The recipe calls for Cotija cheese but you need an alternative. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite Cotija cheese substitutes.
Cotija cheese is commonly used as a topping for tacos, soups, salads, and more.
It’s most often found in Mexican cuisine but chefs in the western region are beginning to make it more of a staple in their cooking.
From well-known cheese like Parmesan to eclectic options like anejo, you’re sure to find the perfect substitute for Cotija cheese.
If you don’t have any on hand, this list will help you find the best Cotija cheese substitutes.
What is Cotija Cheese?
Cotija cheese is a Mexican artisan cheese named after a town called Cotija in Michoacan.
It’s a soft, crumbly cheese made from cow’s milk.
It has a salty flavor, so it’s perfect for adding to all kinds of dishes.
When it’s produced, the curd is combined with rock salt from the Colima coast.
There are two types of Cotija cheese: fresh or aged. Aged has a saltier flavor than fresh and is also a bit harder.
No matter which one your recipe calls for, any of these substitutes will work.
Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes:
1. Queso Fresco
In Spanish, queso fresco means “fresh cheese.” This moist, creamy, and semi-soft cheese has a light salty flavor.
It has the same sharpness as Cotija, so it makes a wonderful substitute.
Queso fresco crumbles like Cotija and is often used in similar dishes. Try this alternative in tacos, soups, and more.
If you’re looking to save some money, this would be an ideal substitute for Cotija because it costs just a fraction of the cost.
However, it might not be as easy to find.
Substitute queso fresco instead of Cotija in a one-to-one ratio.
2. Feta Cheese
Feta cheese is arguably the best substitute for Cotija cheese.
It’s made with both goat and cow’s milk cheeses and is soft and crumbly in texture.
Since this is an aged cheese, the flavor is tangy, salty, and rich.
Feta is most often used in Mediterranean dishes but is fantastic with all kinds of flavors. Use it in baked dishes, wraps, or salads.
Because of how readily available it is, feta is a clear winner when it comes to substituting for Cotija. Use a one-to-one ratio for your recipe.
3. Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan is an Italian cheese that has a strong, unique flavor and is pale yellow in color.
It’s made from raw cow’s milk and because of its texture, it can be grated, shaved, or crumbled.
A little-known fact about Parmesan is that it doesn’t contain any lactose.
This is a great substitution if you’re lactose intolerant and usually avoid cheese.
Substitute with Parmesan cheese using a one-to-one ratio.
4. Goat Cheese Crumbles
Goat cheese is another crumbly cheese that can seamlessly replace Cotija cheese in any recipe.
It has a lovely, salty flavor that will add a punch to any dish.
Plus, it’s very common in most grocery stores, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.
This cheese is the result of squeezing the moisture from goat’s milk and adding some salt. The texture is similar to Cotija and feta.
Use the same amount of goat cheese that you would Cotija: a one-to-one ratio.
5. Romano Cheese
Romano cheese is a salty cheese made from cow’s milk with a texture that’s a little harder than crumbly Cotija.
It has a wonderful umami flavor that adds depth to your recipes.
It’s named after the city of Rome, Italy, from which it originates. Don’t confuse it with Pecorino Romano, which is made from sheep’s milk.
This cheese is just as delicious and works as a great substitute for Cotija.
Use Romano cheese with a one-to-one ratio.
Another variety of aged Mexican cheese is Añejo.
This one comes from skimmed goat’s milk but is becoming more often made with cow’s milk. Añejo is a fantastic Cotija cheese substitute.
Salty and tangy just like Cotija, this cheese also has a spicy kick.
Añejo is coated in paprika which gives it a brick-red coloring on the outside.
Use a one-to-one ratio for your substitution but tone down some of the other spices in your recipe.
Alternatively, you can use slightly less than a recipe calls for, and your flavors will balance perfectly.
7. Grana Padano
Grana Padano is a hard Italian cheese made from long-aged cow’s milk.
The texture of this cheese is crumbly, hard, and grainy and it’s almost about 10% salt!
Crumble this cheese on top of pasta or in the middle of a curated cheese board.
If you’re substituting for Cotija cheese, this won’t have the same texture but can provide your dishes with that extra flavor you’re looking for.
Use a one-to-one ratio for Grana Padano.
8. Pecorino Romano
Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty Italian cheese that comes from Tuscany or Sardina, Italy.
It’s made from sheep’s milk and has a hard texture with a sharp, funky, slightly salty flavor.
Pecorino Romano is aged for at least 6 months in cheese caves.
The flavor is wonderful and it works well as a substitute for Cotija.
9. Cottage Cheese
You might be pretty familiar with cottage cheese but did you know that you can use it as a Cotija cheese substitute?
It’s a fresh cheese curd that is drained but not pressed so it is rather moist.
This would be a great substitute when Cotija needs to be mixed into a dish rather than crumbled or sprinkled on top.
Use a one-to-one ratio or taste as you cook while substituting with cottage cheese.
10. Cotija Molido
Cotija molido is actually a variety of Cotija cheese that is finely grated. It is best for soups, pasta, and pizzas.
Using this version of Cotija will eliminate some of the work to chop or crumble it.
It has the same great flavor as regular Cotija cheese, so there’s no discrepancy there.
Use a one-to-one ratio for Cotija molido.
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