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5 Best Substitutes for Cotija Cheese to Consider

Cotija cheese, with its crumbly, salty tang, is a staple in the kitchens of many a cheese-loving home cook. However, sometimes you’re in a bind and the cheese aisle unfurling before you doesn’t disclose that one essential ingredient you need for your recipe.

After all, Cotija cheese can be quite tricky to come by.

Not everyone has the luxury of living in a metropolitan area with specialty stores or Mexican markets that carry this iconic cheese. Plus, not everyone may have the budget to splurge on exotic cheeses.

We’ve got you covered with some amazing substitutes for Cotija cheese that will save your dish and your budget.

Why Substitute Cotija?

Cotija cheese, named after the Mexican town of Cotija, is a robust and slightly acidic cheese that adds a unique flavor profile to dishes. However, availability is not always its best asset. Substitutions can be a necessary aspect of cooking.

Maybe you’re on the lookout for a vegan option, or perhaps you simply can’t find Cotija at your local grocer. Whatever the case, knowing your cheese counterpart is almost as crucial as the dish you’re concocting.

Here, we’ll explore five cheeses that boast their own distinctive flavor, promising not to replace Cotija, but to stand in its place with the utmost dignity.

1. Feta Cheese

Hailing from Greece, Feta cheese is a well-known substitute for Cotija. With its crumbly texture and tangy taste, it’s often used in salads and other Mediterranean dishes. It’s made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk, lending to its unique flavor profile.

Feta cheese also has that same salty bite that you get from Cotija, making it a fitting replacement. However, it lacks the same level of sharpness as Cotija, so you may want to add a bit more to achieve that desired tanginess.

When substituting Feta for Cotija, it’s essential to consider its higher moisture content. You may need to drain or pat the cheese dry before using it in your recipes. Additionally, be mindful of the saltiness; you may want to reduce other salty ingredients in your dish to avoid an overpowering taste.

2. Queso Fresco

Queso fresco, translating to “fresh cheese,” is a Mexican favorite that closely resembles Cotija in texture and taste. It’s made from cow’s milk and has a similar crumbly texture but with less tanginess. The flavor profile of Queso Fresco is mild, making it a versatile substitute for Cotija in dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and salads.

One significant difference between Cotija and Queso Fresco is that the latter has a higher moisture content. This can result in a softer texture when used as a topping or filling. If you’re looking for a sharper taste, try adding a dash of lemon juice to mimic the acidity of Cotija.

3. Parmesan Cheese

Although originating from Italy, Parmesan cheese is a suitable substitute for Cotija in many Mexican dishes. It has a hard texture and salty taste, similar to Cotija, making it an ideal replacement. However, its flavor profile is less tangy, so you may want to add a dash of lemon juice or vinegar to achieve that desired zest.

One significant advantage of using Parmesan as a substitute is its long shelf life. It can be kept for months when stored correctly, making it a handy cheese to have on hand for those last-minute substitutions. It’s important to note that Parmesan is usually grated, so you may find it easier to substitute Cotija with pre-grated Parmesan for a more equal texture.

4. Ricotta Salata

Ricotta Salata, meaning “salted ricotta,” is an Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. It has a firm, crumbly texture and a subtle salty taste, making it an excellent substitute for Cotija in many dishes. However, its flavor profile is milder than Cotija, so you may want to increase the amount used to achieve the desired level of tanginess.

On the plus side, Ricotta Salata is an excellent option for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies as it’s made from sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk. It can be used in many dishes, including salads, pasta dishes, and as a topping for pizza. You can even make a faux-Cotija by adding a pinch of salt to Ricotta Salata and crumbling it over your favorite dishes.

5. Goat Cheese Crumbles

Last but certainly not least, Goat Cheese is a suitable substitute for Cotija in dishes that require a tangy and salty cheese. It has a smooth, creamy texture and sharp taste, similar to Cotija. Its tanginess comes from the aging process of the cheese, making it a fitting replacement for those seeking an acidic flavor.

When using Goat Cheese as a substitute, it’s essential to keep in mind its softer texture. While this may not be a problem for sprinkling over dishes, it can become an issue when using it as a filling or stuffing. To avoid any mishaps, try mixing Goat Cheese with a bit of cream cheese to achieve a firmer consistency. Or, if you’re looking to add a bit more tanginess, try mixing in a dash of lemon juice or vinegar.