Few things warrant a bare-footed trot over hot pavement like the promise of frozen treats. Around the world, kids demonstrate a Pavlovian response to the sound of an ice cream truck or the bark of a vendor calling out flavors. But not all children grow up licking cones of cheese ice cream. In the Philippines, keso (from the phonetic spelling of the Spanish queso) is as classic a flavor as chocolate or vanilla.
Roaming sorbeteros peddle keso ice cream streetside, a practice that locals call selling “dirty ice cream.” The product isn’t filthy; it’s just inexpensive (dirt cheap, even). An average vendor stocks his colorful cart with flavors like keso, mango, chocolate, coconut, and ube (a vibrant purple yam flavor that tops the iconic Filipino dessert, halo-halo). Then, he posts up, often near a school. A few cents buys any young customer sweet relief from the island heat.
Keso flavor blends cheddar and sweet cream, sometimes speckled with orange bits of cheese. Many Pinoy ice cream fans eat the salty-sweet scoop sandwiched inside a small, pillowy bread roll called pan de sal. Others prefer keso paired with a second ice cream flavor. The combination creates a tangy, savory balance, akin to a slice of cheesecake.
Though the cheese-flavored scoop has its critics, most people accept cheese sandwiches and ice cream sandwiches, respectively. Is combining them simply too much of a good thing? The millions of Filipinos who love keso ice cream in pan de sal think not.
Need to Know
Street vendors and grocery stores all over the Philippines sell cheddar cheese ice cream. You might see it listed as "queso," "keso," or "quezo."