Learn how to make Cotija Cheese at home with this simple tutorial that results in a delicious cheese that can be sliced, crumbled or grated.
I don’t traditionally get into New Year’s resolutions – but every year, I do make a promise to myself to learn how to do something new.
A few years ago I vouched to learn how to make soap. The next year I wanted to learn how to make cheese (and boy did I get carried away!)
I’m hoping that one day I will learn how to restore a car but I have a feeling that will take a wee bit longer than I think.
Around October/November of 2018, I started making cheese at home. Anyone who makes cheese knows how addicting it can be. Over 30 wheels of cheese later, I’ve learned so much along the way and made some delicious cheese varieties that one can only dream of.
About Cotija Cheese
Cotija is one of my favorite cheese varieties to make and very simple to make at home. Cotija Cheese is a Hispanic-style cheese named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The cheese is a hard and crumbly cheese similar to feta, but if left to age for longer it resembles Pparmesan or Romano.
This cheese (above) was aged for 2 1/2 months – and thus it resembles a grated parmesan more than a hard, crumbly cheese. It’s great when sliced on crackers or when shredded and added to sauces or on top of casseroles.
It’s easily made at home over the course of a lazy afternoon. Follow the instructions/tutorial below to make your own Cotija that you can enjoy at home with your family.
Cotija Cheese Recipe
- 2 gallons raw milk
- 1/4 tsp Mesophilic culture
- 1/4 tsp Thermophilic culture
- 1/2 tsp rennet diluted in 1/4 C. cool water (or 1/4 tsp extra strength rennet)
- 1.5 tsp (teaspoons) high quality sea salt
**I haven’t ever used pasteurized milk to make cheese. If you should use pasteurized, you will want to add 1/2 tsp calcium chloride in 1/4 C. water before adding the rennet. Stir in well.
- 1.5 C sea salt
- 1 quart warm water
Other items needed:
- 2-2.5 lb cheese mold
- optional: cheese press (I love this one) or hand weights that total 20 pounds
- non-reactive pot that holds 2 gallons or more
- cheese knife to cut the curd
- colander or fine mesh strainer
- 1-2 pieces of cheesecloth
Before you get started, make sure you have ample time at home without interruption. I like to start my cheese recipes early in the morning, that way I’m done by dinner (or at least have it in the press by then).
Heat the Milk
Before you start, make sure that the pot, spoon, knife, mold and cheesecloth are well sterilized.
Start by pouring your milk into a non-reactive stainless steel pot. Clip your thermometer to the side of the pot, or better yet, invest in a digital thermometer.
With the heat on low, gently bring the milk to a temperature of 100 degrees F.
Add the Culture
Turn the heat off. Sprinkle your packet of mesophilic culture on the surface of the milk. Then sprinkle your packet of thermophilic culture on the milk. Allow them to remain on the surface for a minute or so. Then stir gently with an up and down motion for 30 seconds.
Place the lid on the pot and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Stir in the Rennet
After that 30 minutes, remove the lid. If you are using pasteurized milk, add the calcium chloride at this time. Stir in well to distribute evenly.
Then add 1/4 tsp liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 C. cool water (or 1/8 tsp double strength liquid rennet). Stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds. Stop stirring, and cover the pot again – allow the pot to sit, undisturbed, for 90 minutes. The milk should retain the temperature of around 100 at this time; it’s ok if it drops a degree or two.
Cut the Curd
After 90 minutes, cut the curd into a checkerboard pattern at 1/2 inch intervals. The curd should give a clean break.
Once you cut the checkerboard, slant your knife diagonally and cut at an angle. Turn the pot 180 degrees and cut diagonally again at an angle.**
I slice the curds with a long knife. Then I go back in with a whisk and stick the whisk in, turn it 360 degrees, and pull it out. I repeat that for the entire pot instead of doing a diagonal cut.
After the curds are cut, allow them to rest for 10 minutes.
Heat the Curd
Turn the stove on low and stir frequently – you want to heat the curds reach to 105 degrees F over the course of 10-15 minutes.
Stir frequently to keep the curds from matting. As you stir, use the side of your spoon to slice any large curds in half that didn’t get cut evenly with the knife in the last step.
Drain the Whey
After 10 minutes, let the curds fall to the bottom of the pot and allow them to rest another 10 minutes. Then, carefully drain off the whey. To do this, place a cheesecloth over a colander, and the colander over a large clean pot. Slowly pour the curds over the colander, allowing the cheesecloth/colander to catch the curds.
Allow the curds to drain for 10 minutes before adding your salt. Work the salt through the curds thoroughly.
Mold the Cheese
Once the salt has been added, line your cheese mold with cheesecloth. Make sure there is cheesecloth hanging over the sides of the mold.
Place the cheese mold on the press – without the weight. Carefully transfer the curds from the colander to the mold. Place the follower on top, then add your weights.
- Press at 15 lbs of pressure for 30 minutes.
- Carefully unwrap the curds, flip over, re-wrap, and press again at 15 pounds of pressure for 12 hours.
The Final Part
Once the cheese has pressed at 15 lbs for 12 hours, remove from the press. Carefully unwrap the cheesecloth. Prepare the brine solution. Once the brine has come to room temperature, place the cheese in the brine for 24 hours, flipping the cheese at the 12 hour mark.
- Air dry for six hours on a cheese mat, allowing for proper air circulation around the cheese.
- Age for 2 weeks at 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) at 80-85% humidity, turning once daily.
- Keep the brine from the soak to wipe off any mold that might start during that time.
- After 2 weeks, vac seal the cheese and allow to age for 4 additional weeks.
The longer you age Cotija cheese, the more it takes on the resemblance of parmesan cheese. If you age it for a shorter period, then it is a very soft, crumbly cheese that’s great on corn on the cob (specifically Mexican street corn!)