What is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija is a popular type of Mexican cheese. It is produced from cow milk and named after a town in Michoacán State, Mexico. Cotija cheese is white in color with a firm and dry texture. This traditional Mexican cheese serves a salty and milky flavor after undergoing an aging process that lasts between 100 days and 12 months.

The aging process mainly aims at drying out the cheese to prevent it from melting even when placed overheating. As such, it becomes a perfect choice for crumbling or grating over specific dishes.

Although cotija cheese has been compared to other types of cheese such as ricotta salata, Parmesan, and feta, it really is the only one of its kind. Cotija comes in two main versions: fresh and aged. The fresh or younger cotija cheese undergoes aging for about 100 days. This type of cotija is quite similar to feta in terms of taste, color, and texture.

Although feta has a much tangier taste in comparison. As cotija cheese continues to age it starts adopting saltier, more strident properties. Once it completes the aging process it develops tastes similar to those of Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Younger cotija cheese is best for crumbling over food, while more aged cotija is harder, thus it grates better. Unlike other types of cheese, cotija won’t melt. As such, it is perfect for topping hot dishes.

Cotija cheese is highly popular in most Mexican kitchens. It is great when added to Mexican recipes like nachos, tacos, casseroles, enchiladas, beans, and soups, among others. Aged cotija cheese is known as Anejo and it is white in color with a salty flavor and dry texture. It can either be grated or crumbled and used as a topping for hot dishes.

Mexican Cheese

Mexico is home to a wide array of cheeses. Cheese varies in type depending on its production process. There is fresh, soft/semi-soft, and semi-hard/hard cheese. All are great, but suitable for different types of meals. Below is a guide on the various types of Mexican cheeses.

Fresh Cheeses

  • Panela: It is mostly eaten with salad or any cold dishes. When crumbled, it is perfect with tacos, the same as Ricotta.
  • Queso Blanco: It is moist, crumbly, and becomes creamy when heated. It is quite versatile and can be substituted by Monterey Jack Cheese.
  • Requeson: It is a low-fat cheese that is interchangeable with the Hispanic Ricotta Cheese. It is perfect for salads and desserts.

Soft/Semi-Soft Cheeses

  • Anejo: As an aged cheese it is perfect for grating and crumbling over meals such as tacos and salads. Just like Romano cheese, Anejo has a nice zesty flavor, which makes them both interchangeable.
  • Asadero: It is a traditional cheese that is quite chewy and perfect for making chiles rellenos fillings. It is made from wild berries to give it a distinctive taste that’s only present in Fontina, Jack, Teleme, and Muenster cheeses; all of which can perfectly substitute Asadero.

Cotija Cheese Substitute

Since cotija comes in two versions, its alternatives vary depending on whether you are using the fresh or the aged version.

Soft Cotija Cheese Substitute

  • Feta cheese would be a really good option as it is similarly as soft and salty as soft cotija cheese. Besides, it is readily accessible in most of the local grocery stores. Trader Joe’s brand makes awesome Feta cheese with low-fat content.
  • Queso Fresco cheese offers a great alternative as well, especially with its crumbling properties and acidic/tangy flavor.

Aged Cotija Cheese Substitute

  • The best overall substitutes for Cotija Anejo must be Parmesan cheese or Romano. They are both salty and pungent, and quite easy to access at your local store. Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s also store these cheeses, and they are always in stock.
  • Ricotta Salata, although quite hard to access in local grocery stores, is a great alternative to Cotija Anejo. It is an excellent choice though for those trying to lay off highly salty flavors while seeking to retain cheese products in their meals/lifestyle.

What is Queso Fresco?

Queso Fresco is Spanish for fresh cheese. Similar to cotija cheese, queso fresco is also made from cow milk, and as such, serves as a great alternative to cotija. It is important, however, to note that queso fresco has a more subtle flavor.

Queso Fresco Vs Cotija

It is quite normal to interchangeably use cotija cheese and Queso Fresco. They are quite similar in many aspects, including the fact that they are both made from cow milk. In fact, both cheeses are quite hard and make for a great crumbled topping. They are perfect when used as condiments or garnish.

In terms of taste, however, cotija holds the lead position when it comes to having a deep tangy taste. Another difference between these two cheeses is in their aging duration; cotija takes at least 3-12 months to mature, while Queso Fresco can be consumed almost immediately. These are two of the most popular Mexican cheeses and are quite easy to find in grocery stores all around the world.

Is Cotija Cheese Pasteurized?

Cotija cheese is a soft cheese, which means that it’s made from unpasteurized milk. As such cotija cheese is not pasteurized, which makes it unsafe for consumption by pregnant women. In most cases, however, when cotija is used in restaurants, it is highly likely to be made from pasteurized milk. Also, most restaurants don’t serve uncooked cheese, thus making it safe to eat cotija cheese in restaurants.

Where To Buy Cotija Cheese?

Many grocery stores stock cotija cheese, but more so, those that are keen to stock international ingredients. Walmart and Latin markets almost always have it in stock. The best part is that they have an assorted array in terms of brand and the age of maturation. Cotija cheese is traded in one of two forms: block or grated. 

Best #5 Cotija Cheese Recipes

Mexican foods have taken the world by storm. Enchilada is one of the most sought out Mexican cuisines and recipes. Find below a detailed Enchilada recipe together with 4 other Mexican recipes. Now you won’t always have to go to a cantina every time you want to have some enchiladas.

Recipe #1: The Perfect Mexican Enchiladas

Ingredients

  • ¾ glass of oil
  • 14 corn tortillas
  • 2.5 glasses of enchilada sauce (homemade) or a whole can/jar of store-purchased sauce
  • 2.5 cups of shredded cheese/ or fillings like shredded cooked chicken or cooked, seasoned, and ground beef.

Steps To Follow

1: Prepare the tortillas for filling: use a heat-proof shallow skillet to warm the oil. You want it just warm enough, so ensure the oil doesn’t get burning hot. Place another skillet over low heat. Dip the tortillas in the oil and leave them for about 5-8 seconds before removing them and placing them in the other pan. You want to maintain the tortillas pliable and warm.

2: Dip the tortillas in your homemade or store-bought enchilada sauce: pour the enchilada sauce into a shallow bowl dip the tortillas one by one and make sure that each one is thoroughly covered in the sauce.

3: Add the fillings: Place the sauce-covered tortilla on a baking dish. Scoop 2 tablespoons of your chosen filling, and place them down the middle of your tortilla. If your preferred filling is chicken or beef, add a little shredded cotija cheese over it then fold one side of the tortilla over followed by the other. Turn the enchilada over so that the seam is pressed against the dish to prevent it from unwrapping. Repeat this with all the tortillas. The filling should be enough for up to 14 enchiladas.

4: Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas: With all the enchiladas arranged seam-side down in a baking dish, pour the remaining sauce over them.

5: Add your shredded cotija cheese: Sprinkle the leftover cheese generously and evenly over the enchiladas.

6: Bake the enchiladas: Place your enchiladas in the oven and set it to 350F. Let them bake for about 20-30 minutes until the cheese melts and becomes bubbly.

7: Serve your enchiladas and enjoy: Allow your enchiladas to sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a salad; it can be lettuce, tomato, or guacamole. Enjoy your homemade enchiladas!

Recipe #2: Chicken Tinga Tacos With Bacon Pico De Gallo

Ingredients

  • 2.5 pounds of chicken (boneless and skinless)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 can of fire-roasted sliced tomatoes
  • Half a cup of chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Cumin, 2 teaspoons
  • 3 chipotle peppers plus adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano (Mexican)
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • One teaspoon of salt
  • Quarter teaspoon sugar
  • Quarter teaspoon ground black pepper

Ingredients For Bacon Pico De Gallo

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 small radishes, diced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 8 strips of cooked and crumbled bacon
  • Cotija cheese, grated, to top
  • 1 avocado, cut, to top
  •  16 corn tortillas, warmed

Instructions

#1: Pour all the ingredients for the chicken tinga taco into a slow-cooking pot, set it to minimum heat, and leave it for 5-6 hours.

#2: Remove and dispose of the bay leaf.

#3: Separate the chicken from the rest of the mixture and shred it using two forks

#4: Put the chicken back into the pot and cook for an extra 30 minutes

#5: Set the chicken aside to cook and prepare the bacon pico de gallo. Mix and turn all the ingredients in a bowl before adding your crumbled bacon. Put it aside.

#6: In your corn tortillas add a few scoops of the chicken tinga mixture, and then add some avocado toppings together with the bacon pico de gallo, and a dash of the grated cotija cheese. Serve while still warm.

Recipe #3: Mexican Stuffed Peppers

When preparing this recipe, aim to attain a creamy, smoky, cheesy, tangy, meaty, and spicy if you like. These Mexican stuffed peppers are a go-to anytime.

Ingredients

  • 4 big poblano peppers (split and seed them)
  • 1 small chopped red onion,
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 pound of fresh Mexican-style chorizo, peeled
  • One glass of cooked rice
  • 1 chopped, mid-sized roma tomato
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup raw cilantro, diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of shredded Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup of grated cotija cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Steps

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2: To prevent the poblanos from sticking use a nonstick spray on a rimmed baking sheet. Place your poblanos in the oven for 15-20 minutes. The skin should be bubbly.

Step 3: Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Pan fry your chorizo for at least 5 minutes using a wooden cooking stick to break it up. Add in the onions and garlic then stir. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes before adding tomato paste, cumin, and oregano. Transfer into a big bowl.

Step 4: Add the rest of the ingredients including rice, cilantro, meat mixture, sour cream, tomatoes, and finally your cotija cheese. Season it using salt and pepper.

Step 5: Take the mixture and slip it into the cavities of your cooked and split poblanos then sprinkle the leftover cheese.

Step 6: Place the peppers back into the oven or over the grill for the cheese to melt. Let cool and serve warm.

Recipe #4: Spicy Lentil Nachos in Cheese Sauce

This vegetarian dish is absolutely to die for. The homemade cheese sauce filling gives the nachos an amazing velvety texture.

Nachos Ingredients

  • 1 cup of raw lentils
  • 1/2 cup raw freekeh, farro, bulgur, or brown rice
  • 4 glasses of enchilada sauce
  • 3–4 glasses of broth or water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • chips
  • jalapeno, avocado, cilantro, and lime for topping

Cheese Sauce Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 ½ glasses of milk
  • 1 1/2 glasses of shredded cotija cheese (Monterrey Jack, Pepperjack, and Mozzarella cheeses are also great)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt

Recipe Steps

1: Clean your lentils and freekeh (or whichever grain you’re using). Add your enchilada sauce and broth into a pot, place them on low heat, and wait for them to simmer. Add your lentils and freekeh; leave them to cook for about 30-40 minutes while stirring occasionally. Make sure everything is soft, and the sauce has come to a heavy, gravy-like consistency.\

2: Place a small-sized saucepan on the stove and melt the butter on low heat. Pour in the flour and stir.

3: Pour in your milk slowly while whisking it to consistently mix with the flour without forming any lumps. Allow it to simmer until it forms a thick consistency. Turn off the heat, add in your cheese, and stir.

4: Pour your chips on a plate, and top them with a scoop of your lentil mixture. Generously sprinkle the cheese sauce on top of that and top with some avocado and a dash of cilantro. Your nachos are ready to devour.

Recipe #5: Migas

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tbsp of butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of oil
  • 5–6 small and stripped corn tortillas
  • 1 minced jalapeno
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 5 whisked eggs
  • 1/2 a glass of shredded cheese e.g. Pepperjack
  • 1/2 a glass of sliced cilantro
  • A pinch of salt to taste
  • Black beans
  • cotija cheese
  • Pepper
  • Avocado
  • Tomato salsa

Steps

Step 1: Take a large frying pan and place it over medium heat. Add in the oil and butter and allow it to melt. Pour in the tortillas to fry while stirring constantly until they attain a deep brown color and become crispy.

Step 2: Turn down the heat, and allow the mixture to cool for a bit before adding in the jalapeno and garlic. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes and start adding in the whisked eggs in 4 portions; one at a time. As you add in the eggs, push them gently around the pan. Do this with each addition until you have added all the eggs. Leave them to cook, but not quite all the way. Add salt to taste.

Step 3: Turn off the heat and allow to sit as the eggs finish cooking. Once the eggs are ready, add the cheese and cilantro then stir. Your Migas are ready to eat. Serve with black beans, avocado, salsa cheese, pepper, tomato salsa, and top with shredded/crumbled cotija cheese.

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