By: Amariah Torres
As we step into Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15, we enter a special time when some Americans come together to celebrate rich Hispanic histories and cultures: Mexican, Spanish, Caribbean and Central/South American ancestry. This monthlong celebration is a vibrant time of festivities that encompass various aspects of Hispanic and Latinx culture, including religion, traditions and, of course, one of the greatest passions—food! Hispanic cuisine, deeply rooted in grains, proteins, vegetables, fruits and, notably, dairy, plays a pivotal role in fostering a sense of community and preserving cherished traditions and customs across Latin American countries.
According to insights from the Dairy Business Association, Hispanics collectively spent a staggering $6 billion in 2016 on dairy foods in the United States alone (Mara, 2017). Milk and dairy products are not occasional indulgences in Hispanic culture; they are a daily part of life. From the creamy delights of queso fresco to the richness of crema Mexicana, dairy items have held a central place in traditional dishes for generations. These nutrient-packed foods not only infuse an explosion of flavors into iconic dishes like tacos, quesadillas, empanadas, arepas and more but also represent an integral component of Hispanic customs and traditions held dear by so many of us.
“Food is very social for Latinos. Whole families go shopping together and you have more generations under one roof so everything involving the shopping, preparation and eating, of course, involves everyone. Plus, we love our dairy.” – Stephen Chavez, Latino Foodie blog, Dairy Business Association
Cheese—a savory ingredient that graces many Hispanic dishes—holds a special place in the hearts and appetites of California residents. While a delightful variety of Hispanic cheeses are enjoyed worldwide, here in California our love story with cheese often begins in Mexico. Famous cheeses like Cotija, panela, requesón, queso fresco, Oaxaca and Chihuahua have become household names in California, and they enhance the flavors of countless culinary creations.
According to the California Milk Advisory Board, requesón cheese emerges at third among the fastest-growing cheeses in the United States, boasting an impressive 33.3% increase in recent years compared to other popular cheese varieties (Ethnic Cheeses, n.d.). Figure 1 explores the growth rates of other Mexican cheeses in the United States, with criollo at 9.1%, Chihuahua at 8.3%, asadero at 7.7% and cotija at 6.4% (Ethnic Cheeses, n.d.). This surge in popularity isn't just about culinary trends. It's a testament to the enduring influence of Hispanic culture on the American dairy market. Cheese, a beloved staple in Hispanic cuisine, plays a pivotal role in elevating the flavors of cultural dishes. Without cheese, many favorite Hispanic foods would lose their quintessential essence.
“Most Mexican dishes contain a variety of cheeses: tamales de rajas, quesadillas, sopes, enchiladas and so much more. I can’t imagine our culture without any cheese in any of our dishes. Just think about a quesadilla and mulita without cheese—it would be just a tortilla!” — Annabelle Salas, San Diego
Some of my fondest memories growing up are at the breakfast table when my mother would say, “Aqui esta tu leche.” Every morning, I would drink my ice-cold milk or my creamy leche de chocolate before embarking on my many adventures at school. From creamy desserts like flan and arroz con leche to savory dishes like queso fresco-topped tacos and arepas stuffed with queso blanco, dairy products are an integral part of the Hispanic culinary experience and my culture. But it's not just about taste—it's about community, family and heritage.
As we savor the diverse flavors and textures that dairy brings to our tables, let us also remember the generations of nanas and tías who passed down their culinary wisdom, sharing the love and warmth of their hearts and kitchens. Let us celebrate the ways dairy brings us together, adding a dash of nostalgia to every meal and a sprinkle of cultural pride to every delectable bite.
At Dairy Council of California, we understand the importance of culturally diverse foodways and the role dairy plays in these cultures. Milk and dairy foods provide high-quality nutrition which is not only culturally relevant but also easily accessible and affordable. From our June is Dairy Month resources to our Farm to School events, our work here at Dairy Council of California never wavers on showing the important role milk and dairy foods have on sustainable nutrition, healthy eating patterns and cultures.
So, whether we're enjoying a steaming cup of champurrado on a chilly morning or savoring the last spoonful of a favorite tres leches cake at a party, let’s take a moment to appreciate the importance of dairy in Hispanic culture. It's more than just food. It's a living, breathing connection to family roots and a testament to the enduring power of tradition. In every bite, we find a taste of home, a reminder of where we come from and a celebration of who we are. ¡Viva la leche!
Amariah Torres is a full time data analyst supporting data analysis and evaluation work.
June Is Dairy Month is the perfect time to celebrate all that milk and dairy foods have to offer.
Dairy Council hosted dairy tours at Konyn Dairy Farm in Southern California to educate on the importance of dairy’s role in a sustainable food system.