Most, if not all Filipinos know that December is near when the first queso de bolas appear in the stores ”“ chubby, red orbs whose red wrappers catch the light like balls on a Christmas tree. As a kid, it was easy to like the slivers of queso de bola that my lola would serve beside strips of Yunnan ham, a killer salty-on-salty combination.
As an adult making my first queso de bola purchase, I naively think that all red cheese balls are equal, a glaring blunder evident on first taste: what I’ve bought is processed cheese food. Ick! A proper Edam, which is what a queso de bola is, is made in Holland and allowed to ripen for 20-24 weeks. This enables it to acquire its characteristic flavor and crumbly texture. Anything less is a fake.
People in the food industry are in consensus when it comes to queso de bola: it’s got to be Marca PiÃ±a. It’s what bakers tell me they use for their queso de bola cheesecakes and those famous ensaymadas, and most important of all, it’s what my mom serves on her holiday table.
Available in “baby” and “regular” sizes, Marca PiÃ±a is easy to spot in the red sea of cheese ball poseurs. It possesses the same sphere shape with a gently flattened top and bottom, its red wrapper protecting the red rind of the precious cheese within. Definitely pricier too, but it’s an edible example of getting what you pay for. Look at the difference. Every Marca PiÃ±a cheese ball has a “freshness sticker” indicating its use-by date, assurance that I’m not buying last season’s leftovers. And when I rip open that wrapper, the waxy rind is smooth and moist with no off-odors. Inside, the cheese is supple and fragrant, its edges a deeper yellow than its flaxen hue within. And its taste? Salty and subtly sharp, it’s crumbly but not too much. It’s a taste that has grown up with me and stayed since that Christmas long ago at my lola’s table.
This year, I decide to treat myself to an early queso de bola. I make a two-cheese bread, shreds of queso de bola dotting a white loaf made nubby with nuggets of cheddar; and then I prepare a simple cheese board with wine. Another time, I offer a friend some wedges of queso de bola which we pair with dates and chocolate covered almonds accompanied by a white Zinfandel. Looks like it’s going to be a good Christmas.
Marca PiÃ±a Queso de Bola
Imported and distributed in the Philippines by Wilmington Imex, Inc.
Approximately P800 (regular) / P460 (baby)
Available at larger supermarkets.
For bulk orders: 721.9763 / 721.9766