All You Need to Know About Cotija Cheese: Origin, Uses, and Where to Find It

One of the most popular and adaptable foods in the world is cheese. Cheddar and mozzarella are only two examples of the various varieties of cheese. Cotija cheese is one variety of cheese that has grown in popularity recently. From tacos to salads, this salty and delicious Mexican cheese has become a crowd favorite.

Mexican white Cotija cheese with fresh ingredients

In-depth information about Cotija cheese’s definition, history, method of manufacturing, flavor profile, and use in different cuisines will be covered in this page.

What is Cotija Cheese?

The village of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán is where Cotija cheese, also known as Queso Cotija, first appeared.

 White Cotija cheese with fresh ingredients

It is prepared from cow’s milk and tastes like feta cheese; it is salty, sharp, and sour. There are two types of cheese: fresh and aged, and both are normally matured for several months.

Tacos, nachos, and enchiladas frequently use fresh Cotija cheese on top because it is soft and creamy.

As a grating cheese for meals like salads, soups, and stews, aged Cotija cheese is dry and crumbly in contrast.

History of Cotija Cheese

The origins of Cotija cheese can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the native Mexican population produced their own type of cheese from cow’s milk.

Cotija cheese with fresh ingredients in Mexico

Yet, cheese production did not become polished and a mainstay of Mexican cuisine until the arrival of the Spaniards.

A group of Mexican farmers are said to have forgotten about a batch of cheese they were making and allowed it to age for several months, which led to the accidental creation of Cotija cheese.

They were shocked to discover the cheese when they came across it again since it now had a distinctive flavor and texture that was distinct from any other cheese they had ever tried.

Since that time, Cotija cheese has gained popularity in Mexico and is used in a variety of recipes, including both traditional Mexican cuisine and contemporary fusion food.

Production Process of Cotija Cheese

Similar to other hard, aged cheeses, Cotija is made using the same techniques. Rennet, an enzyme that causes coagulation, is added to heated cow’s milk to cause curdling.

To create the cheese, the curd is then separated from the whey, drained, and put into molds.

When the cheese has been created, it is normally brined for a number of hours in a solution of salt and water. This gives the cheese its salty flavor and aids in its preservation.

The cheese is aged for several months after the brining procedure, during which time it acquires its crumbly texture and sour flavor.

Flavor Profile of Cotija Cheese

The flavor of cotija cheese is distinct and acidic and salty at the same time.

Its crumbly texture distinguishes it from feta cheese while maintaining its strong, pungent flavor.

The cheese is occasionally compared to Parmesan cheese and frequently characterized as having a nutty flavor.

Depending on its age, Cotija cheese has a different flavor. While aged Cotija cheese has a deeper, more nuanced flavor that is perfect for grating over foods, fresh Cotija cheese has a milder flavor and a creamier texture.

Uses of Cotija Cheese in Mexican Cuisine

The versatile cheese cotija is used in a variety of traditional Mexican cuisines. It is frequently sprinkled on top of tacos, tostadas, and quesadillas as well as salads, soups, and stews.

The cheese can also be melted and used in meals like queso fundido, which is a melted cheese dish sometimes served as an appetizer, or chiles rellenos.

Elote, a typical Mexican street meal made with grilled corn on the cob and slathered in a mixture of mayonnaise, chili powder, lime juice, and Cotija cheese, is one of the most well-known applications for Cotija cheese.

The cheese gives the food a salty, acidic flavor that counteracts the sweetness of the corn.

The traditional ensalada de nopales (cactus salad), which is made with diced nopales (cactus paddles), tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and Cotija cheese, is another dish that uses Cotija cheese.

Each bite of the salad has a salty crunch from the cheese that has been crushed on top of it.

Cotija cheese has been included into contemporary fusion cooking in addition to its traditional applications, and it is frequently used as a topping for meals like pizza, burgers, and fries.

Where to Find Cotija Cheese

Most grocery stores that sell Mexican or Latin American items also stock cotija cheese.

It might be marked as Queso Cotija in the cheese department, where you can find it. Specialty cheese stores sell it online as well.

When purchasing Cotija cheese, seek out cheese that has a crumbly texture and is solid and dry. The cheese should taste flavorful and have a nutty, salty scent.

How to Store Cotija Cheese

Cotija cheese needs to be wrapped in plastic wrap or kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

While aged Cotija cheese can be kept for several months, fresh Cotija cheese only lasts up to a week in the refrigerator.

Make sure to shred or crumble Cotija cheese as needed rather than pre-doing either when using it. The flavor and texture of the cheese will be preserved as a result.


Is Cotija cheese similar to feta cheese?

Cotija cheese is often compared to feta cheese, as they both have a salty, tangy flavor and crumbly texture. However, Cotija cheese is generally saltier and has a nuttier flavor than feta cheese.

Can Cotija cheese be substituted for Parmesan cheese?

While Cotija cheese and Parmesan cheese both have a hard texture and nutty flavor, they are not interchangeable in recipes. Parmesan cheese has a milder, more buttery flavor than Cotija cheese, and it does not have the same salty tang.

Is Cotija cheese lactose-free?

While Cotija cheese is made from cow’s milk, which contains lactose, the cheese-making process removes most of the lactose. Therefore, some people who are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate Cotija cheese.

Can Cotija cheese be frozen?

Cotija cheese can be frozen, but it may affect the texture and flavor of the cheese. It is best to use frozen Cotija cheese in melted dishes, such as queso fundido, rather than as a topping.

What other types of Mexican cheese are there?

In addition to Cotija cheese, there are many other types of Mexican cheese, including queso fresco, queso blanco, Oaxaca cheese, and panela cheese. Each cheese has a unique flavor and texture and can be used in a variety of dishes.

In Conclusion

Mexican cuisine has come to rely on the excellent and adaptable Cotija cheese. It gives both conventional and contemporary dishes a distinctive edge thanks to its salty, acidic flavor and crumbly texture.

Your taste buds will be delighted with Cotija cheese whether it is crumbled over tacos, melted in queso fundido, or added to a cactus salad. So why not give it a shot and give your next dish a little Hispanic flair?

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.