Cotija Cheese Alternatives

Cotija cheese is a crumbly Mexican cheese known for its salty, nutty flavor. It adds a wonderful complexity and texture when sprinkled on tacos, salads, soups and more.

Cotija Cheese Alternatives

But cotija can be hard to find depending on where you live. If you don't have access to cotija, don't worry - there are several delicious substitutes you can use instead.

What is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija cheese originated in Cotija, Mexico. It's a cow's milk cheese that comes in two main varieties:

  • Fresh cotija - This young, mild cotija has a crumbly texture similar to feta. It has a mildly salty, milky flavor.
  • Aged cotija - Aged for at least 2 months, this variety is firmer and saltier, with a stronger flavor reminiscent of Parmesan.

Both types of cotija are white in color and do not melt when heated. Instead, cotija softens and releases its oils, making it an excellent topping for finished dishes. The aged variety is easier to grate.

Cotija imparts a lovely salty, nutty flavor and crumbly texture. It's used often in authentic Mexican cuisine as a:

  • Topping for tacos, tostadas, soups and salads
  • Filling for chiles rellenos
  • Garnish for elote (Mexican street corn)
  • Addition to empanada dough
  • Ingredient in sopes and gorditas

If you don't have access to cotija, don't let a recipe go to waste! There are plenty of great substitutes you can use instead.

11 Best Cotija Cheese Substitutes

If you can't find cotija cheese, consider using one of these excellent cotija alternatives:

1. Feta

Tangy, salty feta is likely the closest substitute for cotija cheese. It has a similar crumbly texture and salty, milky flavor. Feta is easier to find than cotija in most regular grocery stores.

Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting feta for cotija. Crumble it over tacos, stir it into Mexican rice, or add it to empanadas. Feta works especially well as a cotija replacement in fresh, milder dishes.

2. Queso Fresco

Queso fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese made from cow's milk. It has a mild salty flavor and crumbly texture when fresh.

Though queso fresco is less tangy and not as salty as cotija, it makes an excellent substitute in dishes like tacos, burritos, salads, soups and more. Use the same ratio of queso fresco as you would cotija.

3. Goat Cheese

Goat cheese has a tangy, tart flavor all its own. But when crumbled, it can mimic the texture of cotija cheese.

Goat cheese is mildly salty like cotija, but much milder in flavor. Use it as a substitute when you want a similar sprinkleable texture, but don't want to overwhelm the other flavors in a dish.

Stick to a 1:1 ratio when substituting goat cheese for cotija. Look for goat cheese rolled in herbs for extra flavor.

4. Parmesan

Parmesan is an Italian hard cheese made from cow's milk. It has a hard, granular texture and sharp, salty flavor.

When grated, Parmesan can substitute for aged cotija cheese in dishes like elote and soups. However, Parmesan is less crumbly and melts more easily than cotija.

Use the same amount of Parmesan as you would cotija. Keep in mind Parmesan is more expensive than other alternatives.

5. Romano

Romano is another Italian cow's milk cheese. Like Parmesan, it has a granular texture when grated. But Romano is sharper and saltier.

Romano makes an excellent cotija replacement in recipes where you want a bolder, funkier flavor. It works well in chilies rellenos, enchiladas and more. Use it in a 1:1 ratio for cotija.

6. Añejo Cheese

Añejo is a Mexican cheese traditionally made from goat's milk. However, cow's milk versions are now more common.

Añejo is rubbed with paprika, giving it a brick red rind. The flavor is salty, tangy and a little spicy. While firmer than cotija, it makes a good substitute in enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas.

Because añejo is spicier, use a little less than the recipe calls for. This prevents the other flavors from being overwhelmed.

7. Ricotta Salata

Ricotta salata is made by salting and pressing fresh ricotta cheese, which gives it a firm, dense texture. It has a mild milky flavor and slight saltiness.

While ricotta salata won't provide the same crumbly texture, it can mimic the salty flavor of cotija in dishes like enchiladas, tacos and stuffed peppers. Use the same 1:1 ratio.

8. Grana Padano

Grana Padano is an Italian cheese similar to Parmesan. It's made from cow's milk and has a grainy texture and mild, nutty flavor.

In baked dishes like empanadas, the heat releases Grana Padano's nuttiness, making it a tasty cotija alternative. Use the same amount as cotija. Since it's less salty, add a pinch more salt to recipes.

9. Cotija Molido

Cotija molido is a version of cotija cheese that comes pre-grated. It has the signature salty, slightly nutty cotija flavor.

The fine grating makes cotija molido perfect for sprinkling over finished dishes. Use it just like regular cotija cheese as an easy shortcut.

10. Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is a sheep's milk cheese from Italy. Like Parmesan, it's very hard and perfect for grating. Pecorino Romano is noticeably saltier and funkier than Parmesan.

If you want a bolder flavor than cotija, Pecorino Romano is a good choice. Grate it over pasta, soup, salads and Mexican dishes. Use a little less than the recipe calls for due to the intense saltiness.

11. Cottage Cheese

Don't overlook common cottage cheese! The curds have a similar milky flavor and - when drained - crumbly texture to cotija cheese.

Cottage cheese is an especially good cotija alternative in baked dishes like enchiladas where you want the cheese to melt a bit. The mild flavor won't overwhelm other ingredients.

Drain the cottage cheese so it's not watery, then use the same ratio as cotija. Add a pinch of salt if needed.

How to Choose a Cotija Cheese Substitute

With so many options for cotija cheese substitutes, which one should you choose? Here are some tips:

  • For a mild flavor, use fetaqueso fresco or goat cheese. Avoid strongly flavored cheeses.
  • For a similar crumbly texture, look for feta, queso fresco or goat cheese crumbles. Also try ricotta salata.
  • If you need to grate the cheese, opt for Parmesan, Romano, añejo or Pecorino Romano.
  • For baking like empanadas or enchiladas, try feta, Parmesan, or cottage cheese.
  • If you want a budget-friendly substitute, use feta or cottage cheese.
  • For an authentic Mexican flavor, use queso fresco or añejo cheese.

Consider the dish you're making and whether you need Cotija's signature saltiness and crumble. Match the substitute to the texture and flavor you need.

How to Use Cotija Cheese Substitutes

Cotija shines when used as a garnish or topping. Many substitutes can be used the same way. Here are tips for seamlessly substituting in these alternatives:

Crumble over:

  • Tacos
  • Tostadas
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Chili
  • Eggs
  • Baked potatoes

Stuff with:

  • Quesadillas
  • Burritos
  • Chiles rellenos
  • Empanadas
  • Tamales

Grate or shave over:

  • Elote (Mexican street corn)
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Soups and stews
  • Veggies

Add crumbles to:

  • Dips
  • Sauces
  • Dressings
  • Riced or mashed cauliflower

Bake into:

  • Empanadas
  • Tamales
  • Casseroles
  • Cheese crisps or straws

With so many delicious options, you can recreate authentic Mexican flavors without cotija cheese. Next time you make enchiladas, tacos al pastor, or elote, try substituting in feta, Parmesan, queso fresco or another alternative. Your dish will taste just as amazing.

Key Takeaway: Cotija cheese substitutes can be used in most of the same ways as cotija - crumbled over finished dishes, stuffed into foods, grated, or baked.


How long does cotija cheese last after opening?

Fresh cotija cheese will last 1 month after opening when stored properly in the refrigerator. To maximize freshness, wrap cotija in parchment paper and store in an airtight container.

Aged cotija lasts up to 3 months refrigerated when stored in the same manner. Always rewrap in fresh parchment after each use.

Discard cotija or any substitutes if mold appears or you notice an unpleasant odor.

Does cotija cheese melt easily?

No, cotija does not melt well. When heated, cotija softens and releases oil, but retains its shape. This makes it ideal as a topping for finished dishes. The high melting point is why cotija is often added to foods after cooking.

Many substitutes like feta and queso fresco also do not melt easily. Parmesan will melt more than cotija when heated.

Can you shred cotija cheese?

Yes, cotija cheese can be easily shredded or grated. Choose a firmer, aged cotija cheese and shred or grate it using a fine grater or Microplane.

Fresh cotija crumbles better than it shreds. Try crumbling the fresh cheese by hand instead.

Some good substitutes that can be shredded include Parmesan, Romano, and añejo cheese.


Cotija cheese is a salty, crumbly Mexican cheese that adds a wonderful flavor and texture to many Latin American dishes. While cotija can be difficult to source depending on where you live, there are many excellent substitutes available.

For a similar crumbly texture and mild saltiness, use feta, queso fresco or goat cheese. To mimic cotija's grating and melting properties, choose Parmesan, Romano, or añejo.

Cotija cheese alternatives like ricotta salata, cottage cheese and feta make good budget-friendly swaps too.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!