Pão de Queijo

Pão de queijo recipe was one of my obsessions since I learned hot to make it. When I was in Brazil, I improved my recipe, because I made lots of pão de queijo. I’m sort of obsessed with this bread. This taste was born some years ago when I was living abroad, outside of my country.

As many of you may know, I used to live in Seattle for a couple of years, where the expat ratio has been growing in the last years. There, I met people from many countries, included Brazil. I remember well when I got an invite to my first themed potluck, which was origin-country based. I remembered I made some rajas poblanas that day and everyone loved how medium spicy they were. Drinking some wine and enjoying the other delicious dishes from my other friends; Indian samosas, even some good American brisket I can recall off the top of my head. Good moments and laughter. Until that moment, everything seemed like a regular party day.

Suddenly, of course, they were late, a Brazilian friend and his mom showed up with two plastic containers full of little pieces of bread. Quite yellow and soft. So I remember myself saying;

- Hey Bruno, Valeria, what's that?
- 'pamdequesho' (pão de queijo)…"

Since Spanish is my native tongue, I realized they mentioned some name in Portuguese related to pan y queso (cheese and bread). I loved the idea and tried it out…

Everything changed from that moment

I never before tried anything like that. I’m a huge fan of these two things, bread, and cheese. Having both in the same product with the right cheese and dough balance, but overall, mixed in the same thing. Before that, I’ve tried other bread stuffed with cheese but not combined in one single thing. Naturally, I asked them everything about it, recipe, ingredients, Brazilian regions where it’s more common to eat it. I felt terrible that day with the rest of the invitees because I ate more than half of their pães de queijo, I couldn’t stop eating them; it was so addictive!!

Baking Pão de Queijo

I started studying the recipe because I wanted to bake them. Next week, my friend Ryan (yeah the one that went with me to Chile to cook with Antonio) suggested we should cook together recipes we have never prepared before to improve our cooking skills, and then invite some friends over to eat the results of our experiments. So there it was, an excellent excuse to finally bake pão de queijo. I told Ryan, of course, my friend! Let’s make some good food and delight our friends.

Pão de queijo

The result was a little disappointing. I followed the recipe directions by the book, step by step. Oil, tapioca flour, milk, salt, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese (decent replacement for the original cheese, queijo meia cura) eggs, a little bit of water. The dough seemed a little sticky but still manageable -and supposed to be like that-. The cheese balls looked well on the baking tray, but once in the oven, they started to melt down and not having a ball shape anymore, but a sort of cookie. The taste was great, though. So I thought to myself, one day, if I am traveling in Brazil, I’ll learn how to make the real recipe with the real and fresh ingredients.

The Real Thing

After traveling through Argentina, I discovered that they had a similar version of it, called Chipa. The taste was very similar to my beloved pão de queijo. My first thought was that a Brazilian influence would have got there but never saw anything related to Brazilian culture. Something was missing so; I started asking people and investigating on the Internet where the connection was. Finally, I found out that chipa was created initially in Paraguay by guraní culture. More versions of it sprouted up over other countries in South America like Argentina (Chipa), Bolivia (Cuñapé), Colombia (Almojabana or pan de bono), and Brazil (Pão de Queijo). Even the first version didn’t have cheese in it because it was brought by Spaniards when they colonized American countries.

When I finally arrived in Brazil, I started trying out pães de queijo every time I saw a different look. Every nuance that my instinct would notice in the botecos, padarias, even supermarkets would attract my sight, would buy and taste it. I wanted to experience bad and great pão de queijo in the different regions I was visiting. I learned in three months what Brazilians pass in a lifespan (how naive of me) but at least I tried.

And in the meantime, I was also discovering other dishes from the Brazilian gastronomy, like Feijoada, Feijão Tropeiro, Coxinhas, Acarajé, among others. A good way to explore a country’s cuisine, no?

Minas Gerais

Every time I asked people where in Brazil could I find the best pão de queijo, everybody would tell me; go to Minas Gerais (Bruno and Valeria are from there and also told me so). Minas Gerais is a state in the South East of Brazil, famous for having one of the most delicious cuisines in the country and also, the best cheese; queijo Minas. I was traveling in Brazil for cooking purposes so, I went there and met the family that runs Casa da Horta. When I told them about this project, they happily accepted to work with me filming this video.

Pão de Queijo in São João del Rei

Brumadinho is one hour and a half away south of the capital of the State, Belo Horizonte. It is famous because it has one of the biggest and famous museums in the world. Inhotim and my, now, friends from Casa da Horta offer accommodation within walking distance of the museum and make café da manhã including pão de queijo for their guests. Recently, they contacted me and told me they are now running a little workshop to show how to prepare it. If you’re around there, I can only recommend you to stay and learn from them how to make this bread. Just watch the video if you have any doubt about all this. The video is in Portuguese, but subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese are available.

But I'll be back

Traveling in Brazil taught me a lot of things. Besides learning Portuguese (with some mistakes and more pending practice) I also understood how important is to master the language of the places where you travel. Mastering the language will make easier to communicate with the local people in a deeper level. I want to thank Ariane Alves for all the support to make this video possible. Also, thanks to Casa da Horta staff (Janeth, Igor, Telma, and Natalia) for having us over and share your home and pão de queijo recipe.

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