Cotija Cheese

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 12 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Dairy
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a block of cotija cheese with the corner crumbled off

When can babies eat cotija cheese?

Cotija cheese is best introduced after baby’s first birthday due to its high sodium levels. However, a taste here and there before then is fine.

The best cheeses for babies younger than 12 months old are pasteurized and low in sodium, including emmentaler cheese, fresh goat cheese, labneh, mascarpone cheese, fresh mozzarella cheese, paneer, fresh ricotta cheese, and swiss cheese.

Where does cotija cheese come from?

Cotija cheese, also called queso cotija, originated in the Jalmich mountains of central Mexico, in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán and is one of the country’s few cheeses given legal protection by means of a collective trademark granted by the Mexican government. That said, there are many other cheeses marketed as cotija, both in Mexico and beyond, that use pasteurized milk and slightly different methods. Cotija’s texture depends on the type: softer, younger varieties have a texture similar to feta, while other forms of cotija are aged and typically grated, like aged asiago or parmesan.

Asher, 15 months, tries some grated cotija cheese on a taco.
Río, 19 months, eats grated cotija cheese on mashed beans.

Is cotija cheese healthy for babies?

No. Cotija tends to be exceedingly high in sodium, which is not healthy when consumed in excess.1 2 Cotija can also be made with unpasteurized (raw) milk, which carries a higher risk of foodborne illness, though unpasteurized cheeses aged for 60 days or longer – like most cotija – pose a lower risk.3 Read our cheese page for more information on unpasteurized cheeses.

Nutritionally, cotija cheese contains protein to create new cells and plenty of healthy saturated fats to support cell structure (although some cotija is made with part-skim milk, which reduces these fats). Cotija also offers calcium, vitamin B12, zinc, and selenium. Together, these nutrients support healthy bones, nervous system, immune system, and senses.

★Tip: When shopping for cotija, pay attention to the type. Cotija made in the tajo style tends to be lower in sodium, while cotija de montaña is a hard, grating cheese that is quite high in sodium.

Can cotija cheese help babies poop?

Probably not. Aged cheeses like aged cotija are fermented and naturally contain certain beneficial bacteria, which may have a positive influence on the microbiome, but more research is needed.4 Note that pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to your pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.

Is cotija cheese a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Cheese is a common choking hazard for babies and children.5 To minimize the risk, grate or slice cotija very thinly and avoid serving in cubes or large crumbles. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is cotija cheese a common allergen?

Yes. Cotija cheese is made from cow’s milk, and cow’s milk is a common food allergen in young children, accounting for about one-fifth of all childhood food allergies in the United States.6 That said, there’s good news: milk allergy often disappears with time. Research shows that the majority of children with cow’s milk allergy will outgrow it by age 6 and many babies with milder symptoms of milk protein allergy (which can show up as painless blood in stool) are able to successfully reintroduce cow’s milk as early as their first birthday, with the guidance of their doctors.7 8 Note: Aged cheeses generally contain histamines, which may cause rashes in children who are sensitive to them.9 10

Milk is a known trigger of food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, also known as FPIES. FPIES is a delayed allergy to food protein which causes the sudden onset of repetitive vomiting and diarrhea to begin a few hours after ingestion. Left untreated, the reaction can result in significant dehydration. Thankfully, like other forms of milk allergy, FPIES which presents early in life is generally outgrown by the time the child has reached 3-5 years of age.11 While the exact rates of FPIES are unknown, it is believed to be an uncommon condition (although better recognition of the disease has led to increased reporting in recent years).12

Although it is not an allergy, lactose intolerance can result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea, after ingestion of dairy items containing lactose. For those with older children who are lactose intolerant (keep in mind this is uncommon for infants and toddlers), some good news: compared with milk and certain other dairy products, many cheeses may be better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance, particularly aged cheeses, which have lower lactose content.13 Note that if your child is lactose-intolerant, it’s important to find calcium-rich foods to consume regularly to ensure a balanced diet and support bone health. Search for naturally low-lactose cheeses and dairy products labeled “lactose-free.”

If you suspect baby may be allergic to milk, consult an allergist before introducing dairy products like cheese. Based on baby’s risk factors and history, your allergist may recommend allergy testing, or may instead advise dairy introduction under medical supervision in the office. If the risk is low, you may be advised to go ahead and introduce dairy in the home setting. As with all common allergens, start by serving a small quantity on its own for the first few servings, and if there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

How do you introduce cotija cheese for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Avoid due to high sodium levels. That said, if you have a meal with pasteurized cotija that you would like to share with baby, a taste here and there is fine. Cotija made in the tajo style tends to be lower in sodium.

12 to 18 months old: Serve crumbles of pasteurized cotija cheese on occasion, either on their own or as part of a dish, or grate small amounts of aged cotija onto the child’s meals.

18 to 24 months old: Offer pasteurized cotija grated, cut in thin slices, or melted atop other foods. Continue to avoid large chunks of cheese or globs of melted cheese.

a hand holding five crumbles of cotija cheese
Crumbles of a softer cotija for toddlers 12 months+

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Recipe: Elote (Corn on the Cob) with Cotija and Lime

nine corn cobs, cut into rounds, rolled in a cotija cheese and chili powder mix

Yield: 1 cob
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Age: 12 months+

Recipe By Solid Starts

Ingredients

  • 1 corn cob
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) sour cream
  • ½ oz (14 g) cotija cheese
  • ⅛ tsp (¼ g) paprika (optional)
  • 1 sprig cilantro (optional)

This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy (cotija, sour cream). Only serve to a child after this allergen has been safely introduced.

Directions

  1. Husk the corn. Cut off the stem, then cut the cob into halves or thirds.
  2. Heat a pot of water to boiling, then add the cob, cooking until the kernels have brightened in color, about 5 minutes. Drain. Cool.
  3. Zest and juice the lime. Measure 1 tsp (5 ml) of juice into a bowl and add the zest. Store the rest of the lime juice for another use.
  4. Whisk the sour cream, lime juice, and zest. Smear the cob with the sour cream mixture.
  5. Sprinkle the cotija cheese over the corn cob. If you like, season with paprika and finely chopped cilantro.

Serve the Elote

  1. Offer an elote to the toddler and let the child self-feed.
  2. Eat yours alongside the toddler to model how it’s done!

To Store: Corn on the Cob with Cotija and Lime keeps in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Flavor Pairings

Cotija pairs well with the flavors of pinto beans, beef, corn, egg, pork, and rice.

Reviewed by

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP. Board-Certified Pediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist

C. Aycinena Marcos, MS, RD. Registered Dietitian and Public Health/Clinical Nutritionist

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT. Pediatric Feeding Therapist

K. Tatiana Maldonado, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CLEC. Pediatric Feeding Therapist

Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist

Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP, Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Baker, S.S., Baker, R.D. (2015). Early Exposure to Dietary Sugar and Salt. Pediatrics, 135(3), 550-551. DOI:10.1542/peds.2014-4028. Retrieved August 1, 2022
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. DOI: 10.17226/25353. Retrieved August 1, 2022
  3. U. S. Food & Drug Administration. Dangers of raw milk. Retrieved August 2, 2022
  4. González, S., Fernández-Navarro, T., Arboleya, S., de Los Reyes-Gavilán, C. G., Salazar, N., & Gueimonde, M. (2019). Fermented Dairy Foods: Impact on Intestinal Microbiota and Health-Linked Biomarkers. Frontiers in microbiology, 10, 1046. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.01046
  5. HealthyChildren.org. (2019). Health Issues: Choking Prevention. Retrieved August 1, 2022
  6. Warren CM, Jhaveri S, Warrier MR, Smith B, Gupta RS. The epidemiology of milk allergy in US children. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2013;110(5):370-374. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2013.02.016. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  7. North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Foundation. Cow’s milk protein allergy. GI Kids. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  8. Wood RA, Sicherer SH, Vickery BP, et al. The natural history of milk allergy in an observational cohort. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013;131(3):805-812. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2012.10.060. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  9. Comas-Basté, O., Sánchez-Pérez, S., Veciana-Nogués, M. T., Latorre-Moratalla, M., & Vidal-Carou, M. (2020). Histamine Intolerance: The Current State of the Art. Biomolecules, 10(8), 1181. DOI: 10.3390/biom10081181. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  10. Nazar, W., Plata-Nazar, K., Sznurkowska, K., & Szlagatys-Sidorkiewicz, A. (2021). Histamine Intolerance in Children: A Narrative Review. Nutrients13(5), 1486. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051486. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  11. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2019). Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome. Retrieved July 24, 2022
  12. Nowak-Węgrzyn A. Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome and allergic proctocolitis. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2015 May-Jun;36(3):172-84. doi: 10.2500/aap.2015.36.3811. Retrieved July 23, 2022
  13. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Living with lactose intolerance. 2010 Sep 15 [Updated 2018 Nov 29].