, and with very small fingers. As such, the chore was most often relegated to children, and to female children more often than not, most under the age of six. Another way dog milk was harvested was whenever a lactating animal was butchered and as opportunity allowed, usually during large celebration feasts. Coagulation of the collected milk was achieved with a crude form of fawn rennet.

Several varieties of cheese were made, the most common (as well as easiest and earliest) was similar to cottage cheese, although with larger curds and thicker whey. This, when strained and compressed, became more like farmer's cheese or cream cheese although not as sweet and butterier due to the higher fat, and lower sugar, content of canine milk when compared with to bovine milk. Both of these easily spoiled in the climate in which they were produced and had to be eaten quickly; if not within a few hours, at least within the same day. Three aged versions are known to have been produced. One was was wrapped in leaves, placed in caves, and weighted with stones to remove additional moisture as quickly as possible. The second version took the above cheese after a day, removed the leaves, washed it and placed it in mineral water to produce a feta-like substance. The third added achiote to the milk before curdling. After the more traditional straining and pressing, the blocks were chopped, washed, and repressed twice, making it, albeit primitive, the first yellow "Cheddar" made in the Americas. The final block was allowed to air dry in the sun, prolonging its useability by about a week.

So that's one story of the origin of queso Chihuahua. Well, except for the name. Obviously, queso isn't a native American word, and Chihuahuas weren't known by that name back then, either. Comes across as kind of a double misnomer, really. But, today, in Chihuahua and its adjacent states, it is called queso menonita, after the Mennonite communities of Northern Mexico that "first" produced it, while elsewhere it is called queso Chihuahua and that name has been backwards applied to the Toltec cheese from Hidalgo made of milk from Chihuahuas.

And now you know.

Incan llama cheese - Venezuelan beaver cheese

British Museum
The Vatican Library
Federation Cynologique Internationale

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