Cotija Cheese: Ingredients, Substitutes, Recipes

cotija cheese

Many are seeking for some of the potential Cotija Cheese substitutes. Even in the popularity of this salty cheese variant, some people still have difficulties in finding great alternatives for it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that you have the cheese all the time in your kitchen. If you are planning to have a lavish of various Mexican delicacies such as enchiladas, tacos, and even simple soup, the Cotija Cheese definitely needed.

But then, you realized that it is not available in your stocks. You want to panic. But don’t fret yet. As you have guessed, there are several alternatives to this captivating cheese! Read on to discover them!

What Is Cotija Cheese

Before we talk about the possible substitutes for Cotija cheese, we have to know its entire nature first.

In the most proper sense, we can say that a Cotija cheese is a Mexican cheese, as it has been derived from the milk cow and originated in Michoacan–a state in Mexico. The color of the cheese, which is one of its main identifying points, is white and similar to feta cheese.

When it comes to texture, it is noticeable that the cheese that is dry and firm, which is a contrast to the semi-soft and moist texture of some Swedish cheese. If the cheese is still young, its texture is similar to feta, which is crumbly but moist. Once it gets old, the cheese gains more firmness, akin to Parmesan cheese.

One should know that this particular cheese has a unique funk that cannot be replicated easily. Even the Ricotta Salata, which is pretty similar to the Cotija cheese, does not have the distinct smell of the latter.

Most of the time, Cotija cheese is bought as a block, just like other cheese variants. However, there are some stores out there that let you have the cheese pre-grated already. When selecting a grated Cojita cheese, make sure that it is as fine as grated parm that is sold commercially. The fluffier it looks, the better its quality.

When heated, the Cotija cheese will soften. However, unlike other cheese, Cotija doesn’t melt at all. Because of this innate characteristic of the cheese, it is an excellent chance for sprinkling and crumbling purposes. If you are familiar with Mexica cuisines, you are probably aware of the existence and uses of this cheese. It is a standard finishing for delicacies like posole, chilaquiles, nachos, and enchiladas.

Overall, I see the Cotija cheese as a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. You can always try it on other dishes because of its excellent flavor!

What Does Cotija Cheese Taste Like?

Anyone who is looking for what is Cotija cheese similar to must know first how it tastes. After all, it is the flavor and undertones that we want to replicate here. It is for that reason why any other cheese doesn’t work as a replacement for Cotija. Of course, it is a given that not all cheese has the same traits.

Generall, Cotija cheese has a salty taste, which is the reason why it is a perfect partner for various Mexican cuisines. But at the same time, the saltiness of the Cotija cheese is coupled by its creamy and milky nature. You will really adore this perfect blend that is within the blocks of Cotija cheese. And if you have tasted the cheese already, you know that what I am saying right.

But then again, the unique funk of Cotija made it an ingredient that is not easy to substitute. It is for that reason why I made this post. I just want to make sure that all of you are aware of how you can replicate the magic of this cheese, even if it is absent in your kitchen!

What is a good substitute for Cotija cheese?

This question has been baffling a lot of gourmets since time immemorial. In fact, I had been in the same predicament where I asked myself what ingredients can possibly work on behalf for the cheese.

Of course, finding excellent substitutes for Cotija requires a battery of testing and experimenting. And based on the recommendations of some culinary experts, the following ingredients were deemed to be ideal replacements for this salty and crumbly cheese.

  • Romano Cheese

The Romano cheese is the first ingredient that you should seek if you realized that you don’t have Cotija cheese in your kitchen. This cheese originated from Rome, hence the “Romano” name. It has been said that Romano cheese is one of the first types of cheese that have been manufactured in the world. Specifically, some suggest that the first use of the cheese was on 1st BCE, which is like thousands of years in the past already.

The Romano cheese can either be made from pasteurized on unpasteurized milk. Interestingly, cow milk, goat milk, and sheep milk are all viable ingredients in the creation of Romano cheese. In fact, these milk variants can be mixed together to create a special blend of the said cheese. The aging of Romano cheese is at least five months if you want it to be tasty.

When it comes to flavors, I can say that the Cotija cheese is comparable with Romano cheese. The latter has a tangy and sharp taste. It is not earthy, but one could notice that it has a subtle hint of it. Overall, Romano cheese is milky, which is again similar to Cotija cheese.

You can use the Romano cheese to replace the Cotija in making Mexican delicacies. Specifically, you should use it on recipes like soups, salads, pasta, garnish, and even sauce. Of course, you can also make the Romano cheese as a finishing to different kinds of meals.

One should know that there are three types of Romano cheese: the Vacchiano Romano, Pecorino Romano, and the Caprino Romano. Pecorino Romano is the most famous among the three and has been under the DOP designation of the Italian government. This means that it is a protected food item by the government of Italy. The flavor of Pecorino Romano is tangy and sharp because it has been made from the milk of a sheep. Pecorino Romano is a good substitute for Cotija cheese.

The flavor of Caprino Romano is almost similar to Pecorino Romano. On the other hand, Vacchiano Romano has a mild flavor.

  • Ricotta Cheese

Another excellent alternative for Cotija cheese is the Ricotta Cheese. It is a famous cheese as well that have originated in Italy. The English translation for Ricotta is “re-cooked,” which somehow describes the process of how it was made.

Ricotta cheese is processed through the use of the whey leftovers of Mozzarella and Provolone. Unlike other cheese, it is not directly manufactured from the milk of an animal. But since Mozzarella and Provolone are made from the milk of cow, sheep, or goat, there’s no denying that the Ricotta cheese is still a certified dairy product.

There are various ways on how Ricotta cheese can be made. Traditional and modern methods do vary, but they still produce the same Ricotta cheese that a lot of people love. Because Ricotta is popular in Italy, it is already expected that it is present on different Italian recipes like lasagna, pizza, and cannoli. In fact, one could say that the Ricotta cheese is a staple cheese in the country.

The flavor of the Ricotta is quite the same with Cotija, which is quite surprising. Moreover, it has a crumbly texture, too. Despite being a homegrown cheese of Italy, you are free to use the Ricotta on Mexican delicacies. You will be amazed that this cheese can replicate the fantastic undertones of Cotija. But of course, just like I said earlier, the scent of Ricotta does not match with Cotija. Still, if you are just after the flavor, this cheese is a wonderful alternative.

Furthermore, it is pretty impressive that Ricotta has several health benefits due to its abundant nutritional content. Despite being a re-processed cheese, Ricotta will never make you feel that you are eating junk.

  • Parmesan Cheese

Aside from Ricotta cheese, another Italian cheese that can replace Cotija is the Parmesan cheese. Since it is a classic cheese, it is not surprising anymore that it is a staple ingredient on dishes like pasta, veggies, pizza, spaghetti, and other Italian recipes.

The texture and flavor of the Parmesan cheese are quite similar to Cotija. They don’t melt when heated and typically crumbles smoothly. It is a great alternative to Cotija if you are a person that doesn’t want a lot of sodium. It is a excellent additive for risottos and soups because of its moderated saltiness. Honestly, I prefer Parmesan over Cotija because of this particular reason.

Of course, the versatility of the Parmesan cheese is downright evident. It can perfectly fit on Mexican and other Western delicacies because of its pure and well-balanced flavor. Specifically, the texture of this cheese is dense, nutty, and somewhat thick. Its color is creamy white or light brown, depending on how it was processed and aged. You can use the Parmesan cheese as a substitute for Fontina cheese.

The Destination of Origin applies to the Parmesan Cheese. It is a protective policy implemented by the Italian government that imposes that only several regions have the right to manufacture this cheese.

The original name of Parmesan is Parmigiano-Reggiano. It is still used today, though, especially within the European Union. Outside the European Union, there are Parmigiano-Reggiano as well, but they are not genuine.

  • Queso Fresco

One should always consider the queso fresco as a Cotija cheese substitute. This one is a Mexican cheese, which literally translates to “fresh cheese.” It is made from the combination of goat and cow milk. But it can also be manufactured through the use of any of these milk. In the United States, the queso fresco you see are mostly pasteurized.

So why queso fresco is a good substitute for Cotija cheese?

Well, the flavor of the cheese is evidently innocuous. It is milky, bright, and moderately mild. It is not as salty as the Cotija but is already sufficient enough as a replacement. It can complement a myriad of dishes, especially those that are considered “heavy” like the enchiladas. Of course, we are well aware that Mexican dishes are heavy, so including queso fresco as an ingredient should provide balance.

However, queso fresco is still considered as a salty cheese. It has a kick despite being creamy and fresh. Furthermore, it doesn’t have a buttery after taste. Perhaps the contrast between queso fresco and Cotija cheese is their physical characteristics. Queso fresco is not a hard cheese. It is soft and tends to melt when heated. Because of this, you need to be extra cautious whenever using this cheese.

Feta Cheese

You should not miss including the feta cheese in your list of possible Cotija cheese substitutes. The biggest perk about the feta cheese is its popularity. Hence, finding them in your local markets and grocery stores is very likely. They are widely available, which makes them a great alternative for any ingredient that share similar taste and texture.

Feta cheese originated in Greece. It is wholly made from sheep milk, which made it creamy, soft, and rich. Feta cheese is notably flavorful, but it can serve as a balancer for a variety of delicacies.

However, it is quite notable that there are multiple variations of feta cheese that are released in the market. Specifically, the variation is due to the use of the combination of goat milk and sheep milk. But nonetheless, these variations are still reminiscent of the original feta cheese.

Commonly, feta cheese is used in Greek dishes. In fact, Greece limits its export of feta cheese because of the consistently high demand for cheese in their country. It is for that reason why some countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have tried making their feta. Despite its original use, you can still use the feta cheese on a myriad of local delicacies.

Conclusion

Cotija cheese is definitely a unique kitchen ingredient. However, this doesn’t mean that it is something that cannot be substituted. As what I have presented here, there are several Cotija cheese substitutes that you can consider. Any of them can provide the same effect as the Cotija cheese. You should look for them if you found that you no longer have your beloved Mexican cheese.

I hope you learned from this guide. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comment section below.

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