Quesillo Not For Me-o: A Dairy Bomb in Nicaragua

I’m pretty sure it was my love for cheese that cost me a job on James Patterson’s publicity team. I sat in his Park Avenue publisher’s office for a final interview a handful of years ago and upon being asked what I would do with my life if money were no issue, replied that I would make cheese on a farm in Vermont. My interviewer, one of Mr. Patterson’s business consultants and friends (and dressed head to toe in leather, having arrived in Manhattan on a motorcycle) seemed not to know where to take the interview from there. It was then that I learned to be truthful—not stupid—during job interviews. Say make cheese on a Vermont farm, fine, but at least mention something about streaming James Patterson books through barnyard speakers to the goats.

Despite the job snafu, I’ve remained a fromage-o-phile to this day. Stinky, sticky, runny, or hard, crumbly, creamy, old, or new, I’ll take my cheese in any form. When I was pregnant, cutting tuna and beer from my diet wasn’t that big an issue. But eliminating soft cheeses? The thought made me question motherhood as a whole.

So when I decided to accompany Shon on his work trip to Nicaragua and read about a traditional local dish called quesillo (little cheese), I knew just what we’d be seeking out on our week-and-half-long adventure.

Finding it actually took no time at all. Shon, Ben, and I arrived in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, in the wee morning hours on a Sunday, caught a few hours shut eye, and then set out for the northern colonial city of León, our home for the next few days. As luck would have it, the small town of Nagarote, rumored to serve up the country’s best quesillo, was en route, and so we made a stop there, at an open-air restaurant called Quesillos Gourmet Mi Finca.

Quesillo Mi Finca (1024x574)

Despite its diminutive-sounding name, there’s nothing “little” about quesillo. We ordered two quesillos simples and were each handed a plate-sized corn tortilla topped with a flat disc of cheese, a generous sprinkling of salt, a strip of braided cheese, a spoonful of sautéed onions, and a boatload of heavy cream. I had read descriptions of the dish beforehand, but I was still taken aback. It was all just so…white, so creamy, so dairy-y. Served at room temperature in the un-air-conditioned restaurant, quesillo went from being the dish I was dying to try to a potential challenge.

Quesillo.2 (1024x683)“The onions are kind of vinegary,” I said to Shon, as we powered through the first few bites. “That helps.” We continued on.

“The cheese is kind of sour,” I said. “That offsets the creaminess.” Our pace slowed.

“The tortilla is kind of nice.”

Halfway through, though, I was hard-pressed to come up with another plus. In truth, each bite was a tepid, soupy dairy bomb that became harder and harder to swallow. Before long, both Shon and I had to call it quits.

I put down my fork, disappointed that I was disappointed, ashamed that my love for cheese did have limits—not enough to keep me from screwing up a job interview, but enough to prevent me from loving quesillo.

Ben.Quesillo (576x1024) (2)
Ben was certain he’d love quesillo, if only we’d let him try it.

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