Not long ago, nearly every Mexican restaurant north of the border smothered dishes in cheddar cheese, a world away from anything ringing authentic. Fortunately, as we’ve become familiar with Brie, Manchego, pecorino and myriad stinky cheeses, the profile of queso from Mexico has been elevated, too.
Poquitos chef Manny Arce is a big fan of Cotija (pronounced koh-TEE-hah), a hard, crumbly cow’s milk cheese similar to feta. It’s named for a small town in the Michoacán region of Mexico, where aged versions (called añejo) are comparable to pecorino. Arce, who grew up in San Diego and studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, admires the sharp focus Cotija adds to all sorts of dishes.
Because the restaurant’s mission is to showcase local ingredients, chef Arce searched for some time before finding a Northwest-made Cotija that was everything he wanted.
Where he buys it: He buys Cotija, as well queso fresco and queso Oaxaca, from Ochoa’s Queseria, an Albany, Oregon, cheese maker that’s been producing quality traditional Mexican cheese and selling it wholesale since 2003. “It is the best Cotija I’ve had in the states,” Arce says. “It’s easy to grate and has a nutty/salty flavor.”
What he does with it: “We use it on tacos, enchiladas, in salads and on roasted or grilled vegetables,” he said. “Try it on corn on the cob.”
Where you can find it: Look for Ochoa’s Queseria’s Don Froylan label at Whole Foods or PCC. It costs about $9 for 12 ounces. Arce suggests calling ahead to be sure it’s in stock at your local store.
For chef Arce’s recipe for grilled zucchini with Cotija cheese and pequín chile, go here.