Cotija cheese is one of Mexico’s most famous cheeses. Fortunately, there are several options to choose from if you need a cotija cheese substitute such as feta cheese, queso fresco and goat cheese crumbles.
What is Cotija Cheese Made Of?
Cotija cheese is a mexican cheese made from cow’s milk. It hails from Cotija, Michoacán, where it earned its name. One serving size (1 oz) of cotija cheese has about 100 calories, mostly from fat, and some from protein.
Cotija cheese has a crumbly and firm texture. The color of the cheese is white, and it has a milky and salty taste. Cotija cheese typically comes in two different forms – young and fresh, and aged or “añejo” cotija cheese; these two types have different textures and culinary usage.
At first, cotija cheese is white, salty, and crumbly. As cotija cheese ages, it gets harder and crumblier. The cheese was originally made by hand and from raw milk that has aged for at least three months and up to a year. On the market, the cheese sells as pre-grated or in a block.
Both fresh and aged types have the characteristically salty flavor of cotija cheese. Young cotija cheese is soft and crumbly, while aged cotija cheese is much harder. Aged cotija cheese has a more robust flavor and is comparable in look and texture to other aged cheeses.
Cotija cheese does not melt and acts as a garnish on a variety of Mexican dishes to enhance flavor. Typically, the cheese garnishes the top of tacos, beans, enchiladas, or Mexican street corn. However, sometimes cooks use cotija cheese and fresh cotija cheese for different recipes.
5 Recommended Cotija Cheese Substitute
Our 5 alternatives to cotija cheese:
- Feta cheese
- Queso fresco
- Goat cheese crumbles
The salty flavor is the main priority of a cotija cheese replacement. Besides the saltiness of a cotija cheese alternative, look for the crumbly quality of young cotija cheese and the sharp, dry traits of aged cotija cheese.
Find an alternative that mimics the texture and salty flavor of cotija cheese as your recipe requires. Each cotija cheese dish will have its unique flavors. Some cotija cheese alternatives will work best with certain flavors. Every cotija cheese alternative we listed checks the mark in both texture and flavor.
The first three on the list—feta cheese, queso fresco, and goat cheese crumbles – are ideal for substituting in a recipe that calls for young cotija cheese. The latter two on the list, romano cheese, and ricotta salata cheese, make excellent substitutes for aged cotija cheese.
For each cotija cheese replacement, except for ricotta salata cheese, use a 1 to 1 substitute ratio.
Feta Cheese: Best Cotija Substitute Cheese
Feta is a popular Greek cheese that resembles cotija cheese in about every way. This cheese is crumbly, creamy, strong, and salty.
Feta cheese is an easy substitute for young cotija cheese. If you use it as a substitute, you will not have to alter the cheese at all. Feta cheese compares to young cotija cheese based on taste and texture. It is salty and soft, just like young cotija cheese.
This cheese offers about 100 calories per 1 oz, mostly from fat and some from protein. Feta cheese is popular, and most brands offer healthier versions of feta cheese. Typically, you can find a reduced-fat feta cheese option.
All feta is easy to find in almost any grocery store. If you want the best and easiest replacement to find for cotija cheese, feta cheese is it.
In the culinary world, feta cheese is widely accepted as a replacement for fresh cotija cheese in recipes like migas. Migas is a Mexican breakfast dish that features scrambled eggs, tortilla chips, veggies, and cheese.
If you have excess feta, freezing feta cheese is usually the best way to store.
Another superb replacement for young cotija cheese is queso fresco.
Queso fresco is another Mexican-oriented cheese similar to cotija cheese in flavor. Queso fresco has a slightly milder and less salty flavor than cotija cheese. Queso fresco also comes from cow’s milk.
On average, queso fresco has fewer calories than cotija cheese per 1 oz. Queso fresco offers 80 calories, mostly comprised of fat and some protein.
Queso fresco crumbles nicely, providing a similar texture to young cotija cheese. Queso fresco would be number 1 on this list for young cotija cheese replacements. The problem is that queso fresco, like cotija cheese, is hard to find in some places.
If you can find queso fresco, then queso fresco is generally better than feta cheese. However, it is hard to beat the convenience and taste of feta cheese.
Queso fresco works best as a cotija cheese replacement in recipes that feature Mexican refried beans.
Goat Cheese Crumbles
Another great substitute for fresh cotija cheese is goat cheese crumbles. Goat cheese crumbles look similar to feta cheese and are easy to find in grocery stores. It has a similarly salty flavor to fresh cotija cheese, making it an ideal substitute.
Goat cheese crumbles have more calories than cotija cheese per oz, averaging about 120 calories per 1 oz. Goat cheeses are easier to digest and metabolize than cow-based cheeses.
This cheese works best with fresh cotija cheese recipes, like Mexican salads.
If you decide to use goat cheese, make sure you get the kind that is crumbly, a bit dry, and resembles feta cheese. Other goat cheese on the market comes as a log.
The logged goat cheese will not make for a good cotija cheese substitute.
Choosing romano cheese over parmesan cheese may cause some controversy. People know cotija cheese as the “Parmesan of Mexico.” This nickname comes from the similarity in texture and appearance of the two aged parmesan and cotija cheese.
The best-aged cotija cheese substitute is almost any aged cheese. When choosing which aged cheese to use as a replacement, consider the recipe.
In this case, we chose romano cheese because of its tangy, salty flavor. Romano cheese also pairs better with Mexican dishes than other aged cheeses commonly used to replace aged cotija cheese.
For example, parmesan cheese is a common substitute for aged cotija cheese. Parmesan cheese tastes overwhelmingly Italian, which does not mix well with Mexican dishes.
There are some exceptions when using parmesan cheese as a substitute, as the cheese reportedly does well on Mexican street corn. Overall, we conclude romano cheese is the best cotija replacement, as it is more versatile.
Romano cheese is easy to find at your local supermarket and holds about 110 calories per 1 oz. Most of the calories make up fat and protein calories.
Ricotta Salata Cheese
Ricotta Salata cheese is a great substitute for aged cotija cheese. Keep in mind that Ricotta Salata cheese differs from regular ricotta cheese. Compared to fresh, regular ricotta, ricotta salata is dry and salted.
Ricotta salata cheese is a tasty substitute. Unfortunately, it is harder to find in grocery stores than romano and other common aged cheeses. If you can get your hands on ricotta salata cheese, then we recommend it.
Ricotta salata cheese is not super salty. So, if you do use ricotta salata as a substitute for aged cotija cheese, it does require a bit more effort on your part. All the other cheeses on this list just need a 1 to 1 substitute ratio.
If you use ricotta salata cheese as a substitute for aged cotija cheese, make sure you add a pinch or two of salt to the ricotta salata. This will achieve the salty taste of cotija cheese.
Ricotta salata cheese has about 70 calories per 1 oz. Like the other substitutes, ricotta salata calories derive from fat mixed with some protein.
While you are trying to decide which cotija cheese replacement is best, make sure you consult with your recipe! Note whether the recipe calls for young cotija cheese or aged cotija cheese.
More so, consider which cheese will complement your recipe best. The flavors in certain recipes may blend better with feta cheese as a substitute, for example, rather than goat cheese. It is all in the recipe!
Unfortunately, there are no vegan cotija alternatives on the market. So, if you are attempting to veganize your recipe, you may need to use something more popular and obtainable, such as vegan feta cheese.
If you are vegan and up for the challenge, there are plenty of vegan cotija cheese recipes online for you to consider. Most of the vegan cotija cheeses are cashew-based and have received stellar reviews.
If you are vegan and have a nut allergy, there are even tofu cotija recipes. Tofu cotija “cheese” features apple cider vinegar, salt, and nutritional yeast.