Espetinhos de Queijo: Skewered Cheese on the Grill with Honey Drizzle
When we think of “grilled cheese” in the States, we think of a toasted sandwich, often accompanied by a steaming bowl of tomato soup. Grilled cheese has a completely different meaning in Brazil, where it is not a sandwich at all. Instead, Brazilian grilled cheese, or espetinhos de queijo, is a favorite on-the-go snack that is literally nothing more than cheese that has been skewered and grilled.
Despite its simplicity, Brazilian grilled cheese is a decadent and delicious treat. The salty, smoky cheese is often accompanied with a sweet honey drizzle, perfectly rounding out the flavors of this handheld delight. We like to sprinkle it with a healthy amount of farofa (toasted cassava) for a little crunch and nuttiness-it is seriously like having portable baked brie on a cracker.
Best Cheeses for Grilling
In Brazil, the favorite cheese for many dishes is called Minas cheese. More specifically, “minas fresca” (fresh minas cheese) is the preferred medium of choice for making Brazilian cheese sticks.
Unfortunately, minas cheese is not readily available outside of Brazil. However, it bears a good resemblance in both taste and texture to a few cheeses you may readily substitute. In general, you want a nice, salty cheese with a high melting point (you want it to maintain its structure after grilling). If you cannot find fresh minas cheese, try the following:
Halloumi: halloumi is often the go-to for grilling cheeses. Originally from Cyprus, it is made from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. It can be found in most high end grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Sprouts. You will also likely find it at your local Mediterranean grocers, especially if the neighborhood has a sizable Greek population.
Kefalotyri: kefalotyri is also a Greek cheese made from sheep and goat milk. It is somewhat harder and saltier than halloumi, and the end result has a somewhat softer and smoother texture. Again, you should be able to find this cheese at your local Whole Foods or Mediterranean market.
Paneer: this is our favorite cheese to use for this recipe. It is a hard cow’s milk cheese common in India, Nepal, Pakistan and other parts of South Asia. It is just as lovely on the grill as halloumi, but tends to be quite a bit less expensive. You can also find it at Whole Foods or at many Indian grocers.
Queso Panela: queso panela is a Mexican cow’s milk cheese similar in taste and texture to minas cheese. It has a mild, slightly salty flavor that pairs well with sweet or salty condiments. Queso panela has a higher water content, however. It does not, typically, do well as a skewer or hand held, unless you put the end result in a tortilla or on a piece of bread. Queso panela can be found in most grocery stores in the international refrigerator section.
Preparing Your Brazilian Grilled Cheese Skewers
If you are using wooden skewers, you will need to soak them in water for 30 minutes or so to avoid burning on the grill. Remove the soaked skewers and let dry for a few minutes on a paper towel.
If you are using halloumi, you can use the skewer-soaking time to extract a little of the excess salt from the cheese. Place the cheese in a container of cold water for half an hour, then remove and pat dry with paper towels.
Brazilian Grilled Cheese Skewers Recipe
14 oz paneer cheese, cut into 1”x3” sticks.
Extra virgin olive oil
- Heat your grill or grilling pan to medium-high heat. Brush liberally with the extra virgin olive oil.
- Place skewers in each of your cheese sticks and prepare a large baking sheet lined with foil to place them after they are grilled.
- Put skewered cheese sticks onto the preheated grill and grill for 2-3 minutes per side. Try your best to allow clear grill marks to form before turning.
- Sprinkle a little kosher salt onto the grilled cheese and put finished sticks on the lined baking sheet.
- When all the sticks are grilled, drizzle with a generous amount of honey or guava syrup and sprinkle with farofa or toasted sesame seeds for a little crunch.