If you’re looking for cotija cheese substitutes, look no further. Then again, if you’ve never heard of cotija cheese you’re not alone. Pronounced ‘cot-ee-ha’, it’s a hugely popular cheese in Mexico. In fact, you’ll find it sprinkled on almost everything, from enchiladas and quesadillas to nachos and tacos.
While cotija has a distinct punchy taste, there are many good alternatives available. So, let’s find out more about this oh so tasty Mexican marvel, and get the lowdown on the best alternatives.
What is Cotija cheese?
A Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk, cotija cheese is often referred to as the ‘Mexican parmesan.’ But that’s selling it short. Cotija is a brilliantly versatile cheese that takes on different tastes and textures, depending on long it’s aged.
When it’s younger, cotija is soft, moist and crumbly, a bit like feta cheese. In its younger form, cotija cheese goes great scattered across a salad or sprinkled in pasta dishes. This type of cotija is much more readily available in grocery stores.
Aged cotija, however, is a lot firmer and sharper, with a very salty flavour. This is where the parmesan comparison comes in, although cotija cheese is even saltier than parmesan. In fact, it has twice as much salt as the average cheddar cheese!
Much like parmesan, you can buy the mature stuff in a block. Then you can break or grate it on top of your favourite dish. You can also get it pre-grated, which works amazingly well with the Mexican dish elote, which is basically corn-on-the-cob, Mexican style.
Cotija cheese doesn’t melt over heat, which is why it works so well as the magic final ingredient, sprinkled across a delicious dish for a little extra wow factor.
How is cotija cheese made?
Cotija cheese takes its name from the Mexican town of Cotija in the state of Michoacán, said to be the place where this delicious cheese originated.
To make cotija cheese, farmers normally use full fat cow’s milk, which is salted and boiled with enzymes. When curds start to form, they are strained and then pressed into moulds. Young cotija cheese is ready to eat almost straight away, sometimes as early as the next day.
Mature cotija cheese is usually left to age between 100 days to a year. It is often aged in an underground cavern, which is what gives it its distinct flavour, texture and personality.
Other cheese substitutes
If you find yourself out of a particular type of cheese, don’t despair! Most great cheeses have a unique personality, which is what makes them special. But there’s always a great alternative. Check out my other substitutes guides, for times when you need a little inspiration.