Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán
Many Mexican recipes call for the use of cotija cheese (queso cotija) and you might be wondering, “what is cotija cheese?” Cotija is a salty, cheese prepared with cow’s milk which is used as a seasoning similar to the way you use parmesan in a dish. You sprinkle it on in small amounts to add flavor.
Cotija cheese originated in the town of Cotija de la Paz in the state of Michoacán nearly 400 hundred years ago. Authentic cotija is prepared in with unpasteurized milk from pasture-raised cows, salt, and rennet and it is aged for at least one year. Due to its exceptional artisanal quality, it carries a Denomination of Origen (Spanish), just as champagne does.
Use Cotija as a Topping in These Recipes
Here are some of our favorite recipes in which you can use cotija cheese with spectacular results.
- Enchiladas Potosinas
- Elotes and Esquites
- Chilaquiles Verdes
- Gorditas Encarceladas
- Salsa Roja with Queso Cotija
In Mexico, cotija style cheese has many different regional variations with distinct flavors and textures. To illustrate some of the differences, we have chosen four varieties from the states Michoacán, Jalisco, Querétaro, and Chiapas.
Cotija is usually white or pale yellow in color. There are two types, fresh and aged. Fresh cotija has a softer texture, similar to ricotta, and has a mild taste. Aged cotija has a harder texture, similar to parmesan, and has a distinctly earthy, sharp flavor. Less is need to add flavor.
The characteristics of Michoacán style cotija are, salty, dry, with a strong aroma, and a hard rind. It crumbles easily. It doesn’t melt. This is the original cotija.
The characteristics of Jalisco style cotija are dry, salty, soft, doesn’t break aparta easily. This type is excellent for grilling or pan-frying. Our jalisco cheese is produced by Quesos Navarro located in Los Altos de Jalisco.
Querétaro style cotija is unique in that it it covered with a paste made from dried chiles, vinegar, and garlic to preserve it which gives it a distinct color and taste. Its characteristics are soft, fresh, and salty. It doesn’t break apart easily.
The characteristics of Chiapas style cotija are, fresh, soft, milder, not as salty as other varieties, and doesn’t crumble as easily as other varieties. Chiapas style is excellent for grilling or pan-frying.
Cotija Cheese Substitutes
If you need to substitute another cheese for cotija in a recipe, try these Mexican cheeses: queso fresco, queso ranchero, or queso, panela. All are salty, fresh cheeses that crumble well. The flavor they add to a dish will be milder but still very tasty.
Popular Brands in the U.S.
Here are some popular Mexican cheese brands that produce cotija. You should be able to buy them at most large grocery chains. The brands sold in the U.S. are milder than the ones you will find in Mexico.