Queso de Bola: A Filipino Christmas Tradition - Manila Sun (2023)

Growing up as a Filipino American, I knew that when I saw that big ball of cheese wrapped in red, crinkly paper, it was officially Christmastime.

Cheese isn’t common in Filipino food, but when you see it, there’s a good chance it’s queso de bola, or “ball of cheese.” It’s exactly as it sounds: a spherical shape of cheese that’s coated in red wax. Sort of like a giant Babybel.

This pale yellow cheese is sharp, salty and nutty, with a whiff of delicious stink. It’s a semi-hard cheese that continues to harden over time.

And it has an interesting history. To sum it up: It’s a traditional Filipino cheese that originated in Holland, and that is a beloved part of cuisines around the world.

Read on to learn the role queso de bola plays in Filipino Christmas dinner, how it’s typically served, and how a Dutch cheese became such a big part of many different countries’ cuisines.

Queso de Bola as a Christmas Tradition

For Filipinos, the holiday season is also time to be spent with family, to be grateful for the year past, and to hope for a prosperous new year ahead. Much of this is symbolized through the holiday foods.

Typically during Christmas season, you’ll see platters of pancit — not just because the noodle dish is easy to make en masse — but because the noodles symbolize long life. You’ll also see queso de bola for its symbolism: it comes in rounds, so it represents money or wealth, and its red rind represents good luck.

The cheese is a big part of Noche Buena, the midnight feast on Christmas Eve. In the Philippines, where people are predominantly Catholic, it’s tradition for families to attend evening mass on Christmas Eve. Then everyone goes home to a feast, which starts around midnight and stretches into the wee hours of Christmas morning. At these feasts, queso de bola often features prominently among pancit, hamon, Filipino fruit salad, and other traditional dishes.

How It’s Typically Used in Filipino Recipes

This cheese is used in all kinds of dishes, from savory to sweet, and used as a mix-in for meatloaf or as a topping.

Filipino Charcuterie and Meatloaf

Queso de bola is most often sliced and eaten with hamon (the Tagalog spelling for the Spanish “jamon”) and pandesal. Hamon is a salty dry-cured ham. Pandesal is the fluffy traditional bread roll of the Philippines, usually eaten as a first breakfast with coffee, or sometimes with ice cream served by a street vendor.

Then there is embutido, a sort of combination of sausage and meatloaf. This dish uses ground pork wrapped around sausage and egg—and recipes often include queso de bola.

Less traditionally, but very deliciously, this cheese can be used in Filipino fondue. Burnt Lumpia has a recipe using a melted mix of grated queso, cornstarch, garlic, calamansi, and San Miguel beer. The recipe suggests dipping cubed pandesal, hamon, apples, pears, or even longanisa (or Filipino sausage) into this fondue.

Desserts and Pastries

Filipinos also use this cheese as an ingredient in desserts and pastries. You might see it paired often with ube, or purple yam, as sweet ube makes for a nice complement to sharp queso. This pairing might come in the form of ube pandesal with cheese — where the bread roll is made with ube and then topped with grated queso de bola.

You might also see the combination in modern cheesecake recipes. Butter, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and grated queso are beaten together before baking. Sometimes ube, or purple yam, is incorporated in the batter as well.

But more commonly, you’ll see queso de bola as a topping for ensaymada and bibingka.

Queso de Bola: A Filipino Christmas Tradition - Manila Sun (1)

Ensaymadas are pastries that are similar to brioche, but topped with butter, grated queso de bola cheese and sugar, and then baked to gooey perfection.

Bibingka is a sweet rice cake that’s baked in banana leaves. Bibingka batter is usually made with yeas, water, sugar, coconut milk, and eggs. Once the batter is poured into the banana leaf-lined pan, shredded queso de bola is sprinkled on top, and then baked until melted.

So… Where Did Queso de Bola Come From?

As rich as it tastes, queso de bola has an even richer history. Over the centuries, it has become a beloved staple across countries all over the world.

It used to be imported or brought back to the Philippines by wealthy travelers, so it was once considered a treat for the rich. Though it’s still a decadent cheese, it is more readily accessible than it was hundreds of years ago.

But while queso de bola is considered a traditional Filipino food, it didn’t originate there. It actually came from the Netherlands.

During the 1600s, the Dutch were at war with the Spanish, often engaged in naval battles near the Philippines. During this time, Filipinos secretly traded with the Dutch — and Dutch naval officers traded one of their staple foods, cheese, with the Filipinos.

Even though the Philippines were under the control of the Spanish until 1898, the Dutch spent two centuries as a major ocean-faring trading power. So the Dutch traded cheese not only with the Philippines, but with other countries, too, like Belize, Venezuela, and Mexico.

Of course, this cheese goes by different names in different places. “Queso de bola” is its Filipino name while the original Dutch name is “Edam,” named for the town in the Netherlands where it originated. Indonesians call it “keju edam.” In Belize, it is called both “queso de calavera” and “queso de Colorado.” And in Mexico, it’s known as “queso holandés.”

A Well-Traveled Cheese

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, queso de bola was the most popular cheese worldwide. Then, it was the Netherland’s largest agricultural export, and even today, 80% to 90% of all Edam cheese produced in the Netherlands is for shipping to elsewhere in the world.

There’s a reason this cheese is so well-traveled: It ages well and it keeps well. So it’s easy to ship on long ocean voyages. Many people prefer queso de bola as it ages because the flavor sharpens. And its form factor helps it stay fresh and intact.

Queso de bola’s, round shape ensures it won’t break apart in transit. The moisture content is balanced so that it’s not prone to molding or rotting quickly. That moisture stays balanced with its red paraffin wax rind, which isn’t just key to its flavor — it’s for profits, too. If the cheese were to lose its water content, it’ll shrink, decreasing sellers’ profit per ounce.

Edam Cheese Across International Cuisine

If you’re deeply familiar with Mexican cuisine, you may have heard of queso relleno. This dish originated in Yucatán, Mexico. A round of the cheese, called queso holandés, is hollowed out and filled with minced meat, raisins, olives, and spices.

The cheese is also used in the popular Indonesian kastengel, or cheese sticks. Flour, cornstarch and salt are added to whipped butter and sugar. Then the grated cheese is stirred in. Afterwards, the dough is rolled and sliced, and then baked.

And then of course, Edam cheese is popular in its homeland of Holland. It’s often paired with fruits like apples, pears, apricots, peaches and cherries either as an appetizer or dessert.

Where Can You Buy Queso de Bola in the U.S.?

You might find queso de bola or Edam cheese in the specialty cheese sections of larger grocery stores, at ethnic markets, or in cheese shops. Popular brands include Che-Vital, Magnolia, Marca Piña, and Marca Pato.

Queso de Bola: A Filipino Christmas Tradition - Manila Sun (2)

Magnolia queso de bola is said to be slightly softer and more malleable. Marca Pato and Marca Piña, the main competitors, have a more crumbly texture. In its review of these leading competitors, Pepper.ph noted that Marca Pato’s red wax is drier to the touch, and the cheese is creamier than Marca Piña’s. Marca Piña cheese, on the other hand, has almost a powdery salty texture on the tongue.

If you’re looking for those specific brands, you should be able to find them online. After all, this cheese was designed to ship long distances safely without refrigeration. You can find queso de bola on Amazon and other online retailers.

What makes queso de bola so interesting is that even though it didn’t originate in the Philippines, it’s one of those foods that Pinoys adapted from another culture and made uniquely their own.

It’s been a part of tradition for so long that it has become a fixture. And if you have a taste for Filipino cuisine, then this is one of those foods that needs to be near the top of your list of things to try.

Related posts:

Pancit: The Filipino Celebration Noodles for Long LifeSisig: A Sizzling Cultural Heritage of the PhilippinesTocino: Sweet Cured Pork for Breakfast


What is queso de bola Filipino tradition? ›

Queso de Bola as a Christmas Tradition

You'll also see queso de bola for its symbolism: it comes in rounds, so it represents money or wealth, and its red rind represents good luck. The cheese is a big part of Noche Buena, the midnight feast on Christmas Eve.

What is the history of queso de bola in the Philippines? ›

Queso de Bola is the Filipino term, from Spanish, for Edam cheese. This literally means a “ball of cheese”. A brief background on this semi-hard cheese treat is that it originated from the Netherlands and is traditionally sold in rounded cylinders with a pale-yellow interior and a coat, or rind, of red paraffin wax.

What is queso bola? ›

Gouda cheese is known as Queso de Bola (Cheese Ball) by those from the Caribbean and South America. Tropical Queso de Bola is a natural cheese with a soft texture and a mild, buttery, and nutty taste. Gouda is yellow in color and is typically coated in red wax. Simply cut and enjoy!

What is queso de bola used for? ›

This salty cheese, actually Edam, is delicious to munch by itself or paired with other charcuterie items. It's also wonderful when simply wedged in warm pandesal. The queso de bola can also be topped over numerous food items, from ensaymada to kaldereta.

Where do you put queso de bola? ›

The best way to add queso de bola to a recipe is to make a cheese sauce. This cheese sauce can be added to the entire dish such as in a mac and cheese pasta recipe or it can be used as a topping like a cheese sauce you might use when making baked salmon ala Conti's.

Do you eat the red in queso de bola? ›

It's best to use the cheese at room temperature for easy slicing. The red wax covering the cheese should never be eaten.

What is queso de bola made of? ›

It is made from raw cow's milk in small family cheese factories who have hired maximum 4-6 employees. According to some, queso de bola's origins go back to the era of Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship, from 1876 to 1911, and the cheese was inspired by Dutch Edam cheese, in both shape and production technique.

How long will queso de bola last? ›

"Queso de bola tastes better when fresh. When it gets old, the taste becomes sharp. It becomes harder and saltier," he said. Once turned into spread, the cheese can be enjoyed for up to three months.

What are the ingredients in queso de bola? ›

Queso de Bola is best served with crackers/toasted bread and fruit. Be sure to hold up family traditions with this delicious cheese! Ingredients: Cheddar cheese, Water, Skimmed Milk Powder, Edam Cheese, Iodized Salt, Modified Food Starch, Potassium Polyphosphates, Annatto.

Do you put queso de bola in the fridge? ›

2. Wrap cheese ball in plastic wrap?and refrigerate at least 8 hours but no longer than 48 hours. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.

Should queso de bola be refrigerated? ›

Keep refrigerated and consume within 2 weeks.
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Is queso de bola salty? ›

Because of its salty and slightly nutty taste, queso de bola is typically considered a savory treat, but this list is here to debunk that myth.

What is the Filipino famous cheese? ›

The most popular type of cheese in the Philippines, “kesong puti” translates to white cheese.

What is the indigenous cheese in the Philippines? ›

Kesong puti is a Filipino soft, unaged, white cheese made from unskimmed carabao milk and salt curdled with vinegar, citrus juices, or sometimes rennet. It can also be made with goat or cow milk. It has a mild salty and tart flavor. When an acidifying agent is used, it resembles queso blanco or paneer.

What did Filipinos eat before Spanish? ›

Native fruits, root crops, nuts and vegetables were eaten in the islands such as mango, Pili Nuts, Coconut, ginger etc. Meat and seafood was eaten all over the islands while certain Muslim groups did not consume the likes of pork and shellfish.

Why is Queso de Bola coated red? ›

In order to extend the cheese's shelf life, the cheese was coated with red coloring agents, extracted from a special type of wood. Nowadays, the coloring agents have been replaced with a red layer of paraffin.

What is the closest cheese to Queso de Bola? ›

Gouda: This cheese is similar to Queso de Bola in terms of texture and flavour. It is a semi-hard cheese that has a nutty flavour and is often coated in wax.

Does queso have to be served warm? ›

Try making homemade queso fresco for this dip. It is easier to make than you think. If you don't have access to crema, you can use a full-fat sour cream. This queso cheese dip is served cold, do not serve it warm or it may curdle.

What is another name for queso de bola? ›

Popular brand names of queso de bola in the Philippines include Magnolia, Marca Pina, Che-Vital and Marca Pato.

Does queso de bola taste good? ›

You and the loved one receiving a Danes Queso De Bola for Christmas will definitely be happy, since Danes Queso De Bola is absolutely delicious! You can choose from two different cheese flavor profiles: Cheddar and Edam, both of which are tasty and special in their own ways.

Can you eat the wax on a babybel? ›

The protective wax we use to coat our products is made of a blend of paraffin and microcrystalline waxes and colouring, which specifically contains no bisphenol A. It's “food safe” and meets very strict regulatory standards. It poses no health risk if accidentally ingested while you or your child snacks.

Is queso de bola healthy? ›

Queso De Bola, or Edam cheese, offers various health benefits. One of these is its high calcium content, which supports bone and teeth health.

What animal does queso come from? ›

In Mexican cuisine, queso blanco is traditionally made from cow's milk, whereas queso fresco (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkeso ˈfɾesko]) may be made from a combination of cow's and goat's milk. Some versions of these cheeses, such as Oaxaca cheese, melt well when heated, but most only soften.

Is Edam good for you? ›

Health benefits

Edam cheese is a good source of energy for the body. It is a good source of potassium which can help in regulating the muscle contraction, fluid balance and maintaining healthy nerve function. Consuming edam cheese helps in lowering bad cholesterol levels.

How do you know if queso de bola is expired? ›

When stored properly, this cheese can last longer about 7 up to 10 days after the use-by date. However, if it develops mold or smells and tastes sour, it's best to throw it out.

Does unopened queso de bola expire? ›

What is this? For store-bought queso, you can store it in an airtight container for up to two weeks before eating. Store-bought queso is best consumed within a week of opening the package or jar because its flavor and texture will start deteriorating after that time.

Can I eat queso that was left out overnight? ›

So if you're being extra cautious, follow the USDA guidelines that recommend you toss perishable foods, including soft cheese, that have been left out at room temperature for longer than two hours.

How many carbs are in Queso de Bola? ›

Magnolia Queso De Bola (1 serving) contains 4g total carbs, 4g net carbs, 6g fat, 6g protein, and 90 calories.

How is Keso de Bola made? ›

UPLB Queso de Bola (Edam) from cow's or goat's milk is made by pasteurizing the milk, ripening it with a multiple-strain cheese starter for 30 minutes and coagulating it with IFS-6 milk coagulant. It is then cut into small cubes, stirred and partially drained before scalding and firming the cubes.

Which is healthier Gouda or Edam? ›

Edam and Gouda cheese do not vary significantly in nutrition values. Gouda is a little richer, with a slightly higher calorie content and fat than Edam.

Can queso go bad? ›

Appearance: Spoiled queso may have mold growing on the surface or discoloration. The cheese may also become slimy or have an oily film. Taste: Queso that has gone bad may have a sour or bitter taste. If the flavor is not the same as usual or the cheese tastes rancid, it is best to discard it.

How long can cooked queso sit out? ›

To keep yourself safe from bacterial growth or spoilage, you should only keep cheese out for four hours, according to Adam Brock, director of food safety, quality, and regulatory compliance at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

How long does queso with meat last? ›

Store leftover Velveeta queso dip in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in the oven or in a crockpot to warm it through before serving again.

Can you eat the red skin on Edam cheese? ›

The red coating on Edam cheese is paraffin wax, which is indigestible but harmless. You can eat it, it will just pass through, but it has no nutritional value, so there's not much point.

Is queso de bola pasteurized? ›

Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes And Annatto (Vegetable Color).

What is the food in New Year's Eve Filipino? ›

Biko, Suman, Kalamay, Puto Calasiao, Tikoy, Royal Bibingka, or any sticky rice cake is believed to improve family relations and bonding, implying that families will “stick together” for years to come. In either case, glutinous rice dishes are a staple of New Year's celebrations.

What are the New Year's food traditions Filipino? ›

Containers of basic food items like rice, salt, and sugar are filled to the brim before midnight to ensure that they stay that way in the coming year. Likewise, Filipinos make sure their water containers are filled so there won't be any shortage of water during the year to come.

What is the Filipino eating tradition? ›

Many Filipinos eat with their hands or with a spoon and fork. However, they will often try their best to accommodate for their guests by finding suitable cutlery for their guest. It is considered rude to lean on one's arms when present at the dinner table.

Should I put queso de bola in the fridge? ›

The safest yet best gift to give and receive during Christmas is the one with an expiration date that won't come too soon, and that you can keep in the refrigerator and freezer for a long time. One of those gifts is our favorite red cheese ball, queso de bola.

What is the traditional Filipino food for Christmas Eve? ›

Bibingka is a rice cake with rice flour, eggs, and coconut milk. It is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. The dish can be topped with cheese, salted duck eggs, or a sweet sauce. Bibingka is traditionally prepared by street vendors and baked in a clay pot lined with leaves over hot coals for added flavor.

What are the Christmas traditions in Philippines? ›

Here are some of the most popular Christmas traditions in the Philippines.
  • Build a Belen. A Belen is a nativity scene. ...
  • Parols. All over the world Christmas lights are a staple of the festive season. ...
  • Simbang Gabi. ...
  • Manito-Manita. ...
  • The red envelope or ang pao. ...
  • Coming home for Christmas. ...
  • Carolling. ...
  • Misa de Gallo.
Dec 22, 2022

What is considered good luck in the Philippines? ›

Wearing polka dots is said to bring good luck in the Philippines. Filipinos believe that spherical items bring good luck, wearing a round patterned dress on New Year's Eve has become a tradition. According to Filipinos, the round goods will bring prosperity back.

Why do Filipinos have Spanish last names? ›

Filipino Spanish surnames

The names derive from the Spanish conquest of the Philippine Islands and its implementation of a Spanish naming system. After the Spanish conquest of the Philippine islands, many early Christianized Filipinos assumed religious-instrument or saint names.

What are the five eating habits of the Filipino? ›

An average Filipino eats five meals a day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. So, at any time, there are big chances that you might be interrupting a meal.

What is the most important food in the Philippines? ›

Adobo. The most popular Filipino food and referred to as the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, Adobo is commonly chicken (though pork is a 2nd favourite option) simmered in vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, soy sauce, and bay leaves.

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