Top 5 Substitutes For Cotija Cheese For All Your Favorite Mexican Foods

There is nothing better than a good cotija cheese on top of an elote on a hot summer day. This cheese is great on tacos, meat, eggs, and more. Finding cotija cheese, though, may not be easy in some places.

Don’t worry. Many options can impart delicious flavor and texture when you can’t find cotija cheese. Keep in mind that some types of cheese will go better in certain dishes and mix well with certain ingredients.

The items on this list can help you solve your problem before you start cooking.

What Is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija cheese is a Hispanic/Latino cheese that comes from cow’s milk, and it is usually aged between three and 12 months. This cheese is crumbly and firm, so it doesn’t melt but is meant to be used as a topping instead.

You can find this cheese in most grocery stores these days, but if not, a Latin American food market will certainly have it.

Cotija is an essential ingredient in foods like tacos, elote, salads, dips, and soups. This cheese is traditionally Mexican, but over the years, it has become popular across fusion cuisine dishes and other Latin American meals.

For the most part, you will only see a small amount of cotija cheese being used in recipes, so replacing it shouldn’t be too hard. 

Why Replace Cotija Cheese, Anyway?

There are some reasons why someone would need to replace cotija cheese. These are some of the common ones:

  • Availability: Since cotija cheese is not exactly an everyday choice, it may not be available everywhere, which is why some may have to go with another option.
  • Lactose Intolerance: While some aged cheeses don’t cause any problems for those with lactose intolerance, cotija cheese is fresh, which means it contains higher lactose levels and could result in gastrointestinal issues.
  • Milk Allergy: In this case, any cow’s milk cheese would be a bad idea since they contain milk that could result in an allergic reaction.

What Can I Replace Cotija Cheese With?

Whether you need an easier choice to find or a new flavor, these cotija cheese substitutes are right for you:

Best For Tacos, Elote, and Street Corn

#1. Queso Fresco

When substituting cotija cheese, a good option is to go with a similar cheese like queso fresco. This Mexican cheese is soft, salty, and creamy, so it can go well in dishes like tacos, elote, street corn, and salads.

You can find queso fresco easily in any grocery store, as it is a popular ingredient in many Latin American cuisines.

You may find queso fresco to be a little more prone to melt and toast, so take that into account if you are using it at high temperatures.

This cheese is also higher in water, so you may find that you need to strain it before using it. Another thing to keep in mind is that queso fresco adds more salt to your dish.

#2. Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese is a hard cheese used as a topping in various dishes. You probably have some at home already, since it is a popular cheese in Italian meals. Parmesan has a sharp and slightly acidic flavor with a shard texture.

If you choose to use Parmesan cheese, you should use about ½ teaspoon for every one teaspoon of cotija cheese.

You can use this option when preparing tacos, elote, corn dishes, soups, and salads. This choice is also very affordable and popular, which makes it an easier option.

#3. Romano Cheese

If you want some sharpness and crunch, romano cheese is a great option. This cheese is made from cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk, and it has a sharp, creamy, and umami taste to it. It is another popular Italian cheese, so you will find it in any grocery store.

Use romano cheese when you make things like salads, soups, tacos, and elote. The texture is also crumbly, but this cheese is harder than cotija because it is usually aged for about a year. 

You should start with only ⅓ teaspoon for every one teaspoon of cotija, and add more as you go.

Best For Fish Tacos, Corn Salad, and Sauces

#4. Feta Cheese

While it may seem a little weird to use feta cheese, this is an amazing substitute for cotija.

Feta cheese comes from cow and goat milk, so its flavor is a bit acidic, pungent, and rich. The texture is about the same as cotija cheese, so using it as a topping in fish tacos, pork, corn salad, elote, and sauces works wonders.

Feta cheese is considered safe for those with lactose intolerances, but you may want to check that the flavors all taste well together. You can find feta anywhere these days, and you can try using the same amount as the recipe indicates.

#5. Ricotta Cheese

If you can find Ricotta Salata cheese in your grocery store, it may be a great choice when it comes to replacing cotija. This cheese is very creamy, salty, and moist, so you may want to be careful as it can melt at high temperatures.

While ricotta is common in desserts, salads, and pasta, you can use it as a topping for tacos, corn salad, and certain sauces and soups.

Keep in mind that ricotta cheese is a little less flavorful and more subtle, so you may want to add more seasonings and a touch of lime to match the flavors of cotija. You may also find that this cheese adds more sweetness to the dish.

See More: Ricotta Cheese Replacement


Is Cotija cheese the same as queso fresco?

No. While these two types of cheese are famously used in Mexican dishes, they are not the same. Cotija is a dry, crumbly, and slightly sharp cheese used mostly as a topping in many meals. Queso fresco, on the other hand, is more creamy, fresh, and it is often melted or toasted in recipes.

What is a good melting Mexican cheese?

Some cheeses used in Mexican dishes melt well, while others don’t. Oaxaca and queso fresco melt well in certain scenarios. Other common cheeses that melt and are used in Mexican recipes are Colby Jack and cheddar.

What is the best Mexican cheese for tacos?

While it depends on what your tacos contain, there are plenty of good types of cheese to use in your tacos. Good options include cotija, queso fresco, queso blanco, Oaxaca, and even queso panela. Some of these are more popular than others, so you may have better luck finding them in the grocery store.


Using cotija cheese is a must when you prepare some traditional Mexican dishes, like tacos, elote, and street corn. However, if you don’t have one, you shouldn’t have to change plans. These five substitutes are all easy to find and will add tasty texture and flavor to your dishes.

cotija cheese replacement

*Photo by AndreySt/depositphotos

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