Queso de hoja is a fresh stretched curd cheese, typical of the provinces of Catopaxi and Pichincha, in Ecuador. The province of Cotopaxi is in fact characterised by the presence of large pastures, which accommodate about a quarter of the total number of animals present throughout the national territory. Also in the Cayambe area, north of the Pinchincha province, cattle breeding and milk production represent one of the main resources for the local economy.
It was traditionally produced during the rainy season using raw acidified cow’s milk, thanks to the use of native enzymes. In its authentic version this cheese is presented in small cylindrical portions wrapped in an achira leaf hence the name queso de hoja, literally cheese of leaf.
In the two aforementioned provinces, the queso de hoja is only produced on a small scale level now, in small workshops and bakeries where you can also find another specialty of these areas, hallulas, salty and crunchy biscuits that this queso is the ideal and typical accompaniment.
In Ecuador, in fact, as in most of the countries of Latin America, legislation prohibits the production of raw milk cheeses. This is just one of the reasons that hinder the survival of this product: the achira leaves (Canna indica) in which it is packaged are not able to keep the cheese for a long time and consequently prevent this product from reaching distant markets; moreover, the diversion of vehicles towards a large motorway has led to a decrease in tourists that used to transit through and characterise the town of Salcedo, in Catopaxi, leaving the small traders in the area without customers.
All this has led to the spread of an industrial version of the product, where the milk is pasteurized and the achira leaf is replaced by plastic wrappers. While this makes it possible to overcome the shelf life problems, the use of plastic is detrimental to the characteristic flavour and humidity of the queso de hoja, as well as having a significant environmental impact.