Cotija cheese belongs to the parmesan family of cheeses and originates from the Michoacan region in Mexico. It’s fresh tasting, firm, and crumbly yet dense. In the early stages of the cheesemaking process, Cotija very closely resembles feta. After aging, it really comes into its own, earning its nickname, the “Parmesan of Mexico”.
Since Cotija is very strong in flavour, quite salty, and doesn’t melt, it has become a staple ingredient in a broad variety of dishes. You are as likely to come across it in a salad as you are to see it making its presence known amidst a fiery chili. In the US, Cotija is also beginning to make its mark, with many favouring it to Parmesan for their pasta dishes.
We invite you to review the following question and answer section for some additional information that could be helpful to you.
What is Cotija normally used in?
Cotija cheese doesn’t melt. Because of this, it is frequently used as a ‘topper’ cheese in Mexican cuisine. You will most likely find it broken into bits and spread all over enchiladas, wet burritos, salads, and even some sauces.
Where can I find Cotija cheese?
Unfortunately, Cotija can be notoriously difficult to find – particularly in Europe. Generally, the best places to seek it out are Mexican run food stores.
Substitutes for Cotija Cheese
The trouble with replacing an ingredient as unique and flavourful as Cotija is that many of the substitutes will be easier to find and cheaper than the original product. Naturally, nothing you replace it with will be exactly the same – but nevertheless, we feel like we can get you pretty close!
Generally, it is best to consider this as a guide for when a recipe calls for Cotija, but it is simply not available. Hopefully, in future we’ll begin to see a wider worldwide distribution of the cheese, but until then we’re going to give you the best available substitutes on the market. So, without further ado, here’s a list of the best substitutes for Cotija cheese that money can buy!
Cotija in its dry-aged form most resembles Parmesan in both flavour and texture and is an excellent substitute. It is hard and quite crumbly, so can adequately be used as a topping for fresh salads and as an ingredient in soups.
In terms of flavour, Parmesan possesses the same saltiness as Cotija. However, where it does lack is in scent as it doesn’t possess the same almost pungent odour. An interesting fact though, and one that’s worth considering… Given that Cotija is also known as the “Parmesan of Mexico”, you can’t go too far wrong with this substitute – perhaps even fooling the most refined of palates.
Of all the fine Parmesan out there, the best arguably come from Northern Italy. Below is our preferred commercially available example:
Pecorino Romano, to call it by its full Italian name, is a hard cheese perfect for grating and suitably hard and salty to substitute in for Cotija. Made since the 1st Century BC, there are many variations on this household favourite. Some are made from goat milk, some from cows’, others from a mixture of the two.
Each version of Romano has its own uses and characteristics. Some are mild in flavour (the cows’ milk), whereas some versions of the goat (Caprino Romano) are very sharp in flavour. A solid aged hard Romano is pretty much as close as it gets to the ideal table cheese. Though there are plenty of brands manufacturing Romano, the best are always Italian with the DOP seal from the Italian government.
However, if you’re looking for an excellent middle-of-the-road Romano, look no further than here:
3. Vegan Cotija
There really is a vegan option for everything these days. This is great, because for most, the hardest part of going vegan is giving up the cheese. So, with that, we have a recipe for those who are looking to make that change.
Having tried this on burritos, tacos, and salads, it can definitely hold its own against the original. Best of all… this substitute is made from a total of 3 ingredients! You only need:
· 8oz extra firm tofu
· 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
· 1 tsp nutritional yeast
· Salt, to taste
Simply strain the tofu through a cheesecloth or remove any excess water using a tofu press, then combine it with the other ingredients in a bowl. Stir it up well… and that’s it! You have yourself some vegan Cotija – the perfect substitute for vegan Mexican dishes!
Most of you will know exactly what feta is and wonder why we’re listing it as a reasonable substitute for Cotija. Well, the similarity is only apparent when we make the comparison with Cotija that hasn’t been matured for its typical duration. In this state, the textures are almost identical: soft, but far from being a liquid.
Characteristically, they are both quite dense and don’t melt. This makes feta an excellent substitute for salads, or to stuff into peppers, or even for more traditional Mexican dishes. The taste is also quite similar to fresh Cotija cheese; salty and just a little sharp.
There are plenty of excellent feta cheese makers out there.
We hope that you found this guide to substitutes for Cotija cheese to be a valuable and informative resource whilst seeking out alternative options. There are several viable options out there, some of which we haven’t listed here. However, what we have listed, we feel are the best substitutes out there that are easily attained.