This country is fanatical about cheese.

Or at least the southern half, where my host-mother and resident chef hails from.

Little did I know when I arrived here that I’d be bombarded by this dairy product with a gusto I’d expect from Switzerland or France, or some other European country with a long and storied tradition of dairy farms and wine and cheese events. More research is needed to find out precisely which culture from the Ecuadorian melting pot is responsible for cheesifying the country’s culinary customs, but no amount of knowledge will change the fact that it’s served with almost every meal and that my cholesterol is skyrocketing with every bite.

Most commonly used in daily cooking is queso fresco, a soft, sweet smelling and tasting cheese made from unpasteurized milk. Queso semi-maduro y maduro (“ripe”, or harder cheese) is more similar to traditional pasteurized European cheeses with mild flavors such as parmesan or provolone, and it usually accompanies pasta, sandwiches or wine.

Among the foods that under no circumstance should be served without a hefty portion of queso fresco are soup, hot chocolate, grains, lentils, corn, fruit desserts (figs, peaches, guava), plantains, humitas (cornmeal), mushrooms, spinach, rice tortillas, and toast. God help the gringo that can’t tolerate queso fresco.

My host father demanded, only somewhat jokingly, an essay to demonstrate his and fellow countryman’s passion for cheese – the way it beautifully oozes and blends with hot cocoa or how the taste of corn can only be truly revealed with a hunk of fresco – and was disappointed to hear I would only be offering an uncompromising list of Ecuadorian foods to be graced by his beloved queso. But I haven’t been here long enough to appreciate it on his zealous level. In a month or two, after gaining some serious love-handles, maybe I’ll be able to give a more impassioned report.