Monday, January 17, 2011

Criollo Cheese: An Island Adventure

Psst....I’m back. Maybe you didn’t notice, but last week was lights out in my blogosphere. I had my feet in the sand, my eyes on coconuts. For 7 days, I surrendered my keyboard to soak up island life on Vieques.

I did plenty of eating -- plantains, papaya, yucca -- and I drank plenty of “Parcha Punch” made from rum and passion fruit, but I didn’t do my dairy duty. On the island of Vieques, no one makes cheese because there aren’t any cows (or goats) – just wild horses, hermit crabs, and iguanas.

Still, I had a few funny cheese encounters. At the supermarket, I found a package of Criollo Cheese, which appeared to be authentically Puerto Rican. When I got home, I discovered the “Made in Wisconsin” seal on the package. Turns out, this cheese was made in Monroe, about 30 miles from my hometown.

“Criollo” is often translated to mean “Creole,” but on Vieques the locals used it to describe their local cuisine, which consisted mostly of pork, seafood, and a dish called Mofongo -- a combination of garlic, mashed plantains, and other starchy vegetables like yucca and breadfruit. Very few restaurants served anything with cheese, except for processed cheese on sandwiches.

My friends and I ate a lot of Mofongo, but we especially loved quesitas, thumb-shaped pastries stuffed with cream cheese. We bought loads of them for breakfast at La Viequense Deli, where the salty dogs and Hunter S. Thompson-types hung out.

On my last night, I found a restaurant that served a “blue chesse” and star fruit salad. It sounded intriguing, but blue cheese crumbles just don’t cut it. I leaned back, looked at the night sky, and dreamed of Point Reyes Blue.

Evening in Esperanza
Then I went for a walk and admired the clouds rolling in over Esperanza – one of two tiny towns on the island. I didn’t mind not eating cheese for a week, as long as I could comb the beach in search of sea fans and wild sponges.

Still, I had to wonder: don’t the locals ever dream of cheese…strong cheese? Maybe in cultures where the weather is mild and the ocean purrs people to sleep, there isn’t the same kind of desire for strong flavor.

As soon as I saw snow on the ground in Philadelphia, I had a single-minded thought. You know it what it was. Bring on the Gorgonzola!


  1. Looks like you had a beautiful, relaxing vacation...despite the lack of cheese.

  2. Hello, glad you enjoyed our beautiful island of Vieques, however i just wanted to let you know we do have cows and goats.