Lupita Doll with Basket of Fresh Cheese
Cheese was unknown in the New World before the arrival of the Spanish. There were no native animals that were used for milk production prior to the Spanish conquest. Cattle arrived in Mexico with the Spanish five hundred years ago, they did well and multiplied. In fact, they did so well that they had to be moved out of the Mexico City area to less populated areas, particularly to the north.
For four hundred years from the 1530s to the 1930s, milk was of small importance. Cattle were for meat, for tallow for industrial purposes, for hides, for working the fields. They weren’t bred for dairying and most of Central Mexico with a dry season of nine months, hardly an ideal dairying country. Milking began on the feast of Santo Domingo (25th June) about a month after the rains had started and went on for three months. To make it less perishable, most of the milk was probably turned into cheese about which little is known.
After the Revolution, in the 1930’s, there was a large push to produce liquid milk but most of what was distributed was in powder form. Small farmers or artisans produce cheeses that they made with simple equipment and that are liked by local people.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the dairy industry began to expand quickly. However, many of the cheese producers continued to be small, local companies producing fresh unpasteurized cheese (Queso Fresco) in dazzling variations from place to place. Even today Artisanal Cheese producers dominate.