Cotija cheese is an ingredient that is quickly rising in popularity. But unfortunately, there isn’t as much information about its shelf-life out there.
Sure, you can assume that it pretty much works like most other cheese. But that is exactly where you are wrong. Cotija is very unique and different from most. So, its shelf life and storage methods also differ.
Now, how long does Cotija cheese last? Cotija cheese will last around a month in the fridge, and the aged version can last much longer. In the freezer, it should still be used within 6 months, but many people claim it can last up to 12 without going bad.
The way you store Cotija massively affects how long it will last.
So, today we will take a look at everything affecting the shelf life of this cheese. We’ll explore storage methods, what makes it go bad, and even how to tell when it is off.
Read on to protect your delicious cotija cheese!
What Is Cotija Cheese?
Okay, so we’ll be completely honest. We only learned about this cheese quite recently. We have heard the name prior, but never actually knew what it is, what it tastes like, or anything really.
So, when we started researching it, we quickly realized that this is an ingredient we have had numerous times at authentic Mexican restaurants.
And if you grew up eating Mexican or Central American cuisine, you won’t need this introduction to cotija!
Cotija is a type of aged cheese from Mexico and other nearby countries in Central America that is made with cow’s milk. It is made in a few different ways which naturally produces a few different flavors.
What makes this cheese immediately stand out from others (regardless of its age) is its saltiness. Often, it has a crumbly, almost powdered texture.
Arguably the most common form of cotija you will get is the young (or fresh) version. It has a light white color and a relatively firm, yet crumbly texture. The cheese also has a very salty flavor, similar to mild feta.
Then, you get an aged version of cotija. This cheese is a lot harder and more like Parmesan. It is still relatively crumbly, but not soft or creamy like its un-aged counterpart.
Cotija is used mainly in Mexican and Central American cuisines, but you can incorporate it into virtually any recipe of your choice. Just take into consideration its uber salty flavor and texture.
One more thing, this cheese doesn’t melt. It will soften as you heat it, but it won’t melt into sauces or create a crispy cheesy grilled top.
Three things affect the shelf-life of all ingredients.
All of them have to do with what makes bacteria grow and rapidly multiply. This includes a supply of favorable temperatures (temperature danger zone), food (nutrients), and moisture that support bacteria growth.
Even one of these will cause your cheese to spoil.
Because this cheese is so incredibly salty, it has a slightly longer shelf-life than most other types of cheese.
Salt is a preservative, so will help avoid quick bacterial growth in the cheese.
However, the cheese is still made from cow’s milk, which is highly perishable. Milk naturally contains sugars and water, both of which is an optimal food sources for bacteria.
Furthermore, the shelf-life of fresh and aged cotija will also vary. The more moisture a cheese contains, the shorter its shelf life will be.
And finally, most of all, how you store the cotija cheese will ultimately determine the final shelf life of your cheese.
If you allow it to rest at room temperature (where bacteria thrives in the temperature danger zone), the cheese won’t stand a chance. It can become completely spoiled in a day!
How Long Does Cotija Cheese Last?
If you properly store fresh cotija cheese, it can last roughly 4-6 weeks inside the fridge.
Aged cotija (which has a lower moisture content) can last for several months!
But again, the exact time frame will depend completely on how well you store the cheese.
If you freeze either of these cheeses, you can expect them to keep for six months. However, this has its own list of pros and cons that we will get into later.
How To Properly Store Cotija Cheese
Cotija is very different from most types of cheese. So naturally, the way you store it will also be quite different.
The best method to use for storing fresh and aged Cotija is to wrap it in clean wax paper. You can also use parchment paper if you’d like. But we’ve noticed wax paper is a little less breathable.
After every use, wrap it in clean wax paper. Then, store the cheese inside an airtight container or resealable bag. The container or bag will help keep the cheese from absorbing roaming odors like garlic or onions that might also be in your fridge.
Finally, store the cheese inside the fridge. Make sure your fridge doesn’t have any fluctuating temperatures. That can cause the cheese to go off quickly.
Also, don’t store the cheese in the door or close to any raw meat.
Can You Freeze Cotija Cheese?
It is possible to freeze cotija cheese. While many people say it can last up to 12 months, we only recommend keeping it for no more than 6 months.
That is because, as with most cheeses, the texture will completely change. And not for the better!
As the cheese freeze, the water molecules become ice crystals. These crystals are sharp and pierce the bonds in the cheese. That does two things.
The first is that the ice crystals break the bonds that create the unique structure of the cheese. The second is that it allows the flavor to leech out when the cheese thaws.
That results in a flavorless (or flavor-lacking) cheese that is dry and crumbly.
So, our opinion is that you should preferably avoid freezing this cheese. And if you have to, try using it within the first month. Never leave it for longer than 6.
How To Freeze Cotija Cheese
The best way to preserve cotija cheese in the freezer is to properly wrap it up.
First, wrap it in wax (or parchment) paper. Then, plastic wrap. And finally, in a layer of aluminum foil. The foil will help protect the cheese from excessive freezer burn.
For some more protection, place the wrapped cheese in an airtight container. That will help protect it from absorbing any odors if the wrapping tears.
Once the cotija cheese is wrapped tightly, place it in the freezer and store it for a maximum of 6 months.
How To Thaw Cotija Cheese
If you did end up having to freeze the cheese, here is the best way to thaw cotija.
Remove the cheese from the freezer and take it out of the container. Leave it in the package. Then, place it on a plate and leave it in the fridge overnight.
This way, the ice crystals will slowly melt. That will help maintain the best structure and flavor possible.
How To Tell If Cotija Cheese Has Gone Bad
Cheese can spoil very quickly, but luckily it is very easy to tell when it does. That is because it is made from cow’s milk (dairy).
When dairy spoils, the first sign is a sour smell and taste. It doesn’t always start as a rancid rotting smell, but you will definitely notice something bitter.
Another sign of cheese that is spoiling is discoloration. Cotija is a shade of white. Yes, it may be a slightly “dirty” white, but it is still uniform in color (or at least should be).
So, if you start noticing any change in color or spots forming, immediately look for other signs of spoilage.
And finally, quite an obvious sign is the presence of any mold growth. If you see any type of mold, you should cut off that part of the cheese and use the rest of the cheese immediately.
The type of mold that grows on the cheese doesn’t matter. All the mold that grows on cotija after it has been made is bad. So, do not risk the consequences of eating it. It’s NOT like bleu cheese!
Why Does My Cotija Cheese Stink?
This cheese (as many others as well) is made with yeast, bacteria, and fungi. That is what gives the bland product a more flavorful finish. However, as with most yeast moldy things, they do smell.
After all, they are living organisms. So, don’t worry too much about a slightly smelly cheese. But, as soon as it smells sour and rancid, you should check it for other signs of spoilage.
Can Grated Cotija Be Frozen?
As with whole blocks of Cotija, grated cheese can also be frozen. You can use the same steps as we have mentioned above. It should also last equally long.
Freezing grated Cotija is a much better option than freezing an entire block. This way, you have already created a crumbled texture.
Can Cotija Cheese Be Left At Room Temperature?
Most perishable foods can be left at room temperature for 2 hours.
Any longer than that, and you are risking harmful bacteria multiplying too much. That could lead to serious food poisoning.
You will need to refrigerate your cotija cheese as soon as you can to be safe.
Is Cotija Cheese Pasteurized?
Unfortunately, it depends on where you buy it, and who you are buying it from.
You can easily find pasteurized cotija cheeses, but there are also some unpasteurized products out there. That increases the possibility of contracting food poisoning from it. So, always double-check.