If you’re a big fan of Mexican food, you’ve undoubtedly tried cotija cheese (even if you haven’t realized it). Many south-of-the-border recipes call for a sprinkling of this tasty white cheese to add a salty flavor and crumbly texture — so what do you do if you need a cotija cheese substitute?
There’s no need to worry if you’re whipping up a delicious Mexican dish and you don’t have any cotija cheese on hand. This post will offer tips on what to use as a cotija cheese substitute if you run out of the real stuff or can’t find it in stores.
What is cotija cheese?
Cotija cheese originated in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where it was named after the town of Cotija. Traditionally, this cheese is made from cow’s milk that’s been aging for up to 12 months. When it’s only aged for a few months, cotija cheese is soft and crumbly. But when it’s able to mature for a longer period of time, the texture becomes harder and flakier.
What dishes use cotija cheese?
Cotija cheese is a staple in Mexican and Mexican-inspired food. It’s frequently used as a garnish on tacos, chili, enchiladas, nachos, and quesadillas. You can also sprinkle it on salads and soups for a bit of yummy indulgence.
You might recognize cotija cheese if you’ve ever tried elote (also known as Mexican street corn). If you aren’t familiar with elote, it’s a grilled ear of corn covered in toppings such as butter, chili or cayenne powder, lime, mayonnaise, and cotija cheese. In the past, elote was a snack sold by street vendors, but it’s gained quite a bit of popularity and can now be found in many trendy restaurants worldwide.
What’s a good cotija cheese substitute?
Since this cheese is featured in so many dishes, it can be a big pain if you can’t find it in stores. Here are some options for the best cotija cheese substitute.
As we mentioned earlier, cotija cheese has a crumbly texture when it’s less matured — quite similar to the consistency of feta cheese. Plus, both of these cheeses have a salty kick. That’s why feta makes for a good cotija cheese substitute if you prefer the younger, more breakable cotija style.
Due to its ubiquity in Mexican cuisine, cotija cheese has earned the nickname “the Parmesan of Mexico.” Parmesan cheese is a nice cotija cheese substitute if you like the aged type of cotija, which is more firm than the younger version. Like Parmesan, mature cotija cheese comes in a block and is easy to grate.
Like cotija, queso fresco comes from Mexico. It’s an effective cotija cheese substitute because both kinds of cheese are made from cow’s milk, have crumbly textures, and work well as a garnish on top of more savory dishes.
Feta, Parmesan, and queso fresco are just three examples of cheeses that would work as a cotija cheese substitute. You might already have one of these cheeses on hand. If not, you should be able to pick one up from your local supermarket easily.
For more cooking tips and recipe suggestions, check out the Tastessence blog.