6 Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes for Your Mexican Dishes

As someone who grew up eating authentic Mexican food, I’ve always loved the unique taste of crumbly, salty cotija cheese. Cotija cheese brings a special tanginess and texture to some of my favorite dishes like tacos, enchiladas, soups, and snacks. However, I know that cotija cheese can be hard to find depending on where you live.

That’s why I decided to research the best substitutes for cotija cheese so I can still enjoy classic Mexican flavors when I don’t have access to the real deal. In this article, I’ll explain what cotija cheese is, recommend the closest alternatives, and share how to use them in recipes. Read on to become a cotija cheese substitution expert!

What Is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija cheese originated in Cotija, Michoacán, Mexico. It’s considered a specialty artisan cheese that’s handcrafted according to tradition. The town where it’s produced has an ideal climate that lends a unique taste to cotija.

This Mexican cheese is made from cow’s milk and usually aged for at least 3 months. It has a firm yet crumbly texture that’s perfect for sprinkling, crumbling, and grating. The flavor of cotija is described as salty, tangy, and milky with fruity or nutty notes.

The taste of cotija cheese becomes intensified as it ages, taking on earthy and spicy hints. There are two main types:

  • Fresh cotija – Softer and milder tasting when made for immediate consumption
  • Aged cotija (cotija anejo) – Firmer and more pungent from the aging process

Cotija cheese is a pillar of Mexican cuisine. It’s often added to enhance dishes like:

  • Tacos, tostadas, and gorditas
  • Tamales, sopes, and pupusas
  • Quesadillas, chilaquiles, and enchiladas
  • Refried beans, rice, and soups
  • Ceviche, salads, and roasted veggies

The crumbly texture and salty, tangy flavor are what make cotija cheese so distinctive. Now let’s look at the best stand-ins for times when you can’t use real cotija.

6 Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes

Finding a worthy cotija alternative depends on analyzing the right texture, saltiness, tang, and overall flavor profile. Through my hands-on testing, these cotija substitutes produced the best results:

1. Romano Cheese

1. Romano Cheese

Romano makes an excellent replacement thanks to its similar crumbly texture and salty punch. This Italian hard cheese is made from cow’s milk and often grated over pastas and pizzas.

While Romano has a creamier interior compared to cotija, it mimics the latter’s sharpness. The tanginess is milder but still noticeable when used in Mexican recipes. Romano also has hints of butter, grass, and nuttiness to approximate cotija’s complex flavor.

2. Mexican Queso Fresco

2. Mexican Queso Fresco

Queso fresco is a mild, moist Mexican cheese sold in blocks. It offers a more affordable and authentic substitute for cotija with its light saltiness and touch of tang.

While queso fresco doesn’t have the same crumble, it better mimics the fresh, milky notes of cotija. This cheese is ideal for sprinkling over enchiladas, tacos, and tostadas to reproduce that authentic flavor.

3. Feta Cheese

3. Feta Cheese

Greek feta cheese is a tangy, brined white cheese usually made from sheep’s milk. It works well in place of cotija thanks to a similar saltiness and crumbly quality when dried out.

Combine feta with other cheeses on this list to get closer to cotija’s distinct taste. The moisture in fresh feta can make it hard to sprinkle, so I recommend blotting it dry first. The tart and creamy notes pair wonderfully with Mexican recipes.

4. Parmesan Cheese

4. Parmesan Cheese

The other classic Italian hard grating cheese, Parmesan, can substitute for cotija in a pinch. It has a pleasant salty and umami taste that enhances Mexican food in the right amounts.

The aged flavor of Parmesan makes it work well in cooked dishes like casseroles. Since Parmesan is more expensive, use it sparingly and combine it with other cotija alternatives to stretch your dollar. The texture is also granular rather than crumbly.

5. Anejo Cheese

5. Anejo Cheese

Aged anejo cheese is produced in a similar manner to cotija, but with goat’s or cow’s milk. It originated in the town of Andes in the Los Altos region of Chihuahua, Mexico.

This cheese is rubbed with chili pepper paste during the aging process, giving it a spicy kick. Expect flavors of salt, tang, herbs, and a firm, crumbly texture just like aged cotija. Use it to sprinkle on street tacos or salad for authentic Mexican flair.

6. Ricotta Salata

6. Ricotta Salata

This Italian cheese tastes like a firmer version of ricotta cheese. Ricotta salata has a crumbly, grainy texture that grated cotija cheese has.

It’s made by salting and pressing fresh ricotta curds, then aging the cheese for at least 90 days. The result is a milky, salty flavor that makes ricotta salata a handy cotija substitute in cooked recipes. It also has enough tartness to work on salads or pizza.

How to Use These Cotija Cheese Substitutes

Now that you know the best stand-ins for cotija cheese, let’s cover proper usage and substitution ratios. Here are some tips:

  • For crumbling, salting, and sprinkling: Choose feta, Romano, or anejo cheese. Blot feta dry first to remove excess moisture.
  • For a cotija cheese-like seasoning: Grate Romano, Parmesan, or ricotta salata over dishes.
  • To add to sauces or fillings: Substitute with crumbled feta, queso fresco, or ricotta salata.
  • For maximum flavor and texture: Combine cheeses like Parmesan, feta, and queso fresco.
  • Convert the cotija amount to feta and queso fresco at a 1:1 ratio. Use less of stronger cheeses like Romano and Parmesan.
  • To extend flavor, add cotija substitutes to only a portion of the dish rather than the entire batch.

Test ratios and taste as you go to get the right intensity of salty tang. With these handy alternatives, you can recreate authentic Mexican cuisine even without cotija cheese!

Easy Dishes to Make with Cotija Substitutes

Now let’s talk about the many ways to cook Mexican food with these cotija stand-ins. Try substituting cotija in these classic dishes:

► Tacos

Sprinkle crumbled feta, anejo, or Romano over meat in tacos for a tangy topping. You can also add a cotija substitute to lighten and salt the shredded beef or chicken filling.

► Quesadillas

Mix your choice of crumbled cotija replacement into cheese fillings for quesadillas. Feta and ricotta salata work well mixed into the filling.

► Enchiladas

Grate Parmesan or Romano over enchiladas before serving for bonus flavor. Fold in queso fresco or ricotta salata into the sauce for creaminess.

► Salads

Crumble feta or salted ricotta over Mexican veggie and grain bowls. You can also use them in ceviche, cabbage slaw, and chopped salads.

► Roasted Vegetables

Toss veggies with shredded Parmesan, feta, or anejo before roasting. The cheeses will melt deliciously over foods like cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and carrots.

► Soups and Stews

Add a sprinkle of Romano or Parmesan at the end for extra richness. Or stir in cubes of feta, queso fresco, or ricotta salata earlier when cooking for a creamier broth.

With all of these handy alternatives, you can enjoy the taste you love in classic Mexican cuisine even without cotija cheese. What substitute will you try first? Let me know how it goes!

Enjoy the Unique Flavor of Cotija Cheese in Your Dishes

I hope this guide gives you plenty of cotija cheese substitutes to play with. Part of my Mexican heritage is capturing those authentic flavors in every bite. Now you can come close to the crumbly saltiness and tang with these alternative cheeses.

Remember to taste test as you add the substitutes to get the right cotija flavor intensity. I recommend sprinkling them over finished dishes or combining varieties for a complex texture.

So embrace your next taco night, upgrade your tamales, and make your abuela proud! Don’t let a lack of cotija cheese stop you from savoring Mexican cuisine. With a bit of creativity and these substitutes, you can take your dishes on a delicious trip south of border. ¡Buen provecho!

6 Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes for Your Mexican Dishes


  • 1. Romano Cheese

  • 2. Mexican Queso Fresco

  • 3. Feta Cheese

  • 4. Parmesan Cheese

  • 5. Anejo Cheese

  • 6. Ricotta Salata


  • Choose your preferred alternative from the aforementioned options.
  • Adhere to the cooking instructions for your chosen substitute, ensuring the correct proportion of ingredients.

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