I Have a Serious Cheese Addiction. I Just Want to Celebrate Cotija!
Cotija was handed down by the indigenous peoples to modern Mexicans
Historians can’t agree whether the Aztecs or Mayans made the first version. They just know it’s been around a long time. Traditionally made from raw cow’s milk, cotija has a salty and tangy flavor. Grate it with a micro plane over your salads, soups, and enchiladas.
You can commonly find cotija in block, crumbled, and grated forms. Cotija can also be found in a softer, fresher form.
Known as "cotija enchilado." This softer cotija is typically aged for a shorter period of time. It has a spreadable texture, similar to cream cheese. It is used on sandwiches and tostadas.
There is also Jalisco style, which can be fried like halloumi. The most popular, Michoacán style is a 400-year-old version of cotija known for its salty, dry texture and strong aroma. It has a hard rind and easily crumbles, but does not melt. This is the variety we are used to seeing topping popular dishes like elotes, or Mexican Street Corn.
Make sure to read this article all the way to the end for a surprising health benefit to eating this delicious cheese!
Substitutes for Cotija Cheese
Here’s a few cheeses you can substitute while you waut for your home made cotija to mature.
This crumbly cheese has a tangy and salty flavor, making it a good substitute for Cotija.
Another popular Mexican cheese. Queso fresco has a similar texture to Cotija and a mild, salty flavor.
Cotija is sometimes called “Mexican Parmesan." Both cheeses add similar saltiness and sharpness to dishes.
Can be used as a substitute for cotija in many dishes. It may not be an exact match in terms of flavor and texture, but it's close!
This Italian cheese is very similar to Cotija. It is made from sheep's milk and has a crumbly texture.
This is basically Mexican cottage cheese. You can swap this out for cotija if needed.
This French goat cheese has a soft texture and a tangy flavor that can be used as a substitute for Cotija.
This Spanish cheese is made from sheep's milk and has a slightly nutty and tangy flavor.
This Dutch cheese has a creamy and slightly sweet flavor.
Has a mild and slightly sweet flavor that can be used as a substitute for Cotija.
Make Your Own Cotija Cheese At Home
Have you made your own fresh mozzarella at home? Then you can make Cotija!
I have adapted this  recipe for making cotija cheese at home. It is simple enough for even the most amateur of cheese-enthusiasts.
Before we get started, you will need to gather some specialty items. You’ll notice Cotija calls for both mesophilic culture and rennet. If you have made cheese before, you may have used rennet. mesophilic culture and rennet do similar things. Think of mesophilic culture like a sourdough starter. It will add depth to your cheese’s flavor.
You will also use Calcium Chloride. That’s to help balance pH. It helps to firm up the curds, so they are easier to cut and shape. You will need citric acid for the brine. You will need a cheese press. But don’t worry, you can make one yourself  pretty cheaply. And of course, you’ll need cheesecloth.
You can buy cheese making supplies online or at a cheese making specialty store. If you have a home brew supply shop nearby, they may also carry what you need. Everything else in the recipe below can be found at the local grocery store.
Get ready to make your own Cotija cheese at home!
First, you’ll make the fresh cheese curds. Then, you’ll brine the cheese in a salty solution. Finally, you will let the cheese mature for 2 weeks in your fridge. It’s not as daunting as it seems. Just take it step by step. You’ve got this!
Recipe for Homemade Cotija Cheese
1 gallon of whole cow's milk
1/4 teaspoon of mesophilic culture
1/8 teaspoon of calcium chloride
1/4 teaspoon of liquid rennet
2 cups boiled water
1/8 cup salt
1/4 tsp. Citric Acid
12 drops Calcium Chloride
Begin by bringing the calcium chloride and milk to 100.4 °F (38 °C) in a saucepan. Stir this constantly to prevent scalding. Once the milk is hot enough, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the mesophilic starter culture. Allow the culture to soak into the milk for two minutes. Stir it vigorously for 30 seconds. Cover the saucepan and let it sit undisturbed in a warm location for 20 minutes to bloom.
This step is easy. Stir about ⅛ cup of salt into your saucepan.
Once a knife can be inserted cleanly into the set curd (clean break), cut the curd into cubes. If the curd is still soft (no clean break), allow it to set further. Check it every 10 minutes until you can get a clean knife out. Congratulate yourself. This is cheese, you made cheese! Now let’s give it a great texture and flavor.
Time to get those curds into shape! Using a slotted spoon, gently scoop the curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Drain for 10 minutes. Transfer the curds to a cheesecloth-lined cheese press. Use the plate to squeeze out the excess moisture. Cover the curds completely with the cheesecloth and press for 30 minutes. Flip the cheese over and continue pressing for 12-16 hours at room temperature.
Once you're done pressing, it's time to get the salty bite into your fresh cheese! Prepare the brine solution and allow it to cool. Remove the cheese from the press and place it in the brine for 30 hours. This step is crucial for giving your cheese that extra oomph. It’s worth the wait!
After the brining is complete, remove the cheese and place it in a container with a draining rack. Put the container in the fridge for two weeks to mature. Flip the cheese every two days and dry rub it with salt if any mold appears.
You can eat your homemade cotija after aging it for 2 weeks in the fridge!
Commonly Asked Questions
These come up a lot! Let’s address them.
Can’t I Just Use Parmesan Instead?
Well, the short answer is: yes, you can! Parmesan and Cotija are both hard and salty cheese, and they can be used as substitutes for each other. Parmesan can add a nice burst of flavor and saltiness to dishes. Use it as a topping or garnish similarly to Cotija. Keep in mind that the flavor is different. Parmesan has a funk and nuttiness when compared to sharper, saltier cotija. Parmesan would stand in nicely for cotija in recipes that use this cheese as a topping. Think salads, soups, tacos, and grilled veggies.
I Already Have Some Queso Fresco. Can I Use That?
If you're in a pinch and can't find Cotija cheese, queso fresco is a great substitute to try. It will add a delicious and tangy flavor to your dishes. And this substitute actually has a similar texture to Cotija, making it easy to use in the same ways. Just keep in mind that queso fresco is a bit milder in flavor than Cotija. You may want to add a little extra salt to your dish.
What About Queso Blanco?
Queso blanco is a soft, milky cheese with a creamy texture. Cotija cheese is a hard, salty cheese with a crumbly texture. Both cheeses are used in Mexican cuisine and can be used as toppings or garnishes for a variety of dishes. But, they have different flavors and textures, and they are used in different ways in cooking.
When it comes to queso blanco as a cotija substitute, look somewhere else. You have better choices.
I Am Not the DIY Type. Where Can I Buy Cotija Cheese?
Cotija cheese is often sold in specialty cheese shops or Latin American markets. It can also be found in some larger grocery stores. It is typically stored in the cheese section of the grocery store chains. Wegmans, Weis, and Whole Foods Markets all stock cotija cheese.
It’s Ok, This Cheese is Medicinal
If you are looking for an emotional support cheese, look no further! A 2017 study  found that cotija contains helpful peptides. These block the action of an enzyme called ACE, which helps regulate blood pressure. ACE inhibitory peptides may even have other potential benefits.
Cotija cheese is a delicious and functional indigenous food. Whether you make it or buy it, enjoy this versatile cheese and all its benefits!
3. Judith Jimenez Guzman, Ivette Rangel Del Valle, Angelica Flores Najera and Mariano Garcia Garibay ” Authentic Cotija cheese as a functional food: Study of peptides released during ripening” walsmedicalmedia.com
About the Creator
Chef-turned-writer, currently living in Philadelphia with two children and a spoiled dog who thinks she is a person. You may remember me from Ron Howard and Jay-Z's "Made In America" documentary on Showtime.