Of course these foods aren’t limited to Christmas, but they seem even more delicious when eaten at this time of year.
I ask several people what their favorite foods with queso de bola (QdB) are. The initial reactions are almost always similar: a sharp intake of breath with a simultaneous closing of the eyes and a slight raising of the shoulders. The “bliss state” is what I call it.
“Mmm, with ensaymada!”
“Queso shredded over bibingka!”
“Grated in with kaldereta!”
The answers come quickly, instinctively, with no thought required.
One of the most distinctive supermarket sights signaling the coming of Christmas is this cheese. Queso de bola’s gleaming exterior is characterized by its crackling red wrapper echoed in equal intensity by its red wax interior. Each slice renders fragrant waves of a cheesy tang and an afterthought of sharp saltiness. As the cheese ages, its supple texture and mild sweetness give way to a more crumbly, stronger flavored cheese.
Here, a brief but far from exhaustive list of memorable queso de bola food, the favorites of several of my food lover friends and me.
It’s the number one reply of several people I ask. This rich yeast bread heaving with butter, egg yolks, and sugar send shards of queso de bola showering on mouth and fingers with every bite. It’s heady with the fragrant promise of doughy tenderness and the very real possibility of eating more than one – and not sharing (!). I know Christmas has arrived when I start hankering for ensaymada and dipping every slice or pinch in a cup of hot and frothy tsokolate, ham optional.
My favorite ensaymadas:
Ensaymadas by Addie Wijangco
0917.85addie (23343) / (02)586.7615
Ensaymadas by Pasteleria Mallorca
18 Scout Fuentebella, Barangay Laging Handa, Quezon City
(02) 373.2789 / 373.2790
Classic Kapampangan Ensaymadas by Meliza Henares
(02) 837.0842 / (0920) 947.8819
Yet another one of those requisite holiday foods replete with queso de bola. My memories of this native rice cake are of the ones I ate at those makeshift carnivals similar to Boom na Boom and Big Bang sa Alabang. Armed with plastic forks, my sisters and I would spear slices of the cake smeared with (usually) Star margarine and brown sugar. Come to think of it, queso de bola on my bibingkas would come only later in my adulthood, and available only as “Bibingka Special” (as compared to Bibingka Regular) at establishments like Aristocrat and Via Mare. There, queso de bola shaped like shrapnel weaves and winds into the floury folds of the rice cake, patches of yellow against a burnished surface, salty against sweet. Plenty of butter – not margarine this time – and mounds of muscovado sugar, sometimes even grated coconut too. Ohh, I feel a craving coming on.
Queso de Bola Ice Cream
At the top of my Christmas must-eat list this year is a scoop of this ice cream atop a hot bibingka. Ian Carandang, the artisan ice cream maker who created this remarkable flavor is the genius behind this suggestion. The ice cream’s chilly smoothness is the perfect foil for the queso de bola’s piquant nuttiness.
Ian and I discuss the various brands of queso de bola and how they vary in their flavor and astringency. Ian uses Marca Piña Queso de Bola because, “… I like its flavor and how it works in my ice cream, plus you recommended it two years ago when I first started making this flavor,” he tells me.
Queso de Bola Cheesecake
Another nouveau way of incorporating queso de bola into an age-old sweet is by mixing it into cheesecake batter. It inadvertently becomes a 2-cheese cheesecake, creamy-sweet canoodling with salty; and a thrilling combination for food lovers. Noted chef Myrna Segismundo is widely credited for being the first to make and serve queso de bola cheesecake (she’s told me that she also uses Marca Piña Queso de Bola) and several bakers have followed suit.
My favorite Queso de Bola Cheesecakes:
Queso de Bola Cheesecake by Myrna Segismundo
For orders, call Leah at (0922)817.7252 or Jeny (0922) 817.7253.
Order 3 days in advance.
Pick up at New Manila Private Kitchen, 45 Sunrise Hill, Rolling Hills Village, New Manila, Q.C.
Queso de Bola Cheesecake by Cory Untalan’s CRU Kitchen
CRU Kitchen fanpage
Queso de Bola Spread
While stoking queso de bola food memories, a few friends mentioned the Queso de Bola Spreads made by Joyce Aragon and La Cocina de Tita Moning. Some express preference for one over the other while another professes that her lola makes the best QdB dip.
Basically butter mixed in with grated queso de bola until malleable, this spread is too good and very frightening in its versatility. I say ‘frightening’ because in the few days that a bottle of Joyce Aragon’s Queso de Bola Spread is in my possession, I find too many ways to consume it. First, it’s wonderful smudged onto Joyce’s Melba Toasts (see photos), eaten shamelessly, messily. My Bin likes to top his QdB toasts with lots of Deep Dips’ Spicy Tinapa. Then, taking a cue from my friend, K, I fry up some bacon bits and litter those over some QdB Spread on white toast. Apparently, this queso de bola spread is also irresistible when spread thickly and toasted just ‘til the edges start to blister.
Oh god, stop me already.
Apple pie with queso de bola
I’m about to have all sorts of heart attacks from my ongoing obsession with queso de bola spread when I get a message from my friend, Fran: “Lori, my Ninang Machang’s apple pie has queso de bola grated on top. Sometimes we bake [it] into the crust too.”
It’s the one suggestion that tears my laser-focus away from queso de bola spread and zeroes it in on apple pie. Aside from a side of vanilla ice cream, there may be no better topping for an apple pie than a slice of cheddar or better yet, shavings of queso de bola. It’s a sharp and savory contrast to the fruit and spices. As that New England saying goes: “Apple pie without cheese is like a hug without a squeeze.”
I’ve made apple pies with queso de bola and have featured home bakers’ apple pies with cheese , but that was a long time ago. I’m not sure anymore who makes a good pie of this sort but an apple pie crowned with queso de bola would be really nice to eat this Christmas.
Let me know in the Comments section what queso de bola foods you like to eat at Christmas or at any time of the year!