If you’re looking for Cotija cheese substitutes then you’re in the right place. This article provides five commonly available replacement cheeses that will work deliciously well in your next recipe.
Cotija is a hard cheese made from raw cow milk; it originates from the town of Cotija in Mexico. It is a remarkable cheese that changes its texture and flavor profile over time. A freshly made batch of this cheese will have a white appearance with a strong salty flavor, a lot like feta. After the ageing process, it becomes hard and crumbly, like parmesan. In fact, Cotija is referred to as the “Parmesan of Mexico”.
The salty, crumbly cheese has many uses thanks to its flavor profile. It’s the ideal ingredient for all your Mexican favorites like tostadas, tortillas, tacos and chili. Other popular uses include casserole, croque monsieur, soup, pasta and salad.
The problem is, not all shops stock Cotija cheese. So what’s the best option if you can’t get your hands on a block of this tasty cheese? Let’s take a look at your options.
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5 Cotija cheese alternatives
A commonly used back-up cheese that folks love to use is ricotta. You can use this to top corn (elote), in tostadas and tacos. The main reason for using ricotta is for visual appearance. You certainly won’t get that same sharp, aged flavor that comes from Cotija cheese.
Because the flavor profile of ricotta is much more bland, you wouldn’t use this option for dishes like casseroles, soups and sauces.
Choosing the right feta will make all the difference as they range in flavor significantly. To mimic the flavor of Cotija cheese I recommend the very popular Valbreso French Feta Cheese.
Parmesan should be your go-to option as a replacement for Cotija cheese. The texture, saltiness and other flavors are actually quite similar. Certainly, once added to your favorite dish, guests would be unlikely to know the difference.
Parmesan is a hard, grainy cheese with a sharp, pungent flavor profile and a nutty undertone. It is well known for its use in Italian cooking: pastas, risottos and pizza. It is also suitable for use in any recipe that calls for Cotija cheese.
I have tried virtually every parmesan on the market and, without a doubt, igourmet Parmigiano offers the goods.
Romano, or Pecorino Romano, is named after Rome and dates back to 1st century B.C. It offers a similar flavor profile to parmesan. Both are umami-rich and salty although Romano has a more powerful salt/tang punch. It’s this flavor that makes it ideal for casserole, soup and sauce recipes that call for Cotija.
Padano has the similar hard texture of Cotija cheese. I’d choose Parmesan or Romano first as an alternative to Cotija. The reason is that Padano has a sweeter, more subtle flavor that doesn’t quite offer the same cut-through. If you’re cooking for kids or adults that don’t like “exotic” flavors then Padano may be a good option for this reason.
How to make Cotija cheese at home
To make the cheese
- 8 cups unhomogenized whole milk
- 10 drops calcium chloride
- 4 grains mesophilic starter culture
- 1ml liquid rennet*
- 2 Tbsp cheese salt
*Dilute liquid rennet in 30ml non-chlorinated water.
To make the brine
- 2 cups water (boiled)
- 2 Tbsp salt
- ¼ tsp citric acid
- 10-12 drops calcium chloride
- Turn oven onto lowest temperature setting.
- Add milk and calcium chloride to a large saucepan and heat on low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the milk reaches 100°F (38°C).
- Remove from heat and add the starter culture. Allow to stand for 2-3 minutes then stir for 30 seconds.
- Place a lid on the saucepan and add to oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove saucepan from oven and mix in cheese salt.
- Mix the diluted rennet into the milk for 30 seconds then cover the saucepan and return to the oven, on lowest temperature setting for 1 hour. The end result should be a curd.
- Cut the curd into small 1″ cubes. If the cubes are very soft and you’re not getting clean cuts then allow the curd to continue resting for 15 minutes. Once you have cut all the cubes, allow the curd to rest for a further 15 minutes.
To press the curd
- Scoop curds gently into a colander lined with a cheese cloth. It’s best to use a slotted spoon to do this job. Wait 10 minutes.
- Scoop curds into a cheese press lines with cheese cloth. Cover the curds with the cloth and press for 30-45 minutes.
- Swap the cheese to its other side and press for another 12 hours.
- Combine the water, salt, citric acid and calcium chloride to make the brine solution.
- Add the cheese to the brine for 30 hours then remove and place in a container that includes a rack for draining. Allow the cheese to mature for 14 days in the fridge*.
*You’ll need to flip the cheese every other day. If you see any signs of mold then rub with salt.
Cotija cheese vs queso fresco
These are two types of cheese that are often confused; however, they’re actually quite different. Queso fresco is a fresh cheese that’s soft in texture and mild flavored. Cotija cheese is aged so it’s a hard cheese and much saltier.
Need Cotija cheese? Your best option is this igourmet Cotija cheese available from Amazon that will lift any dish!
If you’re looking for a substitute for Cotija cheese then you’ll do well to simply use parmesan. They’re both hard cheeses that are quite salty and pack a pungent flavor profile. Not all parmesans are the same though, I recommend this brand of Parmigiano that’s well known for a flavor profile that closely matches Cotija and is excellent quality.
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