If you are a fan of Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine, then it is almost certain that you are familiar with Cotija cheese, often known as queso Cotija. The deeper taste and saltiness of Cotija cheese, which is now much easier to locate in bigger grocery shops or specialized markets, makes it ideal for cooking with or finishing off a broad range of foods since it can be used in either application.
In the event that obtaining Cotija cheese proves to be difficult for you, there are a few alternatives that may readily be used in lieu of Cotija cheese in proportions that are directly comparable to those required for Cotija cheese. The first two of these alternatives are very easy to come by; in fact, some of us probably have at least one of them on hand in the refrigerator at all times. The other two alternatives, however, may be more difficult to locate but still make excellent replacements.
About Cotija Cheese
Cotija cheese (queso Cotija) is a kind of Mexican cheese that is traditionally prepared from unpasteurized cow’s milk. It is called after the town of Cotija in the state of Michoacán, which is believed to be the location where it was initially produced. Cotija cheese, when young, has a texture that is comparable to feta in that it is crumbly and moist. However, as the cheese ages, it becomes firmer and sharper, becoming more like parmesan, despite the fact that the flavor of Cotija cheese is more robust and saltier. In fact, Cotija cheese contains approximately twice as much salt as cheddar cheeses.
When prepared in the traditional manner, Cotija cheese, sometimes known as the “Parmesan of Mexico,” is matured for a period of up to one year. Farmers that produce it in the traditional manner will utilize milk with a high fat content that comes from cows who eat a diet rich in grains and grasses. After that, the milk is salted and then brought to a boil with enzymes until the curds begin to form. After that, these curds are squeezed and packed into the molds using pressure. If the Cotija cheese is young, it may be ready to eat as soon as the following day or two; but, if it is older, it must be aged for at least three months, often in an underground grotto.
Additional enzymes are added during the commercial production of Cotija cheese in order to hasten the cheese’s maturing process. Some people believe that this does not have any effect on the flavor of the cheese, while other experts disagree and claim that fast aging cheese would not give it the same depth of flavor as conventional aging would.
Because it does not melt when heated, Cotija cheese is almost often used for sprinkling and crumbling. However, it does get softer when heated. It is popular on elote (Mexican street corn), in refried beans, and tostados, in addition to being used often as a topping for nachos, tacos, enchiladas, and other Mexican dishes. In its younger stages, Cotija cheese may be used in the same manner as feta cheese, including being sprinkled over salads and pasta dishes. This more youthful or malleable type may often be found in greater availability at bigger supermarket shops.
1. Parmesan Cheese
The consistency of parmesan is described as gritty and crystalline, and it is a solid, firm cheese. It has a nutty, spicy, and savory taste with undertones of fruit that are reminiscent of umami. To us, parmesan refers to any hard cheese manufactured in the Italian manner from cow’s milk, whereas authentic Italian parmesan is often imported from Italy. During the Middle Ages in Italy, it was the monks who were responsible for the initial production of parmesan, also known as Parmigiano Reggiano.
A cheese that is not produced in certain areas of Italy using particular methods cannot be termed parmesan in the European Union because Italian parmesan is a cheese with a Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO. This implies that a cheese cannot be named parmesan in the European Union. Salt is the only permitted additional component that may be added to PDO parmesan during the manufacturing process. PDO parmesan does not include any artificial additives or tastes.
Parmesans manufactured in the traditional manner are produced with unpasteurized cow’s milk, and the cheeses may be aged for up to three years before being consumed. The taste of a parmesan cheese develops a nuttier and more complex profile as the cheese ages.
Because it is comparable in taste, texture, and saltiness to aged Cotija cheese, Parmesan is likely to be the most successful substitution for old Cotija cheese in any given recipe. In the same way that younger Cotija cheese would be used in green salads, Parmesan may also be used in them to contribute more taste in the same manner.
The fact that many of us keep parmesan in the refrigerator for topping pizza or soups and that it is always simple to obtain in shops makes parmesan the best alternative to aged Cotija cheese. If you do not keep parmesan in the refrigerator, you can always get it in stores. You may also get an imported or PDO parmesan in reputable grocery shops that have a department dedicated to speciality cheeses, as well as at specialist stores or markets.
2. Feta Cheese
Because of feta cheese’s salty and tangy taste, as well as its creamy, firm, and crumbly texture, it is an excellent alternative for Cotija cheese in salads and other recipes that call for a younger cheese. Feta cheese also has a crumbly texture. Feta cheese also has a similar taste characteristic to Cojita cheese.
In contrast to Cotija cheese, traditional Greek feta is produced from a combination of sheep and goat milk, but some feta is now now produced using cow’s milk. Cotija cheese is produced from just sheep milk. Due to the fact that the name of this cheese is protected by European law, Greek feta cheese may only be produced in certain locations, including the Greek mainland and the Greek central region. A Protected Designation of Origin, more commonly known as a PDO logo, is consistently shown on the packaging of this feta. PDO laws, on the other hand, are not applicable to nations that are not members of the European Union, unless the governments of such nations have decided to respect PDO. A PDO feta cheese must include at least 70 percent milk from sheep and 30 percent milk from goats.
The flavor and consistency of PDO feta cheese may vary greatly depending on its origin and method of production. A feta cheese from Thessaly tends to have a stronger flavor, but feta cheese from Macedonia is often creamier, softer, and has a lower salt content. The aging process for feta cheese typically takes between two and twelve months and may take place in tins, baskets, or barrels. Feta cheese that has been matured in barrels tends to be the most mature and has a taste that is both sharper and more nuanced than other types of feta cheese. The vast majority of brined feta cheese on the market has been matured for at least two months.
Due to the fact that the PDO designation is only applicable inside the European Union, this indicates that feta cheese and cheeses manufactured in the manner of feta may be produced not just in the United States but also in other nations where these kinds of cheeses have been prepared for hundreds of years. In comparison to a PDO Greek feta cheese, our feta is often produced using just cow’s milk, making it a drier cheese with a more subdued taste profile.
Gourmet cheese stores are among of the greatest locations to get the widest variety of feta cheeses, including both domestic and PDO varieties of feta cheeses. If you want to be sure that the feta cheese you buy is authentic Greek feta, look for a red and yellow PDO label on the packaging. If the feta cheese is not being sold in the container in which it was originally packaged, you should insist on seeing the original packing and examine it carefully to locate the mark. Because feta cheese will always keep longer when it is sold in brine, it is best to purchase it already brined and then crumble or chop it just before serving.
3. Anejo Cheese (Queso Anejo)
Anejo cheese was previously produced using goat milk that had been skimmed; however, these days cow’s milk is more often used. Anejo is a kind of cheese that is produced in Mexico. It is rolled in paprika, giving it a crimson rind. The cheese has a taste that is robust, sharp, and salty. In the past, the outer paprika coating was used to assist in the preservation of the cheese. The taste of anejo cheese is often not as robust as the flavor of Cotija cheese; however, anejo cheese produced from goat milk will have more of a tang to it than anejo cheese manufactured from cow’s milk.
The cheese known as queso fresco, sometimes known as queso anejo or “aged cheese,” is really queso fresco cheese that has been aged. As queso fresco matures, it dries, gets thicker, crumblier and saltier – much more like a parmesan cheese. However, the color does not change, and depending on the age of the queso anejo that you purchase, the guidelines may urge you to either shred or grate the cheese. Younger cheeses are easier to crumble by hand, while older and heavier cheeses will need to be grated.
Anejo cheese, which is often used in grilled and baked meals like enchiladas, tacos, and burritos, may be used in place of Cotija cheese in any dish that is prepared by cooking. It will maintain the majority of its original texture, barely melting slightly, and imparting its salty taste and a touch of creaminess to the food that it is combined with. At addition to being sold in specialty food markets, aged cheddar may sometimes be found in bigger supermarkets as well. However, similar to the availability of Cotija cheese, the availability of aged cheddar can vary greatly depending on where you reside.
4. Romano Cheese
Romano is another kind of Italian hard cheese, similar to parmesan. Romano cheese has been around for almost two thousand years, and it got its name from the city of Rome. It tastes nutty and umami, much as parmesan cheese does. Additionally, it has a gritty texture, and it grates very readily, all of which make it an excellent substitute for Cotija cheese as a topping.
There are really three distinct varieties of Romano cheese, each of which gets its name from the kind of milk that was used in its production. The Roman cheeses Vaccino Romano, produced from cow’s milk, have a subtle flavor; Caprino Romano, created from goat’s milk, has a highly pungent flavor; and Pecorino Romano, made from sheep’s milk, has a flavor that is both sour and pungent. Traditional Romano cheeses may be made using either pasteurized or unpasteurized milks depending on the cheesemaker’s preference.
Pecorino Romano is the Romano cheese that most closely resembles Cotija in flavor due to its astringent and salty flavor and reluctance to melt. It is also the Romano cheese that is most similar in texture. However, it is possible that you would need to go to a specialty shop in order to get any form of Romano cheese. Parmesan cheese is more readily available than Romano cheese.
Just to Summarize
You shouldn’t let the fact that you don’t have any Cotija cheese on hand prevent you from serving Tex-Mex. You may make a passable substitution by sprinkling parmesan cheese over your enchiladas and nachos. Alternatively, feta cheese, which can be crushed up and used to a variety of meals, is a good choice for those looking for a softer alternative.
Because you can use any of the aforementioned alternatives in the exact same amounts as you would use Cotija cheese, it is even simpler to replace the Cotija cheese with a cheese that you already have in your refrigerator than it was before!