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5 Ways to Serve Cotija Cheese

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 27, 2020 • 2 min read

Queso cotija is a crumbly white cheese that goes with almost any Mexican dish.



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What Is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija is an aged cheese, named for the town of Cotija in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, with a strong salty flavor, making it an ideal topping for beans, salads, antojitos, and more (it’s commonly sprinkled on top of elotes, or grilled corn). At room temperature or colder, it’s dry and crumbly, but it will soften slightly when warmed.

What Does Cotija Cheese Taste Like?

Cotija is a mild, salty cow’s milk cheese. It’s known as the Parmesan of Mexico for its ability to add salt, fat, and umami to a variety of Mexican foods. Cotija tastes much saltier than other cheeses.

6 Substitutes for Cotija Cheese

Cotija is available at most Mexican grocery stores. If you don’t have it on hand, try these substitutions.

  1. Parmigiano Reggiano: Parmesan is an Italian hard cheese and, when grated, can be used to substitute crumbled cotija. Unlike cotija, Parmesan cheese will melt, and it is slightly less salty, so taste your dish and add sea salt if needed.
  2. Pecorino Romano cheese: Pecorino Romano is an Italian cheese similar to Parmesan but made with sheep’s milk rather than cow’s milk. Pecorino is saltier than Parmesan and therefore a better substitute for cotija.
  3. Ricotta Salata: Ricotta Salata is the dried, aged version of the well-known fresh Italian cheese, ricotta. It’s a good substitute for a fully aged cotija.
  4. Feta cheese: Feta is a Greek cheese made from sheep’s milk (or a combination of goat and sheep milk). A crumbly cheese, its texture is more similar to cotija than the other cheeses on this list.
  5. Queso fresco: Queso fresco literally means “fresh cheese” and can refer to any number of crumbly or soft cheeses that have not been aged.
  6. Queso añejo: Queso añejo is an aged Mexican cheese (“añejo” means aged) traditionally made from goat milk but now commonly made with skim milk and rolled in paprika. It has a milder flavor than cotija and is hard enough to grate.
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5 Ways to Serve Cotija Cheese

Cotija adds a savory, salty flavor and crumbly texture to a variety of foods. Since it doesn’t melt, add cotija to dishes at the last moment. Here are some common ways to serve cotija cheese:

  1. Tacos: Set up a taco bar with warm homemade tortillas, pickled red onions, chopped cilantro, and bowls of cotija—it goes with almost any taco filling.
  2. Elotes: Mexican street corn consists of corn on the cob slathered with sour cream or mayonnaise, then topped with cotija, cilantro, lime juice, and ancho chili powder.
  3. Bean and cheese tostadas: Top crispy homemade tostadas with refried beans and cotija for a quick, comforting snack.
  4. Wet burritos and enchiladas: Cotija adds a welcome texture boost to these creamy, saucy dishes.
  5. Quesadillas: Fill warm tortillas with veggies and a cheese that melts, like Oaxacan cheese, cheddar, or mozzarella, and fold them closed. Fry in oil and top with a sprinkle of aged cotija for extra saltiness.

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