I am a huge fan of Mexican food – if you are like me, you likely know the importance of cotija cheese to Mexican cuisine, especially in the dish Carne enchilada among other dishes from the country.
You may also decide to make a meal featuring cotija cheese at home, and end up needing to keep it for later use since it is widely available in numerous stores including Hispanic or international specialty markets.
However, it is still a dairy product, and eating it when it has gone bad means you are asking for food poisoning and other bad effects on your health, such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
It gets worse when children eat it because the effects are more severe than those in adults.
Therefore, we will delve into the question of how long does cotija cheese last, as well as answer the most important issues on storage and ensuring it remains fresh.
What is Cotija Cheese?
The easiest identifier of cotija cheese is its country of origin – Mexico.
It is a Mexican cheese that one makes from cow milk and goes through an aging process for a short time.
One then removes the thin rind that forms on its surface from its brief aging, and you can then consume it alongside your food or salads.
It is also interesting to note that its name comes from cotjo, a Spanish word that means ‘little basket’.
Cotija cheese is white and has a very salty, dry taste with a crumbly yet firm texture.
As it ages, its texture hardens and its flavor becomes stronger like Parmesan cheese, while its fresh form has a texture similar to ricotta cheese.
In terms of its benefits, it is versatile and tasty enough to work in multiple dishes, and you will rarely run out of foods to cook alongside it.
It has a high concentration of calcium, protein, and fat, as well as nutrients that improve your bone health such as Vitamin A, phosphorus, and Vitamin B12.
How Long Does Cotija Cheese Last? Does Cotija Cheese Go Bad?
Yes, this cheese can go bad.
Similar to all dairy products and fresh foods, you must not allow cheeses to sit out for long periods at room temperature – that will only make it easier to encourage bacterial growth on them.
You should keep them covered at room temperature to avoid exposure to mold spores as well.
Cotija cheese has a long shelf life as long as you store it properly.
The ideal time to use it after purchase and opening it is within 2 weeks if you are keeping it in your pantry, keep in mind, the sooner you use it the better it will taste.
The good news is that it is a hardy cheese that you can keep in your freezer, and it will last for up to 6 months in this condition.
If you do not open the cotija cheese, it can last until it becomes moldy or smelly, so the best indicator of its expiration is the best-by date on its package.
The main problem you must be mindful of with cotija cheese is its moisture, even when you are keeping it in the fridge.
It contains very high levels that lead to very quick mold growth that presents health problems and alters its texture and taste, so consume it within 2 months if you are keeping it in the fridge.
Unlike most cheeses, cotija cheese can stay in your freezer for a few months, but you must cut it into thick pieces first to preserve it for longer, wrap each piece in greaseproof paper and clear cling film, and put them in an airtight sealable bag to prevent them from drying out or experiencing freezer burn and changing their texture.
If you want to thaw the cheese, you must do it in the fridge overnight to prevent it from losing moisture, then allow it to soften at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours before use.
How to Tell If Cotija Cheese is Bad?
Despite the preservatives that cotija cheese contains, it can still go bad in specific circumstances, and it is important to look out for these signs.
- Moldy appearance.
This is the first sign you will see in cotija cheese and indicates that it is older than its aged state, has changed its texture and taste, and is now a haven for microorganisms that include mold and certain bacterial strains.
You can also see that the cheese color has changed from a white block to dark colors or spots like grey, green, or other colors.
If you see mold forming on parts of the cheese, the best thing to do is cut off the sections with these spores and use the good parts of the cheese.
If it has spread too much, just throw away the whole cheese block to avoid risking negative health effects.
- Bad smell .
Because cheese is a dairy product, it is easy to tell its freshness or spoilage from its smell.
Bad smells are due to bacterial activity, so they show that the entire cheese block has gone bad.
In this case, you can only throw it away.
- Sour taste.
This sour taste is a sign of cotija cheese that is on the way to spoilage because good cotija cheese should have a sweet, deep aroma and a slightly salty taste.
However, you may still use it if you do not mind the taste, but you should be careful when using it to avoid the onset of diarrhea.
Cotija cheese is an excellent accompaniment for many Mexican dishes and general cuisines because it will add a unique texture and flavor to your food.
You can purchase it easily, but you will need to store it properly if you intend to use it at a later date by wrapping it well and keeping it in the fridge or freezer.
Ensure you also check whether it is in good condition by observing if there are signs of mold, discoloration, or a strange smell – but the cheese is hardy and can last for several months if you keep it in good condition.