The 4 Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes

Cotija Cheese, also known as Queso Cotija, is a dry type of cheese that is perfect to use when grated. Made from raw cow's milk, this cheese originated in a small municipality named Cotija in Michoacán, Mexico. In terms of color, it is white, and slightly resembles the appearance of Feta cheese. However, the taste of this cheese is more similar to Italy's Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is commonly known as Parmesan cheese—Unsurprisingly, both of these cheeses also make great substitutes Cotija cheese.

Originally, making cotija cheese would require aging raw cow's milk for a whole three months up to a year. However, thanks to scientific advances, we are now able to speed up this process by infusing certain special enzymes to this commercially made cheese—and those enzymes also boost the flavor of the cotija cheese.

Speaking of flavor, cotija has a strong and salty taste with a crumbly and dense texture. Many people find this cheese perfect to use for tacos, salads, chili, pasta, casseroles, tostadas, soups, and the list goes on. This cheese is also well-known for its versatility making it fit for a lot of dishes, which is why that popularity caused some stores finding more stocks for this cheese to sell.

This Hispanic-styled cheese is quite popular especially in Cinco de Mayo—an annual celebration in Mexico for the Mexican soldiers that fought victoriously against French empire. It is also considered as the Parmesan cheese of Mexico in terms of its fame.

Cotija cheese features a granular texture which is a result of its very fine milled curds that are pressed and molded in its production. Other than its very salty flavor, which is around twice as salty as cheddar cheese, it is also quite tangy with a faint sour milk aroma that is very useful in several dishes. Throw a red wine into the mix, and you will never let go of this wonderful cheese.

Cotija “The Parmesan of Mexico”

Cotija Cheese was labeled as such, and some even also considered it better than Parmesan. This cheese has a crumbly, salty, and incredibly rich taste of the milk from the cow. With such a great taste and texture, this cheese is totally living up to the hype.

Cotija has already established its status as a traditional Mexican ingredient—making it a staple cheese in Mexico. Many people have understandably fallen in love with the unique texture and sharp aromatic flavor of cotija cheese. Also known as mountain cheese or Queso de Montaña, cotija cheese was first produced by its makers high up in the mountains where they lived.

Behind the tangy flavor and color of this cheese is the high quality cow's milk, taken from well-cared-for cows kept in the beautiful backdrop of the alps. These cows enjoy the freshest and richest mountain grass on offer.

For some countries like US, France, Switzerland, or Italy, such cheeses are classified as "Alpine Cheeses." Alpine cheese is made from the milk of animals—not only limited to cows—that live up in the mountains in order to produce a richer and higher quality milk to be used in the production of the cheese.

Fortunately, all these efforts have not gone to waste. After hundreds of years, the alpine style of producing cheese maintained its higher quality of cheese production compared with other cheese. Thus, making Alpine cheese one of the most popular and go-to cheeses of people around the world. The fruity, herbal, nutty, buttery, grassy, floral, or spicy flavor and aroma of mountain cheese like cotija never disappoints.

This cheese's tangy characteristics, as well as its versatility nature have resulted in this cheese being used in a multitude of Mexican dishes, such as tostadas, salads, tacos, soups—but cotija does the best of its magic in grilled dishes.

In terms of health benefits, cotija cheese is rich in protein. An ounce serving of it already fulfills the 14 percent of the daily recommended value of protein we need. Protein is vital in repairing and making tissues and muscles in the body like heart and may more.

Other than that, cotija is also a rich source of calcium. Calcium is essential not just for the development and maintenance of bones, but also to keep your teeth strong and healthy.

Lastly, cotija contains a minimal amount of carbohydrates. This is very beneficial for people who have diabetes or people who have a diet plan that requires fewer carbs. No wonder why this cheese is popular—both healthy and tastebud friendly!

Cotija Cheese Substitutes

Romano Cheese

Along with ricotta cheese, Romano is also a popular cheese that originated from the country of Italy. This cheese was named after Rome, and it was one of the first cheeses ever to be created. It is believed that it was first used all the way back in the 1st century BCE, making it one of the oldest cheeses in the world. Romano cheese was made traditionally from either unpasteurized or pasteurized cow, goat, sheep milk or a combination of all three. If you want to produce a high-quality version of this cheese, it'll take at least five months of aging.

This Italian cheese is fit for omnivores and vegetarians, and it also has a strong but pleasant aroma. In terms of flavor, Romano cheese boasts a tangy, mild, and sharp flavor, and is pale-yellow in color. This hard cheese has a flaky, crumbly, brittle, and dense texture and a natural rind. Romano cheese comes in many different flavors due to its variations, but all of them work perfectly in recipes such as cream sauce, pasta, soup, garnish, and salads.

There are actually 3 types of Romano cheese: Pecorino Romano, Vacchino Romano, and Caprino Romano. First up is Pecorino Romano. This type of Romano cheese is probably the most famous among the three. It is also a part of DOP designation, making it a protected product of the Italian government. Pecorino Romano features a sharp and tangy flavor and is usually made from sheep's milk.

Second is the Vacchino Romano. This type of Romano cheese features a milder flavor compared to the other two types of Romano cheese. It is slightly yellowish white in color, and it is made from cow's milk.

And, lastly, Caprino Romano. This variation of Romano cheese has a very sharp and tangy flavor compared to the other two. This cheese has a creamy white color just like Pecorino, but they only have a very slight difference in terms of taste. This Romano cheese is made from goat's milk.

Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese is an Italian cheese that is popularly used in classic Italian dishes like salads, pizza, steamed veggies, pasta, sandwiches, and spaghetti. This cheese is also a great substitute if you prefer cheese with lower levels of sodium. Other than its popularity with soups and risottos, Parmesan cheese is also widely used in a range of evening dishes.

This famous Italian cheese is classified as a hard cheese. In terms of texture, Parmesan cheese is thick, dense, and nutty. Besides Cotija, this cheese is also a good substitute for Fontina Cheese. Parmesan is typically light brown or creamy white in color.

This cheese is also one of the cheeses in Italy that is being protected through what you call Destination of Origin. That rule imposes that there could only be certain regions wherein this cheese can be manufactured.

Parmesan was originally named Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is its more common name in the European Union. However, in terms of other countries outside the EU, Parmigiano-Reggiano is not always authentic, but you can still call it Parmesan if it closely resembles true Parmigiano.

Parmigiano-Reggiano not only tastes great, but is great for your body too. Let's take a look at some of its best health benefits:

  • Parmesan cheese is a rich source of protein. Compared with several other types of cheese such as Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Camembert, Parmesan boasts the highest protein density of them all.
  • It is lactose-free. For people who are worried about their lactose-intolerance, it's a good to know that Parmesan has very little to no amount of lactose at all, making it safe for people who are allergic to most dairy products. To prove this point, there were several experiments to support this claim. They used lactose-intolerant out the cheese, and it turns out to be successful. With the experiment, they were able to conclude that out of 106 different variations of cheese that was used in the experiment, only 6 of those barely shows the presence of lactose, and Parmesan is one of those 6. On the other hand, if you already know that you have a serious case of lactose-intolerance, it would be a hundred times better to avoid all dairy products completely.
  • Parmesan is a good source of several essential minerals for the maintenance of the body like sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium
  • It contains good fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. It also gives the body vitamin K and probiotics. All of which help the body avoid certain diseases like heart disease.

Feta Cheese

Feta Cheese

Another popular cheese that is used as a substitute for cotija is feta cheese. Dating back a few centuries ago in the country of Greece was the first production of a cheese that was named Feta. This magical, rich, soft, and creamy cheese was originally produced from whole sheep's milk.

However, since then, many new flavors and variations have appeared on the market. Other than sheep's milk, some have made use of goat's milk while others have combined the milk of both sheep and goats. With its incredibly popular characteristics, it's no wonder it has become a staple ingredient that you can find in a plethora of Greek dishes.

Feta cheese is a soft cheese and is composed of 45 to 60 percent fat of whole milk from sheep or goats. According to cheese connoisseurs, aged feta cheese is typically tastier—not fully ripened but aged at around 4 to 6 weeks.

After aging, the feta should be cured using a brine and sour whey. This process enhances the flavor and aroma of the cheese by making it tangier. Such cheeses are also called pickled cheese.

Due to its popularity and high demand, Greece is forced to export just a small amount of this cheese to other countries to fulfill their own country's high demand. In fact, most feta cheese in stores elsewhere is imported and produced from Italy.

Due to low importation of feta from Greece, some countries like Italy, the United States, Denmark, Germany, and Australia have begun manufacturing their own versions of feta cheese. Moreover, there are many variations of this cheese that are made from the whole cow's milk in, skimmed milk, and partially-skimmed milk varieties.

As mentioned above, only a small portion of Greece's original feta cheese is exported abroad, so you should expect to have quite a hard time when searching for the original version of feta cheese—unless, of course, you’re shopping in Greece!

If you’re full of luck that you were able to find one outside of Greece, do not be surprised that it can cause you a great deal of money. That is also one of the reasons why there are already a lot of imitations of this cheese, which is why some people settle for a cheaper yet high quality version of Feta cheese imitation in stores.

Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta is a well-known cheese that originates from Italy. Its name can also be translated as "re-cooked." This Italian cheese is produced using the leftover whey of two cheeses named Provolone and Mozzarella.

These cheeses can be made from goat, sheep, cow, or Italian water buffalo milk. That method of production is quite traditional and comes from the old cheese artisans, but new methods and ingredients are already being incorporated into the production of ricotta cheese today.

Italian cuisine is very famous and well-loved all over the world like cannoli, lasagna, and pizza. Ricotta cheese plays a big role in these dishes and many more Italian dishes, which is why it has become a staple cheese in its own country. In considering this as a substitute cheese for your cotija, don't forget the following amazing health benefits it has to offer:

  • One cup serving of Ricotta will gain you approximately 28 grams of Protein and 7.5 grams of carbs. This means that Ricotta is a great choice if you need energy for the day. Using low-fat Ricotta such as semi-skim or fat-free Ricotta will give you even more carbohydrates, which means even more energy!
  • As a dairy product, Ricotta also contains a significant amount of calcium. A one cup serving gives you 0.52 grams of calcium, which is around 52% of your daily recommended value. Happy tastebuds, happy bones. 
  • A cup serving of Ricotta is a good source of Vitamin A (12% of daily value), Riboflavin (14% daily value), and Vitamin B12 (7% daily value)
  • Ricotta is also rich in minerals. A half-cup serving provides 20% of your daily recommended Phosphorus, 10% of your daily Zinc, and 26% of your daily Selenium.
  • Most importantly, Ricotta cheese contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids help to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer and are very healthy for the body in general. A cup serving of Ricotta provides 0.28 grams of Omega-3 and 0.68 grams of Omega-6 fatty acids.

Don't worry about the calorie and fat content of this cheese being too high. Always remember that you are free to use a partly-skimmed or non-fat version of ricotta cheese for a healthier substitute and a healthier diet.

Final Verdict

Each ones of these cheeses make great cotija substitutes for omnivores and vegetarians alike. However, if you're vegan and feeling a little left out, not to worry! If you want to enjoy a great substitute for cotija cheese without compromising your healthy green diet, nutritional yeast can be a great alternative to dairy cheeses, with a cheesy nutty flavor your tastebuds will adore. It is also full of protein, vitamin B12 and is also very low in sodium, sugar, fats, gluten, and dairy. 

No matter your diet, this list has the perfect option for everyone. So next time you're in need of the perfect cotija substitute, go ahead and give one a try - you won't regret it!

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