The Best Cheeses in Asia You Never Knew Existed

Nov 21, 2020 | Asia, China, India, Japan, Philippines, TASTE

 © Mirasaka Fromage

If there’s one thing you know to be true, it’s that cheese is one of the best foods in the world. However, checking your pantry will make you realize all your cheeses are either from Europe or the US. Take a look at some Asian cheeses you might want to add in your cooking arsenal.

Most people from the West assume that cheese can be found all over the globe. But in most Asian countries, cheese was not a food that had culinary or cultural significance in history due to lactose intolerance, and issues in storage, climate, and transportation. 

Thankfully, times have changed. The modern age has allowed many countries to catch up and enable cheese production. While you may usually reach for Mozzarella, Brie, or Cheddar, there are hundreds of other cheese varieties in Asia that are also worth a try. Get to know some of these below.

Kesong Puti, Philippines

The Philippine cottage cheese is a fresh cheese made from salt, unskimmed Carabao milk which is a species of water buffalo, citrus juice, and rennet. Sometimes, makers also experiment with goat and cow milk. 

Often dubbed as the cottage cheese of the Philippines, Kesong Puti has a very light tart and salty flavor. This soft and unaged white cheese has its origins in Bulacan, Laguna, Cebu, and Samar, and is a favorite choice for breakfast. It is best paired with pan de sal, a fresh local bread.

Bandel Cheese, India

Indian cuisine is one of the richest ones in the world, and you’d be surprised it boasts a delicious cheese called Bandel. First created in a Portuguese colony in West Bengal where the cheese got its name, Bandel is made using lemon juice to separate curd from whey before it is smoked in baskets. This gives this unique cheese a smoky and dry flavor. It is meant to be sold immediately so buyers can enjoy its aromatic freshness. This cheese is best enjoyed with a spicy bread roll loaded with spices and ham.

Rushan, China

You’d probably be shocked to see a cheese that resembles a leathery texture on a cheese shop, but the flavor of Rushan cheese from China will make you want to experiment. This flat cheese is made by the Bai people in the Chinese Province of Yunnan and is locally called nvxseiz. Made from cow’s milk, this cheese is usually deep-fried. However, this cooking method makes it flaky. If you want to maintain its original form, it is best to grill it. 

You’ll mostly find this unique cheese on street food stalls served on a stick and topped with sweet chocolate and condensed milk, as well as fruit preserves that bring out its flavor. 

Paneer, India

Another entry from India, Paneer is known for its crumbly texture. Made from water buffalo milk or pasteurized cow’s milk, this may be the oldest cheese in Asia as it traces back to 6000 B.C.

What makes this soft cheese unique is that rennet is absent from its production process. This cheese is usually added in curry dishes since it complements spicy and strong flavors well. It can also be eaten with tomatoes, spinach, cream, or kebabs.

Fromage de Mirasaka, Japan

It seems Japanese artisanal cheese makers have gone a long way. When the first Olympic games were held in Japan, the French team had to bring their cheese to make athletes feel at home. Now, they can enjoy the sumptuous Formage de Mirasaka, the signature cheese of artisanal shop Mirasaka Fromage. This cheese dusted with rosemary becomes creamier as it ages, and has herbal and grassy flavors. 

Matsubara, the mastermind behind the shop, creates his cheese depending on the season. For example, the Jyukushi Kaki is a must-try in Autumn, while Carre de Lavende topped with lavender will capture your taste buds in the summer.