There are easily thousands of varieties of cheese in the world. There are cheeses for all sorts of applications and tastes and some of them can be described as truly exciting. Cheese is undoubtedly one of the most popular food items in the world as evidenced by its use in salads, sandwiches, pies, baked goods, pasta and other cooked dishes. Of course, cheese can also be enjoyed in its own right. Amongst the various cheeses are Mexican queso cotija and the Greek feta cheese. These are two very different types of cheeses but the cheeses do share a few similarities.
Cotija is a cheese made from cow’s milk that is an aged, hard cheese. It is named after Mexican town of its origin Cotija Michoacan. There are two popular versions of Cotija cheese. Cotija de Montana, which is a hard, dry and grainy cheese similar to parmesan cheese. The second variety of Cotija cheese that is popular is simply called tajo which is Spanish for a block. Tajo is a moist, fatty and less salty in flavour than Cotija de Montana. Tajo is very similar to feta cheese and it is the version of Cotija that we will focus on for this article.
Feta is a cheese of Greek origin that is made from sheep’s milk and sometimes with some goat milk added. The word feta in Greek means slice. Aptly named as the cheese is normally produced in blocks or slices. It is a pickled cheese and is often sold in brine. Despite its moistness and brine curing the cheese has a grainy texture and easily crumbles. feta is often seasoned or flavoured with olives, olive oil and herbs such as oregano. It is a very versatile cheese which is served in salads, pastries and other cooked dishes.
Cotija and feta cheese differ in the source of their main ingredient; the milk. While Cotija is produced from cow’s milk feta is made from sheep’s milk and in some varieties has some goat milk added. Generally for feta, the mix is 70% sheep milk and 30% goat milk.
Another marked difference we can identify between cotija and feta is the ageing duration of the cheeses. While feta cheese is aged for 3 months cotija can be aged for between 100 and 365 days. Tajo being aged for the shorter duration while Cotija de Montana taking 365 days to age.
The two kinds of cheese come from very different origins. Feta is a Greek cheese with Mediterranean flavour notes to match while cotija cheese is Mexican. Feta cheese with rich creamy flavour brings distinctly Mediterranean flavours of olives and herbs to dishes. Cotija’s Mexican roots are not easily identifiable in its flavour as it has more in common with parmesan, another dry, aged cheese.
Feta cheese is a very versatile cheese. It is used in salads, pastries and baked dishes. All despite the cheese not melting well it does well in cooked dishes. Similar to feta cotija cheese in all its varieties does not melt well. You will find cotija most often used to top popular Mexican dishes such as enchiladas nachos, tacos and chilaquiles.
Both Cotija and feta cheese enjoy quite a large fanbase. The cheeses are so popular they have managed to transcend their places of origin to become internationally recognised cheeses. However, feta cheese is more popular than cotija cheese in any of its forms. This can be credited to the large Greek diaspora and their influence internationally as compared to Mexico.
Standalone Vs Brine
Cotija cheese in its various forms is a standalone cheese. You will find Cotija simply packaged in a vacuum-sealed pack. Feta cheese is often sold in the brine mixture. In addition to that, you will also find in many cases the feta will have added elements such as olives, sundried tomatoes and herbs.
The varieties of cotija cheese have different textures and this is dependant on the ageing process. While cotija de Montana has a hard grainy texture that is best likened to parmesan cheese, Tajo cheese has a soft crumbly texture that matches feta cheese. However, as feta is both cured and sold in brine you will find feta to be moist as compared to tajo.
One of the marked differences between the two kinds of cheese is the way they taste. Cotija cheese, being aged cow’s milk cheese has a flavour that can be described as salty. The longer ageing process concentrates the saltiness of the flavour. While Tajo is aged shorter and considered to be less salty in flavour it lacks another distinguishing flavour. Feta cheese is very different from cotija cheese in that it has a flavour that is described as tangy and salty. This flavour is inherited from the brine and other infused elements.
On the question of the availability of the two kinds of cheese, there is not as much difference as you would think. The large Greek diaspora which by no stretch of the imagination covers the world has taken feta all over the world. Cotija is available around the world though not as easily as feta and this affects the price.
The price you pay for the cheese is always going to be determined by the availability and supply of it where you shop. As already mentioned feta is more widely available and with a deeper market than cotija cheese. As a result in many places, cotija cheese varieties will far outprice feta cheese. In research, we found cotija costs around four times as much as feta cheese pound for pound. That’s a huge difference though somewhat balanced by the fact that feta is a relatively inexpensive cheese, when you take into account it’s source ingredients.
There are many differences between cotija cheese and feta cheese. While comparisons are often drawn because of the texture similarity between the Tajo variety of cotija and feta the two are very different in origin, source ingredient, ageing, uses and flavour.