Of all the Mexican cheeses out there, cotija cheese stands out for its crumbly texture, salty flavor, and distinctive aroma. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find in grocery stores.
If you're looking for a substitute for cotija cheese that can mimic its taste and texture, you're in luck. We've rounded up some great alternatives to cotija cheese that you can try in your next recipe.
What is Cotija Cheese?
Cotija is a Mexican cheese made from cow's milk that has a crumbly texture with a distinct salty flavor, similar to Parmesan cheese. Named after the town of Cotija in the state of Michoacan where it originated from
Cotija a white cheese can come in a young soft fresh Cotija cheese and an aged version or aged Cotija cheese that is hard cheese. Both versions feature a salty, tangy, nutty milky flavor.
It is often used as a topping for salads, tacos, and variety of dishes from the Mexican cuisine, where its salty flavor and crumbly texture can add a great dimension to savory dishes. Cotija is also enjoyed eaten as a snack or appetizer.
What is Cotija Molido?
Cotija molido is Cotija cheese that has been finely grated into small pieces, making it easier to sprinkle on top of food.
How to pronounce Cotija?
Cotija is prounounced like kuh·tee·huh!
What does Cotija Cheese Taste Like?
Cotija cheese has a very distinctive salty taste, and a tangy flavor, with a crumbly texture. It can have a strong, pungent flavor, with a slightly nutty and savory taste. The saltiness of Cotija cheese often defines it, and it is used as a finishing cheese or topping for dishes to add a burst of flavor.
Some may find the taste of Cotija cheese to be a strong flavor, with others enjoying this delicious cheese with its bold and distinctive flavor.
How to make Cotija Cheese?
Milk is heated to 100°F in a pot with starter cultures and rennet added to begin the curdling process. The curdled milk is cut into smaller pieces then rested to allow the curds to firm up and separate the whey. The curds are placed in molds or baskets where they are pressed to remove any remaining whey and help give it is crumbly texture. The cheese is then removed from the molds and aged for the aging process to develop flavor, salted then ready for use.
Is Cotija Cheese Pasteurized?
Cotija cheese can be made from pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. In the United States Cotija cheese is usually made from pasteurized milk for safety reasons, to help eliminate harmful bacteria in raw milk.
Some artisanal Cotija cheese may still be made from unpasteurized milk. It is important to check the product labels if it is important to you.
Does Cotija Cheese Melt?
Cotija cheese is a hard, crumbly cheese that does not melt easily or change its shape. It may soften and become slightly gooey when heated. Cotija cheese will not melt like mozzarella or cheddar cheese and other excellent melting cheeses.
How to use Cotija Cheese?
Grated Cotija cheese or shredded Cotija cheeses are used as a topping or garnish for dishes, rather than as a melting cheese.
Often crumbled or grated in Mexican cuisine over tacos, enchiladas, salads, and other dishes to add a salty, tangy flavor, with some added texture.
Cotija Cheese substitute for Mexican street corn?
The best substitutes to use as alternatives to Cotija cheese in delicious Mexican street corn:
- Feta Cheese: has a smilar salty tangy flavor and crumbly texture to Cotija.
- Queso Fresco: not as salty as Cotija, but has a similar crumbly texture
- Parmesan Cheese: a hard salty cheese similar to Cotija cheese.
- Grana Padano Cheese: hard even saltier cheese but similar to Parmesan.
Where to buy Cotija Cheese?
You can buy Cotija cheese at most local grocery stores in the dairy or cheese section. Cotija and Cotija cheese alternatives are also available at Kroger grocery store, Whole Foods and Walmart for online purchase and pickup. Also available at specialty cheese stores.
What are the Best Substitutes for Cotija Cheese? (Ranked)
If Cotija cheese is not readily available or you are looking for a substitute, here are the best options for Cotija:
1. Feta Cheese
This Greek type of cheese is tangy and salty, with a crumbly texture that's similar to Cotija. Feta is the best Cotija cheese substitute for pasta and used in salads, tacos, and other dishes that need a similar flavor profile.
Feta cheese vs Cotija
Feta cheese is a brined cheese from Greece made from sheep's milk or a mixture of sheep's and goat milk. Fete is crumbly texture with a tangy, salty, and slightly acidic flavor. Feta cheese is crumbly in texture and is commonly used in salads, sandwiches, pasta and pizza.
Cotija is a Mexican cheese like feta though it is a cow's milk cheese which is also crumbly but with more of a salty taste and stronger flavor. Often used in Mexican cuisine as a topping for tacos, enchiladas and tostadas. Cotija can be referred to the parmesan of Mexico and used as a Mexican parmesan in Mexican cuisine the same as you would Parmesan.
2. Queso Fresco Cheese
Cotija Cheese vs Queso Fresco?
Queso Fresco vs Cotija?
Is Cotija cheese the same as queso fresco?
Mexican queso fresco is a softer, mild flavor cheese with a slight sweet tang, made from cow's milk also with a crumbly texture. Queso fresco is often used as a creamy filling for enchiladas, as a topping for tacos, or crumbled over beans or rice dishes.
It can also be grated or crumbled and used as extra seasoning in soups or stews and in place of Cotija cheese.
Cotija cheese is a hard, crumbly Mexican cheese that's made from cow's milk. It has a salty, tangy flavor that is similar to feta or Parmesan cheese. Cotija's strong, salty flavor is great for adding a punch of flavor to tacos, salads and other Mexican food.
Queso fresco is a great alternative to Cotija cheese.
3. Anejo Cheese
Anejo Cheese is a firm, aged version of a Mexican cheese, traditionally made most often from skimmed cow's milk. Anejo cheese is known for the Chile powder or bright paprika outer coating.
It does not have as strong a flavor as Cotija but it does have a tangy, sharp flavor and a crumbly texture, similar to cotija cheese.
Anejo cheese substitute can be used as a topping for tacos and enchiladas making it an ideal substitute for Cotija.
4. Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian hard cheese from northern Italy, is often called the King of cheese and especially great for pasta. It has a nutty undertone with a hard grainy texture that is grated, unless you buy the store bought shaker version which will have much less flavor.
Parmesan does not crumble and is not as salty so you may have to adjust your recipes a little for your desired seasoning.
Cotija can be referred to as the parmesan of Mexico with its ability to be used as a Mexican parmesan in Mexican cuisine the same as you would Parmesan.
Parmesan is a best option to subsitute for Cotija cheese as a Mexican parmesan in pasta and a topping on salad, bean or rice dishes.
5. Grana Padano Cheese
Grana Padano is hard Italian cheese similar to Parmesan, with a nutty but slightly milder flavor.
Grana Padano is a good option for adding a nutty, umami flavor to pasta dishes, salads, and any recipes that need Cotija cheese.
It is not as salty as Cotija so again you may need to adjust your recipe accordingly for your desired seasoning to match the saltiness of Cotija cheese.
6. Pecorino Romano
Pecorino Romano is hard salty Italian cheese, with the texture of this cheese similar to Romano or Parmesan but with a similar salty flavor to Cotija cheese, made with sheep's milk instead of cow's milk.
Pecorino Romano alternative is a great addition as a substitute for Cotija particularly for its saltiness in pasta beans or rice dishes.
Since It is saltier than Cotija with a less distinct tangy flavor, you may have to adjust your recipes to reach your desired seasoning or taste.
7. Romano Cheese
Another hard texture, saltier Italian cheese, Romano can be made from cow or sheeps milk with very similar flavor to Pecorino Ramano with but aged for a shorter time.
It can also be a good substitute for Cotija in grated in pasta dishes or topping on beans and rice dishes.
8. Ricotta Salata
Ricotta salata is a more solid or firm texture, salted Italian cheese made from sheep's milk whey. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a crumbly texture that's similar to Cotija cheese.
So it can be a good alternative for Cotija cheese in many dishes.
Ricotta salata has a milder flavor than Cotija, so adjusting the seasoning in your recipe may be necessary for desired level of taste.
9. Goat Cheese Crumbles
What is Goat Cheese Crumbles?
Goat cheese crumbles are small chunks or small piece of fresh goat cheese that are broken or crumbled from a larger piece.
Goat cheese is a soft, tangy cheese made from goat's milk, that can come in a fresh goat cheese or a more pungent aged goat cheese version.
Goat cheese crumbles are used in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, often paired with fruits, nuts, and herbs.
Goat cheese crumbles can be a good Cotija alternative in cheese in salads, pizza, pastas, or for a creamy less salty substitute for Cotija.
Best Dairy Free Vegan Cheese Substitute for Cotija Cheese?
- Vegan Feta Cheese: crumbles and salty tang great option similar to Cotija
- Nutritional Yeast: a cheesy powder with a similar use of Parmesan
- Tofu Cotija: made with tofu, apple cider vinegar, lime juice and garlic
- Vegan Queso Fresco: soft crumbly cheese made from tofu
- Vegan Ricotta Cheese: mild creamy texture good for past or salads
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you use a fresh soft cheese as a subsitute for Cotija cheese?
Yes, you can use a fresh soft cheese as a substitute for Cotija cheese. While Cotija cheese has a unique salty and tangy flavor, a fresh soft cheese such as queso fresco, feta cheese, or ricotta salata can provide a similar texture and flavor. We do not recommend using cottage cheese.
What Mexican cheese substitutes are good options for Cotija Cheese?
Queso fresco the best Mexican cheese option to substitute for Cotija cheese. Anejo cheese is also a good option for topping on tacos and enchiladas.
What Italian Cheeses are a good substitutes for Cotija cheese?
Hard Italian types of cheese such as Parmesan, Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano and Romano cheese are all the best alternatives for Cotija grated over pasta, and salads. Ricotta Salata with its firm texture is a good choice as a milder slightly sweet substitute for cotija.
How to Grate or Shred Cotija Cheese?
Cotija cheese can be difficult to grate or shred so we recommend using these methods for grating and shredding it.
- A microplane is a terrific utensil to use for grating Cotija cheese
- Use a food processor to grate small pieces of Cotija cheese
- Carefully using a sharp knife to finely chop Cotija
Cotija Cheese Storage
How Long Does Cotija Cheese Last?
Opened Cotija cheese should be consumed and stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for 1 to 2 weeks.
A soft, fresh Cotija, should stored in original packaging in the fridge and be enjoyed within 3 to 5 days after opening.
If you see any mold or it has a sour milky taste it is time to throw the Cotija cheese out for safety, it has gone bad.
Can You Freeze Cotija Cheese?
It is best to freeze Cotija cheese in smaller portions wraped tightly in a plastic wrap or aluminum foil placed in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 2 or 3 months. Freezing Cotija cheese may cause it to lose its texture and some flavor.
Allow Cotija cheese to thaw slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Do not refreeze a second time.