What Is Cotija Cheese and Will It Melt?

If you ask me or fellow Sporked writer Jordan Myrick, elote is pure gold. The popular Mexican street food is perfectly grilled corn on the cob that is well seasoned and drizzled in mayonnaise. But the lynchpin to any great elote is the cotija cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Seriously, my keyboard is covered in saliva. It’s not a pretty sight. Oh, you’re new to cotija? Here’s everything you need to know about the crumbly Mexican cheese. 

What is cotija cheese?

Cotija cheese is an aged cow milk cheese named after the city that popularized it—Cotija—in the Mexican state of Michoacán. It is white and firm, which makes it perfect for crumbling not only onto the aforementioned elote, but also on tacos, in burritos, and over enchiladas.

Cotija cheese gets its unique taste from salt. Producers add salt to cow’s milk before the fermentation process begins. The salt acts as a flavor enhancer while also providing an extra level of preservation. There are two varieties of cotija based on how long they are allowed to ferment: young and añejo (aged).

What does cotija cheese taste like?

Since cotija has a very similar look to queso fresco, you’d think they would have a similar taste. But outside of the fact that both cheeses can be crumbled, they are quite different. Queso fresco is, as the name suggests, fresh, meaning it hasn’t been aged at all. This results in a very mild, milky taste and a wetter consistency than cotija.

Because it is aged, cotija has a stronger, saltier flavor than queso fresco and a firmer texture. It’s also going to last much longer on the shelf. When it comes to young cotija, a better comparison is actually feta cheese. While cotija is cow’s milk and feta is goat or sheep milk, both are aged and contain extra salt. 

Añejo cotija cheese is even harder and saltier, having more in common with parmesan cheese.

Is cotija cheese pasteurized?

If you were down in Cotija and wanted to try the real deal, you might end up eating unpasteurized cheese. It is traditionally made with raw milk there, so you’d have to be careful if that’s something you’re concerned about. But this only applies to young cotija cheese; añejo cotija cheese is usually aged beyond the point where raw milk is an issue.

In the United States, however, all imported and domestic young cheeses must be pasteurized by law. The FDA requires that any unpasteurized milk cheese be aged a minimum of 60 days, no matter where it was produced.

Does cotija cheese melt?

It doesn’t! Cotija will get softer when heated, but it doesn’t fully melt when exposed to heat the same way a cheddar might. It lives in the same world as paneer, ricotta, and halloumi, along with the aforementioned feta and queso fresco.

How do you pronounce cotija?

It’s koh-TEE-hah. The J is pronounced like an H in Spanish.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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