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Queso panela (panela cheese) is a white, fresh and smooth Mexican cheese of pasteurized cow's milk. It is not the same as queso canasta or queso de la canasta. It is served most often as part of appetizer dishes such as nopal salads or quesadillas. It is derived from the Greek word for basket cheese. The cheese also has similarities to the Indian cheese paneer.
It absorbs other flavors easily and is covered at times with a paste of garlic and chili pepper. Good, genuine, fresh panela inhabits a similar watery environment to mozzarella, and can be used in quite the same fashion. It may also be fried, although it holds its shape and does not melt very easily. It is used in many diverse Mexican foods, such as enchiladas or tacos, as well as in some variant preparations of guacamole.
Regional differences as well as different degrees of maturation yield a diverse variety of cheeses within the panela family. One remarkable regional variety is that of the evergreen mountain town Tapalpa.
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