You’ve probably heard of cotija cheese, the famous Mexican cheese made from cow’s milk. The cheese has a crumbly texture. It also has a salty taste which makes it a perfect addition to savory dishes.
Cotija cheese has always been a favorite in my kitchen. I simply love the flavor that it adds to my dishes.
The name cotija cheese originated from a small town in Mexico called Cotija. Cotija is famous for its green pastures during the rainy season.
As you may have already guessed, cotija cheese is produced during the rainy season, which explains its unique flavor.
Cotija cheese is a versatile cheese because it complements a lot of dishes including meat dishes, chips, and bread among others.
It also goes well with most ingredients in various dishes.
You may not always have cotija cheese on hand. Therefore, it is important that you find cotija cheese substitutes that you will like. Parmesan, Romano, Feta, Mexican queso fresco, Anejo, and Ricotta salata are great substitutes for Cotija cheese.
But before we get into the details of these amazing substitutes, let’s educate ourselves a little bit.
Cotija cheese is the go-to cheese in most Mexican dishes because of its unique flavor.
There are two main varieties in the market, the aged cotija cheese, and fresh cotija cheese. For obvious reasons, aged cotija cheese has a hard texture compared to fresh cotija cheese.
The aged cotija cheese is also saltier compared to the fresh one. However, both of them have that amazing flavor.
The tangy salty taste of cotija cheese comes from rock salt that is added in the process of making the cheese. Most people don’t even add salt to their dishes when cotija cheese is one of the ingredients.
Cotija Cheese Uses
Cotija cheese is the kind of cheese that does not melt. Therefore, most people use it to enhance the flavor of their dishes as either a topping or garnish.
I specifically like using cotija cheese to enhance the flavor of savory dishes.
As mentioned earlier, cotija cheese is quite versatile. You can use it to make steak quesadillas, soups, pizza, and pasta among others.
The finely ground cotija cheese is best suited for use as pizza or taco toppings.
The finely ground cotija cheese is called cotija molido. Be sure to look for that specific type if you want to use the cheese as a topping.
You can also use cotija cheese to make the Mexican corn salad. This salad is one of the simplest salads to make yet it is so full of flavor.
You can get out of your comfort zone and make a one-Skillet Enchilada Casserole using cotija cheese as one of the ingredients. Casseroles will never be boring again in your house once you add some cotija cheese to them.
Where To Buy Cotija Cheese
Cotija cheese has become quite popular of late. Most local grocery stores always have it in stock, so I’m pretty sure you won’t have any trouble getting your hands on it.
Alternatively, you can just order cotija cheese online and have it delivered to your doorstep.
Cotija Cheese Substitutes
I’m sure I am not the only one who does not always have cotija cheese in hand. So what do you do when you have none yet your recipe calls for cotija cheese?
There is absolutely no need to panic because there are several substitutes for cotija cheese. The trick is in knowing what flavor you are going for and getting creative with what you have.
In this case, all you need to achieve is that salty tangy taste as well as the milky flavor. Quite simple, right?
Here are a few great substitutes for cotija cheese. They may not all have the exact same flavor as cotija cheese but they work just as well. I have tried and tested most of these substitutes and so far I have not been disappointed.
Incorporating these cheese into your dish won’t be a problem because cheese is cheese, there is no special way to go about it.
Parmesan is one of the best substitutes for cotija cheese. It is an Italian cheese that is typically aged for three years.
Parmesan has a hard texture compared to cotija cheese because of its aging, so always keep that in mind. It is also pale yellow in color with a nutty flavor. You can buy parmesan at any local grocery store near you.
Substitute cotija cheese with parmesan in any recipe that calls for the aged cotija cheese. People probably won’t even notice the difference.
The only downside with Parmesan is that it is a little bit expensive compared to cotija cheese and the other substitutes.
Just like parmesan, Romano has a tangy salty taste. Romano is also an Italian cheese. It is made from both sheep and cow’s milk. Romano is quite creamy and it has a distinctive taste that pleases many.
Unlike parmesan, Romano is only aged for a period of 10 months. This makes it a good substitute for the aged cotija cheese which is saltier. Its flavor and texture are quite similar to that of aged cotija cheese.
The upside of Romano is that it is readily available. You can buy it at the grocery store near you. Romano is also quite affordable.
If you want a substitute for fresh cotija cheese, Feta is your best bet. Just like the fresh cotija cheese, it has a soft texture. It also has a salty flavor similar to that of cotija cheese.
Feta is made from a mixture of goat and cow milk. It is aged for some time hence the tangy salty flavor. It also has a crumbly feel, just like cotija.
I recommend using feta as a substitute in baking recipes, especially baking bread. You will get excellent results. Feta cheese is a great substitute when used in meat dishes as well.
Feta is readily available and it is also very affordable.
- Mexican queso fresco
Mexican queso fresco is yet another amazing substitute for cotija cheese. It is creamy and has a slightly salty flavor. Mexican queso fresco does not have a texture similar to that of cotija cheese but it works just fine.
I recommend using Mexican queso fresco as a substitute for cotija cheese in salads and soups. It will add an amazing flavor to your dish especially when used as a garnish. You can also use it as an ingredient in tacos.
Alternatively, just make a cheese dip using a Mexican Queso fresco.
Anejo is a Mexican cheese just like cotija cheese. Originally, it was made using skimmed goat milk. Goat milk is a bit more expensive compared to cow milk, so most manufacturers these days use cow’s milk instead.
Anejo has a tangy salty flavor. It also has a spicy kick because of the ingredients used in its manufacturing, including paprika. This makes it an even better addition to savory dishes.
I recommend using Anejo as a substitute for cotija cheese in recipes that call for aged cotija cheese. This is because Anejo has a hard texture similar to that of aged cotija cheese.
- Ricotta Salata
Ricotta Salata is another amazing substitute for aged cotija cheese. A lot of people confuse ricotta Salata with the plain ricotta cheese sold at the grocery store.
It is important to note that these two types of cheese are completely different. Ricotta Salata is made from sheep’s milk. Normally, it is aged for a period of 90 days.
Compared to cotija cheese, ricotta Salata is less salty. For this reason, you may have to add a little bit of salt to your dish to achieve that tangy salty flavor that you want.
Ricotta Salata is a bit difficult to find compared to all the other substitutes that we have discussed.
However, it is one of the best substitutes for cotija cheese. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on it, then you can use it in any dish as a substitute for cotija cheese.
I recommend using ricotta Salata as a substitute in pasta dishes and sandwiches. Its milky and slightly salty flavor will definitely work wonders.
Getting a substitute for cotija cheese is an easy task, mostly because its flavor is not that difficult to replicate.
Feta and Mexican queso fresco are good substitutes for fresh cotija cheese because of their texture. They blend in well with most savory dishes and work great as a garnish too.
Anejo, Parmesan, ricotta Salata, and romano are great substitutes for aged ricotta cheese because of their hard texture. They complement most savory dishes as well.
You may need to substitute cotija cheese with something else for various reasons. Maybe you ran out of cotija cheese or you just want to experiment with something else.
Whatever the reason, you definitely need to try the substitutes we have discussed above. They will give you close to perfect results.
Let me know how your amazing dishes will turn out when you use these substitutes.