Cotija is a hard cow’s milk cheese that originated from Mexico. It is named after the town of Cotija, Michoacán.
Cotija comes in two primary versions. El queso Cotija de Montaña or “grain cheese” is dry and firm, with little taste other than saltiness (the cheese is usually several times saltier than typical cheese, traditionally for preservative reasons). “Tajo” cheese is a moister, fattier, and less salty version that holds its shape when cut, with a flavour similar to Italian Parmesan and Greek feta.
El queso Cotija de Montaña is a seasonal cheese and is of limited production. Cotija cheese is produced only during the months of July through October because the cows are fed only on the rich grass that grows naturally on the mountains during the rainy season, giving the cheese its unique colour and flavour. Queso Cotija is an artisan cheese made by hand, thus every cheese has something unique. This cheese usually comes in 28 kilogram cylinders with a creamy colour crust. It is a queso de montaña (cheese of the mountains) because the cheese makers live in the mountains as high as 1700 metres (5,500 ft).
The production method involves milling the curds into small pieces before pressing and aging. When cooked, it slightly softens, but does not otherwise change its shape or consistency. In the mouth, the cheese breaks up again to a sandy- or grain-like consistency, adding to the texture of dishes.
Cotija can be purchased in small rounds or large blocks, and it is often used crumbled or grated as a topping for wet burritos, soups, salads, beans, tostadas, or tacos. Like Parmesan, it is often sold already grated.
Substitutes for Contija Cheese
Añejado, an aged Mexican cheese made from goat’s milk, is usually the closest alternative. Feta, Parmesan, or Romano are also popular choices. People usually look for something that is relatively dry, crumbles well, and has a mild taste. Anything too sharp or astringent can alter the overall character of the food.
Summary of Contija Cheese
- Made from Cow’s Milk
- Country of origin: Mexico
- Region: Michoacán and Jalisco
- Type: Fresh Firm, Artisan
- Texture: Crumbly and Dense
- Rind: Rindless
- Colour: White