Is Cotija Cheese Vegetarian? A Detailed Look

Cotija cheese has become a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine and beyond. Its crumbly texture and salty, umami flavor make it a versatile addition to tacos, salads, soups, and more. But an important question arises for vegetarians interested in cooking with cotija cheese: is cotija cheese actually vegetarian?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, cotija cheese is generally vegetarian. Traditional cotija cheese is made from cow’s milk and does not contain any animal-derived rennet, which makes it vegetarian friendly.

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore the origins of cotija cheese, how it’s made, its ingredients, and reasons why it’s typically vegetarian. We’ll also look at some exceptions and discuss whether cotija cheese is vegetarian in all cases.

Let’s take a deep dive into everything you need to know about the vegetarian status of cotija cheese.

What Is Cotija Cheese?

Cotija cheese is a popular Mexican cheese that is known for its strong and salty flavor. It is a type of hard cheese that is made from cow’s milk and is typically aged for several months to develop its distinctive taste.

Cotija cheese is named after the town of Cotija in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, where it originated.

Origins and History

The history of Cotija cheese dates back to pre-Columbian times when it was made by the indigenous people of Mexico. It was traditionally made using raw milk from cows that were grazed on the hillsides of Cotija.

The cheese was then aged in caves or wrapped in corn husks to develop its unique flavor and texture.

Today, Cotija cheese is still produced using traditional methods in the town of Cotija and other regions of Mexico. It has also gained popularity outside of Mexico and is now exported to various countries around the world.

Taste, Texture, and Uses

Cotija cheese has a bold and tangy flavor with a distinctively salty taste. It has a crumbly texture that becomes more crumbly and dry as it ages. The cheese is often compared to feta cheese or Parmesan cheese in terms of its texture and flavor profile.

Due to its strong flavor, Cotija cheese is commonly used as a topping for various Mexican dishes. It is a popular addition to tacos, enchiladas, salads, and grilled corn on the cob. The cheese can be crumbled or grated, depending on the desired texture and presentation.

It’s important to note that Cotija cheese is not suitable for vegetarians as it is made from animal rennet, which is derived from the stomach lining of young cows. However, there are vegetarian-friendly alternatives available that mimic the taste and texture of Cotija cheese.

How Is Cotija Cheese Made?

Cotija cheese is a popular Mexican cheese known for its crumbly texture and salty flavor. It is commonly used as a topping for various dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and salads. To understand whether Cotija cheese is vegetarian, it is important to examine how it is made.


Cotija cheese is traditionally made from cow’s milk. The milk is heated and then curdled using rennet, an enzyme derived from the stomach lining of calves. This is what gives Cotija cheese its characteristic flavor and texture.

While some rennet is derived from vegetarian sources, traditional Cotija cheese is made using animal rennet, which means it is not suitable for vegetarians.

However, it is worth noting that there are variations of Cotija cheese available in the market that are made with vegetable rennet, making them suitable for vegetarians. These variations are often labeled as vegetarian-friendly or may specify that they are made with microbial rennet.

Production Process

The production process of Cotija cheese involves several steps. After the milk is curdled, it is cut into small pieces and heated again. This helps to separate the liquid whey from the solid curds. The curds are then pressed to remove any remaining moisture and shape the cheese into a wheel or a block.

Once the cheese has been shaped, it is salted and left to age for a period of time, typically several weeks or even months. During the aging process, the cheese develops its distinct flavor and crumbly texture. The longer the cheese ages, the stronger and saltier the flavor becomes.

It is important to handle and store Cotija cheese properly to ensure its freshness and prevent spoilage. It should be stored in a cool, dry place and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or an airtight container. When properly stored, Cotija cheese can last for several weeks.

If you are unsure about the vegetarian status of Cotija cheese, it is always best to check the label or consult with the manufacturer to ensure that it is made with vegetable rennet. This way, you can enjoy this delicious cheese while staying true to your vegetarian lifestyle.

For more information about Cotija cheese and its production process, you can visit

Why Is Cotija Cheese Generally Vegetarian?

Cotija cheese, a popular Mexican cheese known for its crumbly texture and salty flavor, is generally considered vegetarian. There are a few reasons why this is the case.

Traditional Recipes Don’t Use Animal Rennet

One of the main reasons why Cotija cheese is vegetarian-friendly is because traditional recipes do not use animal rennet. Rennet is an enzyme used in the cheese-making process to curdle milk. It is typically derived from the stomach lining of young animals, such as calves.

However, many Cotija cheese producers use microbial or vegetable-based rennet instead, making it suitable for vegetarians.

Using microbial or vegetable rennet not only makes Cotija cheese vegetarian, but it also allows individuals who follow a kosher or halal diet to consume it. These alternative rennet sources are approved for use in kosher and halal foods, as they do not involve the use of animal products.

No FDA Standard of Identity

Another reason why Cotija cheese is generally considered vegetarian is that there is no specific FDA standard of identity for this type of cheese. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has established standards of identity for various cheeses, which outline the ingredients and processes that must be used.

However, Cotija cheese does not have a specific standard, allowing for flexibility in its production.

This lack of a standard means that different producers may use slightly different methods and ingredients when making Cotija cheese. While this can vary from brand to brand, it generally means that Cotija cheese is made without animal rennet, making it suitable for vegetarians.

It’s important to note that while Cotija cheese is generally vegetarian, it’s always a good idea to check the label or inquire with the manufacturer if you have specific dietary restrictions or concerns.

Some brands may use animal rennet or other non-vegetarian ingredients, so it’s best to double-check to ensure it aligns with your dietary choices.

When Would Cotija Cheese Not Be Vegetarian?

While Cotija cheese is generally considered vegetarian, there are a few instances where it may not be suitable for those following a vegetarian diet. It is important to be aware of these factors to make an informed decision about whether or not to include Cotija cheese in your vegetarian diet.

Some Versions May Contain Animal Rennet

Cotija cheese is traditionally made from cow’s milk and is produced using a process that involves the use of rennet. Rennet is an enzyme typically sourced from the stomach lining of young calves. This enzyme helps in the coagulation of milk, which is an essential step in cheese-making.

Some versions of Cotija cheese may use animal rennet, making it unsuitable for vegetarians. Animal rennet is derived from the stomachs of animals, which goes against the principles of a vegetarian diet that avoids the consumption of animal products.

If you follow a strict vegetarian diet, it is important to read the ingredients list carefully before purchasing Cotija cheese. Look for versions that specifically state they are made with vegetarian rennet or microbial/vegetable rennet, which is derived from non-animal sources.

Check Ingredients Lists and Brand Sourcing

When purchasing Cotija cheese, it is always a good idea to check the ingredients list to ensure it aligns with your dietary preferences. Some brands may use animal rennet, while others may use vegetarian rennet.

Additionally, it can be helpful to research the brand’s sourcing practices. Some cheese manufacturers prioritize using vegetarian-friendly ingredients and may clearly state this on their packaging or website.

By supporting such brands, you can be confident that you are choosing a vegetarian-friendly option.

It is worth noting that there are vegetarian-friendly alternatives to traditional Cotija cheese available in the market. These alternatives are often made from plant-based ingredients and do not contain any animal rennet.

They offer a similar taste and texture, making them a suitable choice for vegetarians.

Remember, everyone’s dietary preferences and restrictions are unique, so it is essential to make choices that align with your individual needs. If in doubt, reach out to the manufacturer directly or consult with a nutritionist or dietitian for guidance on suitable cheese options for your vegetarian diet.

Cotija Cheese Alternatives for Vegans/Vegetarians

Queso Fresco

If you are a vegan or vegetarian looking for an alternative to Cotija cheese, Queso Fresco can be a great option. Queso Fresco is a traditional Mexican cheese that is similar in texture and taste to Cotija cheese. It is made from cow’s milk and has a crumbly texture, similar to Cotija.

Queso Fresco is also a popular cheese in Mexican cuisine and can be used in a variety of dishes, such as tacos, salads, and enchiladas.

Feta Cheese

Another alternative to Cotija cheese for vegans and vegetarians is Feta cheese. Feta cheese is a Greek cheese made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. It has a tangy and salty taste and a crumbly texture, similar to Cotija cheese.

Feta cheese is versatile and can be used in salads, pastas, and sandwiches, making it a great option for those looking for a substitute for Cotija cheese.

Nut-Based Cheeses

For those with dietary restrictions or following a vegan diet, nut-based cheeses can be a delicious alternative to Cotija cheese. These cheeses are typically made from a variety of nuts, such as cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts, and are often blended with other ingredients to create a creamy and flavorful cheese substitute.

Nut-based cheeses can be used in a variety of dishes, including pasta, pizza, and cheese boards.

It’s important to note that while these alternatives may provide a similar taste and texture to Cotija cheese, they may not be an exact match. However, they can still add a delicious and unique flavor to your dishes.

So, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or simply looking to switch things up in the kitchen, give these Cotija cheese alternatives a try!


Cotija cheese is a versatile Mexican cheese that, in its traditional form, is made vegetarian through a simple process of curdling cow’s milk with enzymes or acids. While artisanal versions in Mexico are typically vegetarian, some commercially produced cotija cheeses may use animal-derived rennet.

When buying cotija cheese, be sure to check the ingredients list and research brand sourcing to confirm vegetarian status if it’s not specified. With an array of delightful non-dairy alternatives available too, like queso fresco, feta, and nut-based cheeses, it’s easy for vegetarians to recreate the crumbly, salty deliciousness of cotija cheese.

Similar Posts