Kesong Puti: a Cheese I’ve Loved My Whole Life, Thanks To My Mom

I unwrap the cheese quickly, but carefully. I once did so haphazardly, greedily, that the wrapper of bright green banana leaves cut the skin on my fingertips. But now I do so gingerly, unraveling the six-inch logs of white cheese, pre-cut into little disks that are about half-inch thick, fresh from the local wet market, with the milk still dripping from the woven leaves. It is kesong puti, one of my very favorite foods in the world.

Kesong puti is a local Filipino white cheese made from pure carabao’s milk. It is essentially fresh buffalo mozzarella, but tarter and softer than any other cheese I can think of, with a mildly pungent smell and a creamy aftertaste.  On this day that I’m reminiscing about, I was having it for breakfast with warm pan de sal, the traditional Filipino breakfast rolls. I debate whether to spread some butter on my bread but decided against it. I want to enjoy my kesong puti plain and unadorned. I want to savor its flavor as much as I can, because I don’t know when I can eat it again.

I have been living in the US for the last seven years, and have only been coming back home to the Philippines once or twice a year. When you ask any foreigner or immigrant living in the US what they miss most about home, the answers are likely to be family, friends, and food. And do I miss the food, especially my beloved kesong puti.

I tried to look for it elsewhere. In Boston, I tried the fresh mozzarella balls sold in fancy supermarkets. I tried the ones sold at the lively farmers markets that sprout up during the summer, with vendors in stalls hawking their homemade cheese. I tried different kinds of cheeses from Vermont, the state known for its happy cows that produce amazing, delectable cheeses. But as amazing as they did taste, nothing ever satisfied my longing for kesong puti. Next, I tried the Mexican white cheeses, packaged similarly to the “high-end” cheeses I remember buying in Rustan’s (a top grocery store in the Philippines), but those shrink-wrapped squares of cheese lacks the pungency and tenderness of the fresh-from-the-market cheese logs. I even tried the fresh mozzarella in Italy – I ate it in Milan, in Venice, in Tuscany – and still nothing. Nothing comes close to the taste of the kesong puti from home. No cheese sings to me, no cheese calls me  name, no cheese makes me want to brave a nearly 24-hour long flight with the premise of my favorite breakfast waiting for me at home.

I love kesong puti for breakfast. I eat it with pan de sal but I also eat it melted over white rice (I heat it in the microwave then slide the oozy, gooey cheese on top of the rice). I love making breakfast sandwiches with it, with longganisa (Filipino sausages) or with left-over pork adobo. I love it plain. I can eat one whole log of kesong puti plain. Okay, two whole logs. Or three. And my love for it, according to Philippine superstition, can be traced back to my mother, who had a daily obsession with this cheese the whole time she was pregnant with me.

that's my beautiful mom and me

My name is Bianca, which is the Italian word for white or pure. My mother told me that in the entire duration of her pregnancy with me, she had such manic craving for kesong puti that she would fly into rage if she did not find it on the breakfast table. When I was born, she said I looked so fair and radiant, with complexion “white as milk”.  This could very well be an exaggeration of motherly pride but according to our Philippine superstition of lihi, this was because white is a characteristic of the food that my mother was hankering for – and eating – while she carried me in her womb. (see my first post about this last year)

I like imagining my pregnant mom flying into rage if kesong puti is not on the table. I like picturing myself possibly doing the same thing in the future, already planning to use hormones as an excuse just to get my daily dose of cheese. I like thinking how kesong puti will always be an unbreakable bond between me and my mother – the woman who introduced me to it while I was still in utero. Perhaps I love it so much because I was introduced to it with love, as well.

Thanks to my mom, I have a life-long fondness – an eternal craving – for kesong puti

At the breakfast table, I pick up another piece of the cheese and chew it slowly, while waiting for my family to join me. In my excitement – and jetlag – I was at the breakfast table early, and have nearly finished an entire log of kesong puti. My dad sits at the head of the table, and sips his coffee slowly. My two sisters start piling food on their plates. And I see my mom standing near the kitchen sink, quickly but carefully unwrapping the kesong puti wrapped in bright green banana leaves.

Kesong puti itself is not luminous or colorful or magnificent to look at; it is plain, white, and so simple-looking that it’s easy to pass it off as bland. But to me, it is beautiful. It is soft and comforting and delicious. It is my mom’s breakfast, and it is also mine.

Happy Mother's Day Mom! I love you, you mean the world to me.

   

26 Responses to “Kesong Puti: a Cheese I’ve Loved My Whole Life, Thanks To My Mom”

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    1
    Elizabeth posted May 6, 2011 at 8:30 am

    You and your mom have the EXACT same face. Love this post Bianca.

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    Fe posted May 6, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Sweets from the sweet! Love the post dearie. Happy mom’s day!! See ya in Sept!!

    • Bianca Garcia replied May 6th, 2011 at 9:30 am

      Thank you Fe! Um, happy mom’s day to you too.

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    Claire @ Live and Love to Eat posted May 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Such a sweet post – as a cheese lover, you have me dying to try this now!

    • Bianca Garcia replied May 6th, 2011 at 9:31 am

      Claire I am craving for it myself now too :)

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    Karen posted May 6, 2011 at 9:23 am

    what an absolutely lovely and sweet story! thank you for sharing it with us! I LOVED reading it :)

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    Jenn @ Frost Bites posted May 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Interestingly enough…I’ve never had Kesong puti. You made me miss pandesal and champorado (thinking about b-fast). Great post. You and your mom look so pretty.

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    Megan posted May 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Beautiful post, Bianca! And now I want to try that cheese… I’ve never even heard of it.

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    Heather posted May 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Awww, what a sweet post!

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    alicia posted May 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Bianca,
    This was such a beautiful post it brought tears to my eyes.
    I love the pictures of you and your mom when you were a child – they’re gorgeous….your writing is inspired.

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    Michelle posted May 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    This is such a lovely post in honor of your mother!

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    Bianca Garcia posted May 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you so much everyone for the nice comments!

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    Erin posted May 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Lovely, lovely post. You are such a good daughter and that cheese looks delicious. Your mom is lucky to have you and you her!

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    12
    MelissaNibbles posted May 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Such a lovely post. Thank you for sharing :)

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    Meghan@travelwinedine posted May 6, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    What a lovely post! Happy Mother’s Day to your mom!

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    Meesh posted May 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I NEED THIS CHEESE. And you look just like your mom!

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    Jun Belen posted May 8, 2011 at 12:14 am

    What a lovely post, a wonderful homage to kesong puti and to your mom. Love, love kesong puti with bibingka and with pan de sal, too! Just reading your post (and you mentioning Rustan’s) brings back so many good memories. Hope you’re enjoying this lovely Mothers’ Day weekend.

    Jun

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    miriam posted May 8, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Such a lovely post – what a wonderful memory of your mom!

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    Daisy posted May 8, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    this is a really cute and heartwarming story!! you and your Mom look so much a like!

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    Hannah posted May 9, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard/read cheese so lovingly and evocatively described – bravo! You’ve made this stinky-cheese-lover want to try something milky and delicate :)

    Gorgeous photos, too!

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    Julie @ Shining From Within posted May 9, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    I love cheese!!! The relationship between you and your mom is so special :)

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    Patty posted May 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Ang itim mo sa unang picture, wahaha : D

    Love this : ) I always think of you when I see kesong puti in the fridge. I wish we can send you some every week! Can’t wait for you to visit home so we can eat not just cheese, but a whole lot of other yummy stuff.

    P.S. to this day Mom still kind of flies into rage when she realizes we’ve run out of them and she forgot to get more from Malabon.

    • Bianca Garcia replied May 16th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks Pats. I noticed that in the first pic too! I want some kesong puti right nowwwwwww.

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    ruel amascual posted January 12, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Bianca Garcia

    When I read your story, I just remembered my Nanay Aning making Homemade Kesong Puti of Queseyo in our house here in Tacloban City

    My Nanay make kesong puti from raw milk of carabao here in Tacloban City, Leyte for almost 40years. the kesong puti or we called here Queseyo is very delicious, smooth and soft and purely white and the taste will leave you like you ask for more. Most of the costumers now with my Nanay is just like you.. Nagsimula sa Mommy nila yung pagkain ng kesong puti hanggang sa anak at sa apo na nila. Yung ibang costumer ng Nanay ko na nagstay na sa abroad pag umuuwi ay pupunta sa bahay namin para bumili ng marami at magdadala pa pagbalik nila sa abroad. Wala daw doong kesong puti at hinahanap nila ang lasa nito. Mula sa opisina, bangko, paaralan, restaurant at tindahan dito sa amin ay binibintahan ng Nanay ko kaya kilala siya dito na nag-iisang magkekesong puti. Maganda po kasi ang quality ng kesong puti ng Nanay ko dahil maganda rin sya.

    Sa awa ng diyos, ang kesong puti ng Nanay ko ang nagpaaral sa aming magkapatid hanggang sa kolehiyo. My Nanay is now 65-years old and until now she doesn’t stop making kesong puti or Queseyo for she believed that someone just like you too love to eat kesong puti and this passed through generation-to-generation.

    All her recipes in making super delicious kesong puti ay alam naming lahat na magkakapatid. You can order wrapped in banana leaves (yung dahon ng pakol na banana na maraming buto dahil mabango ito pag painitan sa apoy at pambalot) or by flatted-circle 1.5inches diameter. I will send you photos of the kesong puti of my Nanay next time.

    Thanks.

    ruel

    • Bianca Garcia replied January 14th, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Hi Ruel, maraming salamat sa comment. I am sure your Nanay’s kesong puti is fantastic and I wish I can try it next time I am home. I wish you and your family the best.

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    Marie Ardi S. Ozaeta posted March 13, 2013 at 12:42 am

    We share a love for kesong puti…and I admire the love and sweetness you have for you mom…your mom is lucky she has you and you her… :)

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