What Is Brazilian Cheese Bread? (Pão de Queijo)

What is Brazilian cheese bread?

God knows how much I enjoy a legit Brazilian Cheese Bread. It’s probably my favorite snack here in Brazil and It’s almost impossible to visit my mom without having half a dozen of “Pão de Queijo” with a huge cup of coffee. But even being one of the most traditional Brazilian foods, many people ask the question: what is Brazilian cheese bread?

A Brazilian Cheese Bread is a roll or bun made with cheese and starch. It’s baked in the oven until it’s golden and crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside with the melted cheese. Called “Pão de Queijo” in Brazil, this recipe is super traditional and goes very well with coffee.

The taste and the texture are really overwhelming, I bet you’ll not be able to eat just one of them on your first try. There are a lot of different versions of “Pão de Queijo”, even some stuffed with meat, sausage, even sweet options! To learn all about Brazilian Cheese Bread, read on.

The Famous Brazilian Cheese Bread

The “Pão de Queijo”, known as Brazilian Cheese Bread in other countries, is one of the most traditional foods in Brazil (personally, it’s one of my favorite snacks on any occasion).

As a general rule, Pão de Queijo is a bread roll with an elastic dough, crunchy outside, and full of melted cheese. This small roll is super tasty and easy to make. Made basically with Cheese and Sour Starch, the “Pão de Queijo” can be homemade or bought in every bakery and supermarket in Brazil.

It can be consumed at any time of the day but goes especially well with coffee in the morning or mid-afternoon. A super interesting detail about the Cheese Bread is that it does not contain gluten, as it is made with starch, a flour that comes from tapioca gum (made with cassava). Thus, celiacs — that is: gluten intolerant — can enjoy this Brazilian delicacy with no fear.

What Is Brazilian Cheese Bread? (Pão de Queijo)

What Is Brazilian Cheese Bread Made Of?

There are several ways to make good Brazillian cheese bread. The base ingredients are usually the same, with some recipes varying depending on the person that is making and the family traditions.

As a general rule, a legit Brazilian Cheese Bread is made of starch (made from cassava), cheese, fat, eggs, and milk or water. The cheeses should preferably be more resistant, saltier, and very tasty, such as half-cured, Serra da Canastra (traditionally from Minas Gerais), Gruyère, or Parmesan.

As said before, some recipes are made with milk and others call for water. There are also those with the two ingredients mixed. It really depends on the person that is making it and the ingredients available in the location. Some people prefer lard in terms of the fat added to the mixture, while others choose butter or oil.

In Brazil is common to find two types of starch: sweet and sour. For “Pão de Queijo” there are those who use sweet starch, which leaves the product denser, uniform, and crunchy on the outside, and those who prefer sour, which has a greater capacity for expansion and leaves the bread lighter, airier, and, when cold, drier. Some use the two together to balance the types.

The fact is that, although there are countless ways, the quality of a cheese bread like this lies in the use of fresh and typically rural items, such as free-range eggs, with very orange yolks that transmit color and boost the flavor, and the handmade flour, which has little clumps that make all the difference in the result.

When Was Brazilian Cheese Bread Invented?

The origin of cheese bread is still uncertain. There are reports that the recipe was created in Minas Gerais, in the 18th century, when the farm cooks used in their bread recipes cassava flour (later known as polvilho) instead of wheat flour (of low quality and inappropriate for consumption) which was brought by the Portuguese.

They started cooking their bread with the starch and adding cheese leftover to the mixture. At the time, it was customary to take a piece of the delicacy and eat it right after meals. Thus, the cooks also mixed the eggs and milk — which were in high supply, due to the expansion of cattle raising — rolled up all the dough and baked.

Another story states that the recipe arose during the period of slavery, from the combination of eggs and milk, Portuguese heritages, with manioc, until then considered the bread of the native Indians. This mixture also included the cheese, usually intense and responsible for flavoring the dough. But this is not the most accepted version of the story, and probably the Pão de Queijo actually emerged on the farms.

It is worth mentioning that the popularization only took place after 1950, coincidentally along with the development of grocery stores such as bread, cakes, and cookies. From that decade on, the delicacy began to be consumed throughout the country.

How Is Pão de Queijo Traditionally Served?

Brazilian Cheese Bread is one of the most delicious foods in the country. Versatile, simple to make, and cheap, this small roll made with flour and cheese wins the heart (and taste buds) of anyone, it’s love at the first bite. Still, some have doubts about how the Cheese Bread is served.

As a general rule, Pão de Queijo is served with fresh coffee, jams, and dulce de leche, together with other breakfast foods. The Brazilian cheese bread goes well at any time of the day, but it’s especially good in the morning or the mid of the day, the afternoon coffee time for Brazilians.

But it is important to emphasize that when it comes to Cheese Bread there is no specific rule on how to serve it. The way explained above is the most common in Brazil, but it is also possible to find places where bread is served in another way. When it comes to Cheese Bread, the only essential thing is to eat it very fresh, preferably still warm from the oven. Reheated it is also good, but fresh is always better.

Where Did Pão de Queijo Originate From?

The country of origin of the Cheese Bread is very easy to identify, as it is in the name given to the recipe in English: the Brazilian Cheese Bread. But the complete story goes back to one of the richest regions in gastronomy and milk production in Brazil, the state of Minas Gerais.

Pão de Queijo is originated in Brazil. The story says that the recipe was invented in Minas Gerais by dairy farmers that started cooking their bread with cassava starch and cheese leftovers from their productions. Others say the recipe could have been invented by slaves, but this version is less likely.

Regardless of the actual version of recipe creation, the fact is that Pão de Queijo only became popular in the mid-1950s, the same period in which small and medium-sized bakeries in Brazil became even more popular.

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