You can find this mild, salty, and slightly tangy cheese on pretty much any Mexican dish. This vegan cotija cheese is perfectly crumbly and adds a blast of umami flavor to your favorite foods.
With its ability to add a salty, fatty, and fresh flavor to Mexican recipes, you can see why cotija cheese is a beloved condiment 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 it?
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. It's similar to parmesan cheese once grated.
Funny enough, cotija cheese is often referred to as Mexican parmesan!
Is it vegan?
Traditionally, cotija cheese is not vegan. But, we've worked incredibly hard to emulate the flavor, texture, and consistency for you using only the necessary ingredients.
So rest assured, our cotija cheese 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 try it out in one of these or use it in one of your own meals, we know you're going to love this vegan cotija cheese!
🍲 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 cotija cheese is its umami flavor, so don't skip the nutritional yeast!
Health: we love nooch for its high level of vitamin B-12. Since it contains over twice the recommended daily intake, you can see why many think of nutritional yeast as a superfood. Don't worry though — it's perfectly okay to have more than you need when it comes to water-soluble vitamins like B.
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 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 his 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 12 hours, or overnight. Then, drain the nuts and remove their skins (they should come off easily).
Step 2: place the almonds in a high-speed blender or food processor with your vinegar, nutritional yeast, and salt. Pulse or blend together until the mixture is crumbly (make sure to stop and scrape down the sides a few times).
Step 3: heat the agar powder and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a low boil while stirring constantly. Then, turn the heat down to simmer while still stirring for about 3-5 minutes.
Step 4: add the agar mixture to your blender along with the coconut oil. Mix everything together for another 1-2 minutes, or until it looks similar in texture to ricotta. Taste and adjust the salt (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.
Step 6: transfer to your fridge and let the cheese set in the cloth for around 6-7 hours, but preferably overnight. Crumble in or on all your favorite dishes!
Fridge: store this cheese in an airtight container (to ensure optimal freshness) for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Freezer: we don't recommend freezing this cheese as the texture will change when thawed.
💭 Pro tips
Time to share our tips and tricks we learned while perfecting this cheese recipe for you:
- 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 longer it sits, the better the taste and consistency become.
- Add salt to taste. This cheese is meant to be very salty, so we suggest tasting and adjusting the salt to your preferences.
- Boil the agar. By boiling agar, you activate its "gelling" ability.
- Soak the almonds. Soaking the almonds not only allows you to blend better, but it makes the skins fall off easier.
🍴 Tasting notes
We love putting this vegan cotija cheese on everything, and we know you will too. It's:
If you try this recipe, 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
- Large piece of cheesecloth
- 1 ½ cups almonds ($1.91)
- 1 tbsp white vinegar ($0.01)
- ½ tbsp nutritional yeast ($0.12)
- 1 tbsp salt ($0.02)
- 1 tbsp agar ($0.15)
- 1 tbsp water ($0.00)
- 3 tbsp refined coconut oil ($0.42)
- To begin, soak the almonds in room temperature water for about 12 hours, or overnight. Then, drain the nuts and remove their skins (they should come off easily).
- Place the almonds in a high-speed blender or food processor with vinegar, nutritional yeast, and salt. Pulse together until the mixture is crumbly (stopping to scrape down the sides a few times).
- Set aside while you heat the agar powder and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a low boil while stirring constantly.
- Once it's at a low boil, turn the heat down to simmer and continue stirring constantly for about 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken up.
- Add the agar mixture to your blender, then the coconut oil. Blend everything together for another 1-2 minutes, or until similar in texture 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 the excess liquid. Transfer to your fridge and let the cheese set in the cloth for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.
- The blend time will vary depending on the quality of the blender or food processor you're using.
- The agar powder needs to get to 85-90 degrees C/185-194 degrees F in order to activate and set properly, which is why you need to boil the water and oil with it.
- 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 be close.
You can use agar flakes in place of powder, but the ratio will need to be adjusted. 1 tsp powder = 3 tsp flakes.
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 become almond butter more quickly.
Yes, this recipe is gluten-free.