You can serve this mild, salty, and slightly tangy cheese on pretty much any Mexican dish. Try your very own vegan cotija cheese recipe for a perfectly crumbly, umami-flavored topping on all your favorite foods.
With its ability to add a savoury, rich, and fresh flavor to Mexican recipes, you can see why cotija cheese is a beloved topping in this cuisine.
Unfortunately, many people aren't able to eat this delicious food because of milk intolerances or dietary preferences. That's how we knew we needed to make a completely dairy-free version!
What is cotija cheese?
Cotija, named after the municipality in Michoacán, is a Mexican cheese made from cow's milk.
You can find it both young or aged.
Young cotija has a moist and crumbly texture (somewhat similar to feta). It's salty, slightly tangy, and rather mild in flavor.
Aged cotija (also known as añejo) takes on a firmer texture and has a sharper, tangier, more "aged" flavor. Once grated, it's quite similar to parmesan cheese.
Funny enough, cotija cheese is often referred to as Mexican parmesan!
Is cotija cheese vegan?
Traditionally, cotija cheese is not vegan. But, we've worked incredibly hard to emulate the flavor, texture, and consistency for you while only using the necessary ingredients.
So rest assured, this cotija cheese substitute is 100% vegan and gluten-free.
If you've ever been to Mexico, you'll have seen your fair share of both cotija cheese and queso fresco. While they have similar uses, both provide unique elements to a meal.
Cotija cheese is meant for garnishing dishes, so we compiled a list of some recipes you might want to try it on (or in):
Whether you serve it with one of these meals or one of your own, we know you're going to love this vegan cotija cheese recipe!
🍲 Key ingredients
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Taste: with a mild, slightly sweet, and nutty taste, almonds provide a rather neutral flavor in this recipe. We use them primarily for the texture and ability to lightly bind together. Because this type of cheese should be more firm, almonds are preferred over cashews.
Health: did you know a 1 ounce serving of almonds has as much calcium as ¼ cup of milk? Who said you need dairy to build strong bones? Almonds also play an important role in keeping your heart healthy!
Taste: nooch (as it's widely termed) provides that cheesy, umami flavor we all know and love. Umami is one of the 5 universally accepted flavors and is often described as savoury or "meaty". One of the main characteristics of a cotija cheese recipe is the umami flavor, so don't skip nutritional yeast!
Health: we love nooch for its high level of vitamin B12. Since it contains over twice the recommended daily intake, you can see why many think of nutritional yeast as a superfood. And don't worry — it's perfectly okay to have more than you need when it comes to water-soluble B-vitamins.
Taste: you may be surprised to see salt listed as a key ingredient. We've included it because cotija cheese contains quite a fair amount of sodium, adding to its unique flavor profile. It's one of the defining characteristics (just think if parmesan or feta had no salt).
Health: although it's recommended to eat less than 2300 mg of salt per day, make sure you don't avoid this essential mineral altogether. Salt plays an important role in regulating your blood pressure, helping your nervous system work properly, and ensuring you can flex your muscles!
Refined coconut oil
Taste: we use refined coconut oil for its tasteless saturated fat content. This not only gives the cheese structure but also helps emulate the fat content naturally found in cotija cheese.
Note: unrefined coconut oil has a prominent flavor and should be avoided unless you want coconut-flavored cheese.
Health: although people have strong views on saturated fat or the benefits of eating coconut oil, we take a different approach. We believe consuming foods in moderation leads to a well-balanced lifestyle (at least it has for us). Do your own research. Be happy!
If you have questions about this vegan cotija cheese recipe, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: soak the almonds in room temperature water for about 10-12 hours, or overnight. Then, drain the nuts and remove their skins if you don't have pre-blanched almonds.
Step 2: Place the almonds in a high-speed blender or food processor with vinegar, nutritional yeast, and salt. Blend until no large chunks remain, scraping down the sides throughout.
Step 3: in a small saucepan over medium-low, bring the agar and water mixture to a simmer while stirring constantly for 3 minutes, or until it appears thickened.
Step 4: add the agar mixture to your blender, then the coconut oil. Continue blending until the texture is similar to ricotta. Taste and adjust salt as needed (as we mentioned, cotija cheese is traditionally quite salty).
Step 5: transfer everything to a cheesecloth over a bowl or plate. Bring the edges of the cheesecloth in and twist together to remove the excess liquid.
This vegan cotija cheese recipe is not only simple to make, but it also stores quite well. Just follow these storage tips to make sure you have cheese for days and days!
Store this recipe in an airtight container (to ensure optimal freshness) for at least 10 days in the fridge. We generally prefer glass containers to store our cotija cheese so the flavors stay fresh.
Although it can alter the texture slightly, you can store this cheese in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to 3-4 months. Thaw it in your fridge for a few hours before using it again.
💭 Pro tips
We'd like to share some tips and tricks we learned while experimenting with this cotija cheese recipe:
- Don't blend for too long. If you blend for too long you'll end up with almond butter. Make sure you have a fairly crumbly consistency.
- Let it rest. It may be tempting to eat your cheese right away, but the taste and texture are better if it chills for a few hours.
- Add salt to taste. This cheese is meant to be very salty, so we suggest tasting and adjusting the salt to your preferences.
- Know your agar. There is a lot of variability in the strength and consistency of agar. If you're having troubles dissolving and activating the agar, add more water in a tablespoon at a time.
- Soak your almonds. Blending your cheese will be much easier! Plus, if you don't have blanched almonds, soaking them helps with skin removal.
🍴 Tasting notes
We seriously put this vegan cotija cheese on everything, and we know you will too. It's:
If you try making this cotija cheese, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
Vegan Cotija Cheese
- Blender or food processor
- Small saucepan
- Cheesecloth or nut milk bag
- 1 ½ cups blanched almonds ($1.91)
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar ($0.01)
- ½ tablespoon nutritional yeast ($0.12)
- 1 tablespoon salt ($0.02)
- 2 teaspoons agar powder ($0.10)
- ¼ cup water ($0.00)
- 3 tablespoons refined coconut oil ($0.42)
- To begin, soak the almonds in room temperature water for about 10-12 hours, or overnight.
- Place the almonds in a high-speed blender or food processor with vinegar, nutritional yeast, and salt. Blend until no large chunks remain, scraping down the sides throughout. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low, bring the agar and water mixture to a simmer while stirring constantly for 3 minutes, or until it appears thickened.
- Add the agar mixture to your blender, then the coconut oil. Blend everything together for another 1-2 minutes, or until the texture is similar to ricotta. Taste and adjust salt as needed (cotija cheese is traditionally quite salty).
- Transfer everything to a cheesecloth (or nut milk bag) over a bowl or plate. Bring the edges of the cheesecloth in and twist together to remove any excess liquid.
- Transfer to your fridge and let the cheese set in the cloth for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight. Serve over all your favorite meals like tacos, chilaquiles, and more. Happy eating!
- The blend time will vary depending on the quality of the blender or food processor you're using.
- If a ¼ cup of water is not enough, add in 1 tablespoon of water at a time until the agar properly dissolves.
- If you can't find blanched almonds, regular almonds will work. Just soak them as you normally would until the skins are easily removed.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
For more "cheesy" recipe ideas, check out our:
- Queso fresco for a vegan version of the mild, creamy, and fresh cheese found all across Mexico.
- Cream cheese for a smooth, tangy, and plant-based version of your favorite bagel spread.
- Parmesan cheese to top all your favorite meals with minus the dairy.
- Spreadable vegan cheese for a quick, easy, and versatile recipe to enjoy on some crackers.
If you can't find agar, try using kappa carrageenan or tapioca. The texture won't be the same if you use tapioca, but it should work.
You can use agar flakes in place of powder, but the ratio will need to be adjusted. 1 teaspoon powder = 3 teaspoons flakes. The water may also need to be increased as well.
In order to replicate the crumbly texture of traditional cotija cheese, the optimal nut to use is almonds. If you have an allergy or don't have almonds, we would recommend macadamia nuts over cashews.
We intended for this recipe to contain whole blanched almonds. If almond flour is all you have, you can substitute it gram-for-gram. However, we recommend watching the blend time as your flour can turn into almond butter quite quickly.
If the agar is not dissolving properly, add in more water 1 tablespoon at a time until you achieve gel-like consistency.