Top 8 Substitutes for Cotija Cheese

There are just some ingredients that you always forget to get from the store, and Cotija cheese happens to be one of them. It’s not an everyday-use item, so most households do not have this cheese in the Kitchen Pantry.

So, if a recipe calls for the use of Cotija cheese and doesn’t have it available, then don’t panic! Substituting the Cotija cheese with its perfect alternative is the right fix!

Cotija Cheese Substitute

Every cheese has a texture and taste of its own, so each of them serves a different culinary purpose. Here we will explore the characteristics of the Cotija Cheese and will learn how those are replaceable!

By analyzing the source, processing method, age, taste, and texture of the Cotija cheese, you can easily find its best substitute. Some of the Cotija cheese alternatives include Feta, Queso Fresco, Parmesan, Romano, Ricotta Salata, Anejo, Padano, Cottage Cheese. Let’s find out which is the best substitute for Cotija Cheese.

What is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija Cheese, or as the Mexicans call it, “Queso Cotija de Montaña,” is a dry, salty, and firm cheese with a grainy and crumbly texture. It is a Mexican cheese that is prepared using cow’s milk. This cheese is saltier than other cheeses, but that also makes this cheese more shelf-stable than others.  The cheese is seasonal, and it is produced in a limited amount from July to October. Another great thing about the Cotija Cheese is an Artisan cheese as it is handmade.

Cotija Cheese Substitute

The milk used for the making of this cheese comes from the cows that are fed on the grass grown during the rainy season in the mountains. It is for this reason; their milk gives such a rich and unique cheese. It also gives the cheese its name, “Queso Cotija De Montana”- which means Cotija Cheese of the Mountains.

How Can You Replace Cotija Cheese?

During the production of the Cotija cheese, the milk curd is milled into small pieces, and then they are pressed together. This step gives the Cotija cheese its characteristic crumbly texture. The unique white color of the cheese comes from the aging process.  During cooking, the cheese softens but does not lose its consistency. When eaten raw, the Cotija cheese breaks into grains or sand-like texture. While substituting the Cotija cheese, we must keep those characteristics in mind.

Uses of Cotija Cheese in Cooking

The Cotija cheese comes in large and small round blocks which can be grated and crumbled to add to the variety of recipes like:

  • Tacos
  • Beans
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Burritos
  • Elote
  • And tostadas etc

The 8 Great Substitutes for Cotija Cheese

If you are wondering about the cheeses that can best replace Cotija Cheese in a recipe, then here few great choices for you to try:

1. Queso Fresco

If you are looking for a Cotija Cheese substitute for elote (Mexican Corn on the Cob), tacos, or enchiladas, then Queso Fresco is the right option.  Its name Queso Fresco literally means Fresh cheese, which means it is not aged for long, so it has a soft and fresh texture with a light taste.  It is processed out of a mixture of cow and goat milk.

This cheese is particularly popular in Mexican cuisine. It is not as salty as the Cotija cheese and has a mild, milky taste which makes it a healthy and delicious substitute for Cotija cheese.

✔ Type: Soft
✔ Texture: Crumbly
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: White
✔ Flavor: Mild and Salty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Queso Fresco

2. Feta Cheese

Feta is a form of brined white cheese, and it is processed out of sheep and goat’s milk. It appears yellowish-white in color and carries a soft texture with a salty and tangy taste. Another characteristic of feta cheese that resembles Cotija cheese is its grainy and crumbly texture.  So, you can use feta cheese as a great substitute for Cotija cheese in salad, pastries, and to make pies.

✔ Type: Brinded, Soft
✔ Texture: Creamy, Grainy and Crumbly
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: Yellowish White
✔ Flavor: Intense, Tangy and Salty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Feta Cheese

4. Parmesan Cheese

Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese is another great substitute for Cotija cheese, especially for salad toppings and garnishes. It is a sharp and hard cheese. Its texture is, therefore, slightly different from the Cotija Cheese, but you can fix that by using the grated Parmesan cheese in your recipes. During processing the cheese is left to age for considerably longer duration; that is why it develops a strong taste and a slightly off-white color.  Parmesan cheese is processed out of the mixture of cow and goat milk.

✔ Type: Hard, Whey
✔ Texture: Firm
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: Yellowish White
✔ Flavor: Salty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Parmesan Cheese

4. Ricotta Salata

Ricotta Salata is an Italian substitute for Cotija Cheese.  It is processed out of sheep’s milk. The whey is salted, pressed, and then aged for over 90 days. It can be used as a good replacement for Cotija cheese because it is equally salty in taste. It has the same milky white color, but the texture is a little hard. This cheese is particularly suitable for salads. You can grate, slice or crumble this cheese to substitute Cotija cheese in salads, pizza toppings, tacos, etc.

✔ Type: Hard, Whey
✔ Texture: Firm
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: Yellowish White
✔ Flavor: Salty, Mild and Nutty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Ricotta Salata

3. Romano Cheese

Romano cheese is another good substitute for Cotija cheese due to its salty flavor. It has a hard texture, so you can grate it before adding it to different recipes.  This cheese is made out of a combination of cow, goat, and sheep milk. It contains 38 percent fat and 34 percent water content. So, you can use it as a low-fat alternative to Cotija cheese. This cheese comes in three different varieties:

  • Vacchiano Romano: Sourced from cow milk, it has a mild flavor.
  • Pecorino Romano: Sourced from sheep milk, this cheese has a sharp and tangy flavor.
  • Caprino Romano: Sourced from goat milk, this has an extremely sharp flavor.
✔ Type: Hard
✔ Texture: Firm
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: White
✔ Flavor: Sharp, Piquant and Salty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Romano Cheese

6. Anejo Cheese

The word Anejo literally means “aged” in Mexican. It is a firm goat milk cheese that is aged for a long duration to get the sharp, salty flavor. It is more like Parmesan or Romano cheese in taste. When fresh, it can be crumbled into smaller pieces. Once matured, the cheese can be shredded and grated easily to add to enchiladas, tacos, and burritos. The hard and aged Anejo can also make a great grilling or baking cheese. 

✔ Type: Semi-Hard
✔ Texture: Firm
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: White
✔ Flavor: Sharp and Salty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Anejo Cheese

7. Padano Cheese

Padano is another Italian cheese that you can use to replace Cotija cheese in a recipe. It is produced from unpasteurized semi-skimmed cow’s milk, so the cheese has a crumbly texture, much like the texture of the Cotija Cheese. Unlike Cotija, it has a mildly sweet and less-concentrated taste. This grated cheese is suitable for sandwiches and pies.

✔ Type: Semi-Fat Hard
✔ Texture: Firm and Grainy
✔ Rind: With Rind
✔ Color: White
✔ Flavor: Salty
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Padano Cheese

8. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese which is also known as whey or curd. It is not aged, unlike Cotija or other cheese in this list. It is simply made by draining the loose curd. It can be easily prepared at home. So, I find this cheese an easy solution to replace Cotija. It is soft, crumbly, and white in color.

You can add the cotija cheese to salads, soups, dips, and casseroles, etc. it is a low-calorie substitute for Cotija Cheese and healthier than the rest of the options discussed above.

✔ Type: Soft, Curd
✔ Texture: Crumbly
✔ Rind: Rindless
✔ Color: White
✔ Flavor: Mild
Cotija Cheese Substitute - Padano Cheese

Table: Substitutes for Cotija Cheese

The following table draws a comparison between the characteristics of Cotija Cheese and its substitutes:

Cheeses Source  Color Texture Flavor Best For
Cotija Cheese Cow’s milk White Grainy Salty All Mexican meals
Queso Fresco Cow and Goat milk White  Grainy Salty Tacos, burritos and elote
Parmesan Cow and Goat milk Yellowish White Firm Sharp  Stir-fries, coatings, toppings, and garnishes
Feta Sheep and Goat Milk White Creamy, Grainy, Crumbly Intense, Tangy, Salty Salad toppings and garnishes
Romano  Cow, goat, and sheep milk Creamy White Hard Sharp, piquant, Salty Pasta, Pizza, Salads, wraps, fillings, and toppings
Ricotta Salata Sheep Milk White  Soft and Crumbly Salty, mild, and nutty Salads
Anejo Cow’s Milk Creamy White Hard Strong and salty Enchiladas, tacos and burritos
Padano Cow’s Milk Golden Crumbly Mildly sweet Wraps and toppings
Cottage Cheese Goat’s Milk White  Soft and Crumbly Mild Salads

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I use if I don't have Cotija cheese?
Well, there are a variety of options to go for, such as Parmesan, Queso Fresco, Feta, Ricotta Salata, Romano, cottage, Anejo, and Padano cheese.
Is Cotija cheese like feta?
Cotija cheese is much like feta; it has a soft crumbly texture with white color. Both kinds of cheese are also salty in taste.
Can I substitute queso fresco for Cotija cheese?
Yes, Queso Fresco is another Mexican cheese that you can use to replace Cotija Cheese. It is a fresh cheese with a soft texture, so you can crumble it like the Cotija cheese and use it in many recipes.
Can you substitute Cotija for Parmesan?
Yes, Parmesan is a good replacement for Cotija Cheese. It can be grated and added to a variety of recipes to get a similar taste and richness.
Is Cotija cheese a hard cheese?
Yes, Cotija is a famous hard cheese from Mexico. It is also slightly aged cheese and has a stronger and saltier flavor.
Is Cotija cheese good for melting?
No. Cotija cheese has a salty and strong flavor with a firm texture. It softens upon heating but does not melt like cheddar or Mozzarella cheese. So, you need to crumble or grate it before adding it to the recipes.

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