Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
When you’re in a new place, grocery shopping becomes an adventure.
There are new aisles to navigate, new foods to discover. Mythical ingredients that you’ve only heard are there, on the shelves, yours for the buying. Food prices, so humdrum before you left home, become a fair topic of conversation – a source of elation or outrage – amongst you and your fellow adventure-shoppers. The ‘international’ aisle takes you to a different sliver of the world.
Four days into my stay in the States, and the local grocery store hasn’t disappointed. I’ve encountered eight varieties of eggnog, purchased a can of beans that pigeonholes its contents as “a garnish for salads”, and wandered down an aisle dedicated to the odd combination of crackers, kids foods and bathroom products.
I also found queso fresco.
Queso fresco, or “fresh cheese”, has been on my radar for years, after a friend told me that, in her native Colombia, people sometimes put cubes of the stuff in their morning cup of hot chocolate. And, like savourily little marshmallows, the cheese melts, gooey and delicious, waiting to be snatched up with a spoon. But the stores I go to at home don’t stock it, and so the drink has been out of my reach.
Needless to say, this weekend I bought the cheese.
Shortly thereafter, I realized that: 1) I knew almost nothing else about Colombian hot chocolate; and, after having Googled some recipes, 2) I needed to go back to the grocery store.
But the necessary Colombian drinking chocolate – bars of sweetened or unsweetened, slightly crumbly chocolate – were nowhere to be found. I left the store with disks of crumbly Mexican drinking chocolate and worries of offending Mexicans and Colombians alike. But I forged ahead, following instructions for the Colombian drink using the Mexican chocolate (and cheese, as it turns out). And then I consumed it.
By itself the cheese is quite salty, but when you eat it after having taking a swig of the sweet hot chocolate, it mellows and rounds the drink out. It’s tasty, rich, and unlike anything I’ve had.
Unfortunately, I have no idea whether it’s at all close to the real deal. My guess is that the Mexican chocolate is a bit too sweet, and that you’d be better off substituting a bar of super-dark chocolate and sweetening it to taste. But really, I don’t know.
And I realize now that having access to the right(ish) ingredients and a recipe isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you need to adventure further than a grocery store, or at least have a knowing friend with you when you go.
Colombian(ish) Hot Chocolate with Cheese
Serves 1 and scales easily
Update 12/02/2013: My friend from Colombia who inspired the post has weighed in! She says that Colombian chocolate used for hot chocolate is less sweet and more rich than your standard Canadian/American chocolate. If you can track it down, she recommends the Colombian brands, “Chocolate Diana”, “Chocolate Sol” or “Chocolate Quesada”. In a pinch, she says Mexican chocolate will do the trick, though it’s not quite the same as Colombian.
Note: If you can find Colombian chocolate, use it! Try 1-1.5 oz per serving. If you can’t find queso fresco, try another mild, melty, fresh cheese. Fresh mozzarella should do the trick.
1 cup of milk or water
1-1.5 oz of dark chocolate (chopped or not, either’s fine)
sweetener to taste (panela, aka unrefined cane sugar, is traditional, but other sweeteners will work too)
3-4 small cubes of queso fresco or other fresh cheese (see note above)
In a small pot, heat your milk/water over medium heat until it’s nearly simmering. Add in the chocolate and stir until it has melted completely, taking care not to let the milk boil. Taste and sweeten to your liking. Turn off the heat.
Carefully but quickly whisk the hot chocolate until it’s developed a substantial amount of foam. (Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender or a regular blender to do this. If you go with the latter, blend the hot chocolate on low for 5-10 seconds, or until it’s frothy. Make sure to leave a space for the hot air to escape the blender, or the lid will shoot off mid-blend! Taking the removeable piece out of the lid and covering the hole loosely with a dish towel should do the trick.)
Drop your cheese into your cup, pour in the frothy hot chocolate, grab a spoon, and serve immediately!