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Queso panela (panela cheese), also called queso canasta or queso de la canasta (basket cheese) because it carries the impression of the basket in which it is molded, is a white, fresh and smooth cheese of pasteurized cow's milk, 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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