Photo: josewolff, Flickr
Corn is in season which means there's no better time to relish the sweet flavorful kernels Latin American-style with a dash of fresh mildly-salty cheese. From New York City's Café Habana to Austin's La Condesa, Mexican-style corn on the cob covered with Cotija cheese has become a popular dish, one that balances the juicy sweetness of maize with the spicy-savory taste of Queso Fresco. Fortunately, this cheese-coated snack is easy to make at home.
While there are many variations on this cheese-corn combination (from Cuba to Ecuador), the Mexican recipe is the most commonly used by chefs in the U.S. It combines grilled corn with cheese, chili powder, lime and salt. Cotija, a firm salty cow's milk cheese similar to Greek feta, is sprinkled over the corn after it's been grilled for just under 30 minutes, resulting in a delicious balance of flavors. The cheese seems to cool the heat from the chili powder, the freshly-squeezed lime reduces the saltiness of the cheese and the corn brings out an overall array of bright flavors, ranging from grassy to fruity.
While Cotija works well, it's not the only cheese that brings out this flavorful mix. If it's unavailable, we recommend imported Greek feta or Queso Fresco (a fresher cow's milk cheese with a crumbly texture). Compared to feta and Cotija, Queso Fresco will add a less salty bite to the corn. Also, its consistency is creamier.
In Ecuador, they use a fresh cow's milk cheese, like Queso Fresco. This choice is most likely linked to their use of Aji (a hot sauce consisting of jalapeno or Serrano peppers, chopped scallions, lemon juice, and salt and pepper), instead of Mexican chili powder. The lighter Queso Fresco balances better than Cotija and feta with the already salty Aji. Choosing the best cheese for the mix has everything to do with the other condiments. So, when using a flavorful sauce, like Aji, select a cheese with a more subtle bite. Save more pungent cheeses, like grated Parmesan, for grilled corn with chili powder.
Cotija cheese can be found nationwide at Mexican grocery stores, including Vallarta Market in Los Angeles, and online at MexGrocer. So, while it's still in season, we say try as many versions of Mexican corn with cheese as possible.