Naturally gluten-free, Colombian cheese arepas (arepas con queso / arepas de queso) are little golden brown pockets of corn flour and delicious cheese that will melt in your mouth with each bite.
Whether you know them from Disney's Encanto film or from your travels to Colombia or Venezuela, these little Latin versions of grilled cheese taste amazing when coming off the skillet! Stuff these with mozzarella cheese, queso fresco or Jarlsberg cheese, and enjoy little bites of cheese goodness hot off the griddle.
Cook arepas de queso on a griddle and top them up with your favourite South American fixings - avocado, tomato, onions, more corn and a couple of delicious salsas - and feel the deliciousness of this crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside cheese arepas recipe. Discover the cuisine made popular by the movie Encanto with this traditional recipe!
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Discovering arepas con queso in Colombia
My first time arriving in Colombia also happened to be the first time I saw my normally gentle boyfriend truly lose his cool.
“What did I say, mom? What did I say?” he proceeded to yell into the hand-held phone, the cool night air entering the car through the barely open taxicab window, intermingled with the faint scent of rotting fruit and smog.
“I told you NOT to come to the airport, didn’t I? And what did you do?” I let my fingers intertwine with his, trying to put all the certainty I wasn’t even close to feeling into that one small gesture. The night-time streets of Bogota passed outside the window, all curves and gentle inclines, the street lamps blinking as though winking at us, conspiratorial.
“Now we have to sit outside and wait for you.” SLAM, the phone went into the car seat. A few deep breaths were the only sound audible in the car, except the ticking of the driver’s turning signal.
“I warned you, didn’t I?” he looked at me, speaking in his usual, quiet voice, his eyes pleading with me not to judge, to understand, to contain his emotions, which suddenly seemed too big and strong for this tiny, rickety taxi barreling dangerously through the streets of Bogota.
“Estamos aquí, señor,” the cab driver said in his brusque, clear Colombian Spanish, bringing us back to reality: the gated neighbourhood we arrived in, the youngsters playing soccer at 11PM, the tiny, makeshift bar on the corner, seemingly populated solely by the owner’s best friends.
The Colombian cheese arepas con queso glistening in the glass display cases, little golden rounds of fried corn dough holding within them melted treasures.
We lifted our suitcase from the trunk and walked to the entryway, never letting go of each other’s hands.
What are arepas con queso?
Arepas con queso (Cheese arepas, also called arepas de queso in Colombia and Venezuela) are fritters that are made out of ground and precooked corn flour (masarepa), mixed with shredded cheese and cooked on a griddle.
Colombian arepas are often served warm and eaten for breakfast, slathered with butter and more cheese on top. They are often had with hot chocolate, another staple of Colombian food.
My first time tasting an arepa colombiana came my first morning in Bogota, when, with the stresses of the previous night forgotten, my husband's mom proceeded to heat us up a mountainous pile of arepas stuffed with cheese.
My first bite into these warm golden pockets was met with a squirt of melted cheese, a burning sensation that was totally worth it for the intoxicating taste of gooey, stringy cheese inside.
It was love at first cheesy corn cake.
After that, we proceeded to buy cheese arepas at various little vendors - for breakfast in the small, sleepy town of Villa de Leyva, alongside boiling-hot aromatica, the local tea made up of a random selection of herbs and plants that never seemed to repeat itself.
I developed this arepas de queso recipe after watching my mother in law make them many times. My first time making arepas was not an immediate success, and I encourage you to experiment with this recipe a few times until you get the technique just right! I am thrilled to finally share this melty, cheesy, traditional Colombian recipe with you!
What is the difference between arepas and pupusas?
Arepas are one of the most popular recipes in Latin America, and many countries have their own version of this Latin grilled cheese sandwich.
Like Colombian arepas con queso, pupusas are also little corn cakes, often made with cheese. They are most usually Dominican in origin.
Recreating Colombian arepas con queso at home
It’s only natural that I sought to recreate these little tastes of goodness upon my return to cold, wintery Montreal in mid February.
After tries with a few different cheeses, we finally settled on the Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese as the perfect arepa toppings for our authentic Colombian cheese arepas.
The nutty taste of this otherwise mild, golden cheese is a perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the white corn meal. Its beautiful melting qualities made the experience of biting into one golden, fried cheesy corn cake a moment worthy of a celebration.
And the beautiful brown spots on the top of our arepas con queso? Those also came courtesy of Jarlsberg cheese, mixed into the dough and crisping upon contact with the hot griddle.
Making cheese arepa at home is a surprisingly quick, simple affair that will allow you to explore the cuisine of that incredible country, with which I fell in love upon first bite.
Arepa con queso ingredients
This recipe calls for:
- warm water - any water will do, but make sure it is warm and not boiling hot or cold. This will enable to you shape the cheese arepas better.
- Pre-cooked white or yellow arepa flour also known as masarepa - Goya and P.A.N are common masarepa brands in North America. You can find them in Latin or Asian stores, or on Amazon. They have a light, sweet corn flavor that is subtle yet delicious.
- Cheese, grated - you can use Jarlsberg cheese, mozzarella cheese or even queso fresco for best results
- vegetable oil or melted butter - use a good salted butter, or choose a flavorless oil like sunflower oil, or grapeseed oil.
- Salt - used to flavor the arepas de queso.
See recipe card for exact measurements.
Where to find arepa flour (masarepa)?
Arepa flour, or masarepa, which is what you use for making arepas. is different than regular corn flour because it is precooked cornmeal. That means the corn is first cooked, then ground into a flour and dried. You can get both yellow arepa flour and white arepa flour, and each is made from a different type of corn. In a pinch, you can use cornmeal for arepas, but the results won't be the same.
These days, arepa flour is found in many Latin stores, and general international ethnic stores. If you're lucky enough to live in an area with a large Latin population, you may even be able to find arepa flour in your local supermarket.
You can also buy arepa flour online, on Amazon.
How to make arepas de queso
Make the dough:
Pour water into large bowl. Add arepa flour, salt, oil, ½ cup of Jarlsberg cheese, and mix thoroughly to combine. Cover with a towel and let dough rest for five minutes.
Working with moist hands, remove about 3 tbsps worth of dough and flatten them between your palms. Add 1 tablespoon of cheese in the middle, and top with a handful more dough, gently pressing the dough over to cover the cheese in the dough and form a patty about ¼ inch thick.
To shape the arepas:
If you’re after those perfectly shaped Colombian arepas, place each ball of dough between 2 sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and flatten them to ¼ inch with a heavy cast iron pan. Repeat until you’re out of dough and cheese, transferring prepared arepas to a large platter.
To cook Colombian cheese arepas
Preheat your budare (special arepas pan), griddle or cast iron pan to medium heat (you can also use a nonstick skillet if that's all you have). Season with oil or butter to prevent them from sticking. Add the arepas and cook about 5 minutes on one side, and then another 5 minutes on the second side, until you achieve golden-brown colour and a beautiful char in spots. The best arepas tend to stick to the griddle until they are ready to be flipped, so don't rush it!
Serve Arepas de queso with toppings
To serve arepas de queso, cut them in half and put your favourite toppings inside - this is the way Venezuelan arepas are traditionally eaten, but I like it even more than just eating them plain. If not serving right away, transfer them to a 200 F oven to keep warm.
How to stuff an arepa colombiana?
Most of the time, Colombians arepas are had warm, with a pat of butter. This is one of the most simple ways to eat arepas, and it's delicious and easy with all that melty cheese!
But when you want to go all out, you can top your cheese arepas with toppings - or even better, stuff them, as they do in Venezuela.
To serve a stuffed arepa, all you need to do is take a sharp serrated bread knife, and cut the arepa in half widthwise halfway through. Then, dip the knife a bit downward and pull it out, thus creating a pocket into which you can put your favorite arepa toppings and arepa fillings.
What are some good arepa fillings?
Whether you put things inside your arepa, making a Venezuelan arepa, or on-top, like a Colombian, here are some of my favourite ideas for arepas fillings and what to eat with arepas:
- Colombian Aji is a must with arepas!
- More cheese
- Steak + goat cheese
If you ever wondered how to eat arepas, you've come to the right place. Traditionally, you should serve these for an authentic Colombian breakfast. I find that they are substantial enough for a lunch. They also make a great snack!
Check out our Cheese Arepas web story
To see the step-by-step story on how to make our delicious Colombian cheese arepas, check out this link!
Tried and loved this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below! Your reviews mean a lot to me, so if you've got any questions, please let me know in a comment.
Arepas con queso leftovers can be wrapped in tinfoil and / or stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.
Yes! I like to make a large batch of these cheese patties (double or triple this authentic arepas recipe), and freeze them for easy reheating later. These cheese arepas can be frozen (cooked or shaped and raw) for 6 months. Arepas can be cooked from frozen, but it will take longer.
To reheat Colombian cheese arepas, simply pop them in a 350 F oven or toaster oven for about 10 minutes. You can also fry them in a pan.
Yes. My mother in law makes a batch of these in the evening and reheats them in the morning. You can also make the batter and shape the arepas con queso the night before, and then fry them in the morning.
No, I do not recommend using uncooked cornmeal, corn flour, or masa harina for cooking arepas con queso. They will turn out dry and not as sweet, and you will need to play around with the ratios. In fact, they will be more like pupusas or cheesy corn cakes!
Other famous Colombian recipes
This authentic arepas recipe was brought back from my experiences in Colombia.
There, I had freshly baked Boyaca-style cheese arepas that could barely contain the inviting fragrance of the corn-and-cheese patties inside.
The Colombian market is bustling with vendors selling shelled peas, bushels of tamarillos (tomate de árbol, or tree tomatoes, a strange, mealy creation bearing no resemblance to its namesake fruit).
Fueled by the taste of local chicha, a fermented corn brew that used to be made from regurgitated and spat-out corn grains, I even tried to buy Colombian cheese arepas on the street in one particularly memorable night (I wasn’t successful).
The taste of those cheesy corn cakes became the aftertaste of my time in Bogota. Drizzled with spicy aji or generously topped with homemade pico de gallo, Colombian cheese arepas were some of the best and brightest memories of our holiday. (You can also pair it with beautiful Colombian pear ceviche).
More easy side dishes:
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Authentic Colombian cheese arepas with all the fixings
Colombian cheese arepas:
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup pre-cooked white or yellow arepa flour also known as masarepa - Goya and P.A.N are common brands in North America
- 1 cup Jarlsberg cheese grated
- 1 tablespoon oil
- Pinch salt
- ¼ cup Jarlsberg cheese grated
- 1 ripe avocado sliced
- ½ pint of cherry tomatoes cut in half
- ½ red onion diced finely
- Fresh cilantro chopped finely
- Green onion sliced into thin circles
- ½ cup Colombian pico de gallo (or your favourite salsa)
- ⅛ cup Colombian aji (https://immigrantstable.com/2018/05/18/spicy-colombian-aji-the-best-hot-sauce/, or your favourite hot sauce)
- Pour water into large bowl. Add arepa corn flour, salt, oil, ½ cup of Jarlsberg cheese, and mix thoroughly to combine. Cover with a towel and let dough rest for five minutes.
- Working with moist hands, remove about 3 tbsps worth of dough and flatten them between your palms. Add 1 tablespoon of cheese in the middle, and top with a handful more dough, gently pressing to seal the cheese inside and form a patty about ¼ inch thick. If you’re after those perfectly shaped arepas, place each arepa ball between 2 sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and flatten them to ¼ inch with a heavy cast iron pan. Repeat until you’re out of dough and cheese, transferring prepared arepas to a large platter.
- Preheat your budare (special arepas pan), griddle or cast iron pan to high heat. Season with oil or butter. Place the arepas in the pan and cook about 5 minutes on each side, until you achieve golden-brown colour and a beautiful char in spots.
- To serve arepas, cut them in half and put your favourite toppings inside. Drizzle with Colombian pico de gallo and aji.