PORTLAND, ME - NOVEMBER 7: Patacon, a fried savory plantain topped wth carnitas, queso fresco, lettuce, garlic aioli, "pink sauce," a ketchup and mayo mix, and avocado at Quiero Cafe in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Quiero opened their Portland location in late-spring. (Staff Photo by Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Food - Drink
Are Cotija And Queso Fresco Cheese Interchangeable?
Cotija and queso fresco are both Mexican cheeses that are made for crumbling, rather than melting, and are often used as an essential finishing touch on dishes from tacos to salads and more. However, these cheeses have different flavors and manufacturing processes, despite their similar appearances.
Cotija originates from a Mexican town of the same name, and this crumbly white cheese is aged for a short time, giving it a salty flavor and drier consistency. Cotija is often compared to Parmesan, since it works great as a topping to add salt, fat, and flavor to dishes including tacos, elote grilled corn, and beans.
Queso fresco is more widely-used than cotija, and its name translates to "fresh cheese." It's made from raw cow's milk or a combination of goat and cow milk and is not aged at all, creating a mild, milky, creamy, and crumbly cheese that interacts well with spicier dishes, cutting through the heat with its tangy flavor.
While cotija can sometimes replace queso fresco or vice versa, remember that cotija is far more assertive and best used sparingly in dishes that need a flavor boost, while queso fresco is more mild and complementary. Consider the flavors of your dish and adjust the quantities called in your recipe when making the swap.