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19 Ways to Substitute for Cotija Cheese

Here are 19 easy ways to substitute for cotija cheese, including vegan and dairy-free options and a recipe to make your own!

Cotija cheese is a Mexican, dry grated cheese. It is made from cow’s milk and can be compared to the taste of feta and parmesan. It’s name comes from a city in Mexico and it’s incredibly popular in Mexican cuisine and Tex Mex recipes in the US.

You’ve probably enjoyed it on street corn, sprinkled over refried beans and dotted over your favorite tacos. It’s also good for you because it’s filled with protein and calcium.

If you can’t find cotija cheese in your grocery store (or don’t have any on hand when you need it, there are plenty of easy ways to substitute for cotija cheese in a pinch.

Below are the best Cotija replacement ingredients and how to use them!

Two large wedges of cotija cheese with green garnish next to a knife on wood cutting board.

Common Ways to Substitute for Cotija Cheese

1. Cotija Molido

Large amount of Cotija Molido cheese in a clear plastic deli container on wood table.

This cotija variety is finely ground. If you don’t want to finely chop your cheese for a recipe, this is a great option. You’ll find this ingredient in soups, topped on pizzas, and in pasta dishes.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

2. Queso Fresco

Large wheel of queso fresco cheese with wedge cut out on wooden cutting board.

Queso Fresco means “fresh cheese” in Spanish. This is the best substitute for cotija if you can find it in stores or happen to have some on hand. It is very close in flavor to cotija but is a little bit milder.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

3. Feta Cheese

Two large slices of feta cheese garnished with rosemary sprig on blue and white striped kitchen towel.

This cheese has a similar texture and salty flavor to the softer more fresh variety of cotija cheese and is readily available in grocery stores. Feta is a popular Mediterranean ingredient, specifically in Greek salads and wraps. But it also makes a suitable replacement for cotija in a pinch.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

4. Goat Cheese Crumbles

Sliced goat cheese log and goat cheese crumbles on a wooden cutting board next to small cleaver.

Goat cheese is another, salt forward cheese that can stand in for cotija in a pinch. As its name implies, goat cheese is made from goat’s milk. This ingredient is pretty common in most grocery stores so it’s easy to get your hands on.

Be sure to get the dryer, crumbled variety, and not the soft version usually sold in a log.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

5. Parmesan Cheese

Large wedge of parmesan cheese on wooden cutting board next to grated cheese.

You can use parmesan cheese as a substitute for aged cotija. Parmesan has a stronger flavor that is similar to the stronger taste of aged cotija. Parmesan makes the best substitute for cotija on Mexican street corn.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

6. Romano Cheese

Brown clay bowl filled with shredded Romano cheese next to kitchen grater.

Romano makes a great aged cotija substitute as well. It’s salty and pungent and readily available in stores. Use as a 1 to 1 substitute the same way you would parmesan.

7. Ricotta Salata

Sliced ricotta salata wheel and burgundy kitchen towel with green garnish leaves.

You can also try ricotta salata cheese. (This is not the same as the typical grocery store ricotta you would use for lasagna recipes). Ricotta salata is simply, fresh ricotta that is pressed, salted, and dried.

This cheese is not as easily found in stores, but if you do get your hands on some, you’ll need to add a dash or two of additional salt to achieve a similar cotija flavor.

8. Añejo

Half of an Anjeo cheese wedge with reddish brown spice coating on top of cheese pile.

Anejo means old or aged in Spanish. Not surprisingly, this cheese goes through a maturing process that firms its texture which enables crumbling and shredding. It has a similar salty taste to cotija, making it a great replacement product.

However, it typically comes seasoned with paprika. Tone down the other spices in your recipe if you’re concerned about too much heat or use a little less than you would cotija.

9. Grana Padano

Large portion of a Grana Padano cheese wheel next to slices and cheese knife on a cutting board.

This Italian cheese is made from cow’s milk and is aged for at least a 9 month period. It has a slightly creamier texture and a mild, nutty bite. It is less salty and pungent than cotija, and has a sweeter flavor, but still makes a great stand in.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute if you prefer a milder cheese in your recipes.

10. Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano cheese wedge on wooden cutting board with shavings and nuts.

Pecorino is another Italian cheese that’s salty, a little funky and tangy, and is similar to cotija. It’s a hard cheese that can be crumbled and grated and shares a similar appearance to cotija.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

11. Wensleydale

Two large slices of a wensleydale cheese wedge on a wooden cutting board next to knife.

This cheese originates from England and has a similar texture as Cotija but a sweeter taste that’s more like ricotta. Wensleydale can be used as a 1 to 1 substitute for quesadillas, queso, and tacos if you don’t mind the milder taste and honeylike aroma.

12. Gorwydd Caerphilly

Several triangular Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese wedges standing on a rustic wooden shelf.

Caerphilly cheese is another crumbly, white English cheese that can stand in for Cotija in a pinch. It has a salty, tangy flavor that makes it great for topping enchiladas, beans, and salsas and for stews.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute, though it is slightly moister.

13. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese in a cast iron crock surrounded by yellow and green vegetables.

Cottage cheese is much moister and softer than cotija cheese. It also has a much milder and sweet flavor. However, this cheese can make a decent substitute for those looking to cut calories.

Strain your cottage cheese to remove excess moisture and use it as a 1 to 1 substitute.

14. Taleggio

Large block of taleggio cheese next to slices on a wooden cutting board with crackers and jam in background.

This cotija substitute works well for warm and gooey dishes where the cheese is melted and stringy.

It is an aged and fermented Italian cheese with a softer texture than cotija and a slightly red color. The taste is similar, though, which makes it a suitable substitute for quesadillas, refried beans, and other baked or gooey cheese preparations.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

15. Red Fox

Large block of Red Fox cheddar cheese on wooden cutting board next to shredded cheese.

This cheese is quite different than cotija in color and texture. It’s a cheddar cheese variety with a complex sweet, savory and salty flavor. If you don’t have a semi-hard cheese on hand, this cheddar substitute is easily shredded and great for nachos and tacos.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

Dairy Free & Vegan Cotija Alternatives

16. Vegan Cotija

Spotted bowl filled with vegan cotija cheese made from almonds with almonds all around.

There are lots of vegan cheese options out there now. If you don’t like consuming animal byproducts, you can even try making a DIY vegan cotija from almonds, using olive brine, salt, and lemon.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

17. Violife Just Like Parmesan

Two wedges of Violife Just Like Parmesan Cheese on wooden cutting board next to basil leaves.

Here’s a premade vegan cotija option. It has a similar salty taste and crumbly texture to cotija. Many grocery stores have a vegan section so it’s relatively easy to find Violife products in stores.

Use as a 1 to 1 substitute.

18. Tofu Cotija

Cotija cheese made from tofu on a wooden cutting board next to soy beans.

This cotija replacement is great for those who have a nut allergy and also want to avoid animal products. The ingredients for tofu cotija include ACV (apple cider vinegar), salt, and nutritional yeast.

If you have the time to make your own cheese, this is a great 1 to 1 substitute.

Make your Own

Homemade cotija cheese and brine in a large dutch oven cooking pot.

You can make your own cotija cheese at home using the following ingredients and directions:

INGREDIENTS

For the Cheese:

  • 8 cups non-homogenized whole milk
  • 10 drops calcium chloride
  • 4 grains mesophilic starter culture
  • 1 mililiter liquid rennet (Dilute liquid rennet in 30 mililiter non-chlorinated water.)
  • 2 Tablespoons Cheese Salt

For the Brine:

  • 2 cups water, boiled
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon citric acid
  • 10-12 drops calcium chloride

Recipes with Cotija Cheese

And here’s a delicious shredded chicken salad (the best Cafe Rio copycat recipe). Use this dish to try out your favorite way to substitute for cotija cheese, above.

Shredded Chicken Cafe Rio Salad

Cafe Rio salad in white bowl with lettuce, pico, guacamole, lime wedge, tortilla strips, and cotija on white table.
Pinterest graphic with text and collage of ingredients used to substitute for cotija cheese.
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