Whether you don’t have any cotija cheese and need a replacement or you can’t have cheese, we are covering 14 substitutes for cotija cheese in this comprehensive guide!
What is Cotija Cheese?
Cotija cheese is a popular Mexican cheese that originated in the town of Cotija in the state of Michoacán, Mexico.
Cotija is a hard, crumbly cheese made from cow’s milk and is often referred to as the “Parmesan of Mexico” due to its similar texture and salty, tangy flavor. Cotija is traditionally aged for several months. This allows it to develop its characteristic dry and crumbly texture.
Cotija is commonly used in Mexican cuisine, especially in or on tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, beans, soups, and Mexican salads. Cotija cheese adds a rich and savory element to many dishes and is a key ingredient in Mexican cooking. In fact, Cotija cheese is one of the most used cheeses in Mexico.
Common Uses of Cotija Cheese
Topping for Tacos and Tamales: Cotija cheese is commonly crumbled and sprinkled on top of tacos, tamales, and other Mexican street foods. Its salty and tangy flavor adds a delicious contrast to the savory fillings.
Quesadillas and Burritos: It can be used as a filling or topping for quesadillas and burritos to add a creamy and salty element.
Baked into Enchiladas or Rellenos: Cotija cheese can be added to Mexican casserole style dishes like chiles rellenos or enchiladas for an extra layer of flavor and creaminess.
Cheese Sauces: Cotija cheese can be melted into a creamy cheese sauce for nachos, dips, or other cheesy dishes.
Salads: It can be grated or crumbled and added to salads, especially Mexican-style salads like “Esquites” (corn salad) or “Ensalada de Nopales” (cactus salad).
Eggs: Cotija can be crumbled or grated and sprinkled over scrambled or fried eggs, or used in omelets for a savory twist. Try it on these Huevos Rancheros!
Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes
Now that we have looked at all the superpowers of cotija, we can consider alternatives to cotija cheese. You might pick one of these because cotija isn’t available, or perhaps you just want a slight variation in your cooking. If you want to look at other cheeses, check out 53 Types of Cheese.
We think feta cheese is probably the best cotija substitute. It has a similar crumbly texture and a salty taste. It’s a good substitute for cotija in many dishes, especially in tacos which is the undisputed domain of cotija, but also salads and other Mexican-inspired dishes. It is, however, a bit more sour than cotija,
Feta is a brined cheese meaning it is soaked in saltwater to give it an acidic tangy flavor. It originated in Greece, and is traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk though cow’s milk feta has also become available.
Grated parmesan cheese is an Italian cheese that was probably developed in the 12th or 13th Century. It is also a pretty good cotija cheese alternative when you want a salty, umami flavor. It won’t have the same crumbly texture, but it can be sprinkled on top of dishes like pasta, soups, or roasted vegetables. There is a resemblance in taste and texture.
Queso fresco is Spanish for “fresh cheese” which seems appropriate for this mild soft white cheese. It is a fresh Mexican cheese that’s somewhat similar to Cotija. While it’s not as salty, it can be crumbled over tacos, salads, or enchiladas for a similar effect. Since it is one of the most commonly used cheeses in Mexican cuisine, nobody is going to fault you for using it on your tacos.
This is another Mexican cheese that is a fair replacement for Cotija cheese. It is harder, drier, and is aged longer than Cotija, but its strong salty flavor is suitable for many Mexican favorites like enchiladas. It is not as crumbly as Cotija, but you can grate it to at least obtain the same size chunks. This is a stronger cheese, so be careful to not use too much.
This is an Italian cheese with a hard, crumbly texture and a rich, slightly sweet flavor. It is aged longer (at least a year) than its cousin Parmesan, giving it a unique depth of flavor, and making it a fitting cotija substitute. When trying Grana Padano as a Cotija alternative, consider using it in dishes that require a strong, salty flavor profile. Grana Padano has a soft, meltable texture that works well with hot dishes like quesadillas, enchiladas, and nachos.
Grated Pecorino Romano
This is an Italian cheese produced mostly on the island of Sardinia. It is an ancient cheese believed to have been eaten by the Roman army over 2,000 years ago. It is a hard, sharp, salty, sheep milk’s cheese often used grated. Pecorino means “sheep” in Italian, so there is no cheating with the production process of pecorino romano. Pecorino romano cheese can definitely be used as a cotija substitute, especially in pasta dishes. Just don’t tell your guests that their taco cheese is Italian.
This is a variation of ricotta cheese that is salted and aged. It has a crumbly texture and a mild, salty flavor, making it a suitable Cotija alternative for salads, pasta, and more.
Panela cheese is another Mexican cheese with a mild, slightly salty taste. It doesn’t have the crumbly texture of Cotija but can be used in similar dishes when melted or grated.
Goat Cheese Crumbles
Goat cheese crumbles works as a cotija cheese substitute. It has a tangy flavor that isn’t a match for cotija, but is sufficiently similar. Give it a try on salads or even tacos. Note that our photo shows the goat cheese log, but you really want the crumbles.
Okay work with us on this one, but cottage cheese can be used as a reasonable cotija substitute. You need to strain it first as it is wetter than cotija. Even strained, it will change the consistency of your recipes, so keep that in mind. You may also want to add a bit of salt to mimic cotija. There are some real advantages to cottage cheese. It is much lower in calories than cotija or other substitutes, and is also higher in protein on a per calorie basis. It is also generally less expensive than most other cheeses.
Dairy-Free Cotija Cheese Substitutes
So far we have only covered replacements for cotija with similar types of cheese, but you may be looking for a dairy-free or vegan alternative. This isn’t quite as easy, but still very much possible.
Vegan Cotija Cheese
There are several manufacturers of Vegan Cotija Cheese. These tend to be made from almonds or cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, and sometimes coconut oil. You may have to look in specialty groceries as we didn’t see it at our local grocery, and it isn’t listed on Amazon.
Vegan Feta Cheese
Vegan Feta Cheese is a pretty reliable cotija substitute option. We have seen recipes, and commercial products, made from tofu, cashews, almonds, and even potato starch. It can definitely have the same crumbly texture as feta or cotija, as well as a reasonably similar tangy and salty flavor.
We have found tofu to be the best option for homemade vegan feta cheese. It can come pretty close to taste and is very similar to the texture of feta. Plus, tofu is packed with all the good nutrients of tofu like protein and vitamin A! Give our easy homemade vegan feta cheese a try.
Vegan Parmesan Cheese
Vegan Parmesan cheese is another option for replacing cotija cheese. Calling it cheese is kind of like calling almond drinks “milk” as it is made from nuts, nutritional yeast, salt, and seasonings. Still, it has a reasonably cotija-like crumbly texture and taste. It is definitely a good option. You can put it on tacos and most other Mexican favorites, and you can find it in most grocery stores.
Nutritional yeast is a reasonable cotija cheese substitute for those on a dairy-free or vegan diet. It has a cheesy, nutty, unique taste that mimics cotija cheese reasonably well. It is a good option for sprinkling on top of Mexican cuisine like tacos, salads, or pasta dishes. As it doesn’t melt, it is not as good a substitute in cooked cuisine like enchiladas or anything that requires melting cheese.
So in conclusion what is the best substitute for cotija cheese? We have to go with feta, but this is a matter of personal preference. Try others and let us know what you think in the comments section!
This wraps up our look at cotija cheese substitutes. We hope you found some information here you can use, and as always happy cooking!