Parmesan cheese is a hard, salty Italian cheese made from cow’s milk. It has a sharp, nutty flavor and is used in many dishes such as pasta, salads and soups. Unfortunately, the really good ones can be difficult to find outside of Italy or you simply just don’t have any in your refrigerator. But don’t worry, there are plenty of great parmesan substitutes that you can use for those dishes instead.
To look for a good substitution, you first need to consider the flavor and texture that the parmesan cheese offers. A good substitute should have a similar complex profile, but it does not have to be an exact match. You can also look for a substitute with a different texture if needed.
For Carbonara: Pecorino, Asiago
Carbonara sauce is one of the most popular dishes that use parmesan cheese and a great substitute for it can be pecorino Romano. It has a similar nutty flavor but with a slightly more intense, salty taste. Asiago cheese is also another good option; it’s typically milder than parmesan but still has that same distinctive flavor. Use about a 1:1 ratio of either cheese as you would for parmesan.
For Pesco: Grana Padano, Cheddar
Pesco is a traditional Italian dish that requires the use of parmesan cheese. If you don’t have any on hand, you can easily substitute Grana Padano, a hard grainy cheese made from cow’s milk with a gritty texture similar to parmesan but with a milder flavor. Cheddar is also another great option; its sharp flavor is similar to parmesan but with a bit more of a bite and less umami. Alternatively, you can even do it without cheese — simply replace parmesan with extra nuts like cashew or almond to retain a nutty flavor, that can be an easier and cheaper solution.
For Alfredo: Gruyère, Mozzarella
For alfredo sauce, we’re generally looking for a creamy and rich flavor, a combination of Gruyère and mozzarella cheese can make an excellent substitute for parmesan. You can use them individually as well. Gruyère has a richer but less intense taste than parmesan but still contains the same nutty aroma, while mozzarella adds that fresh creamy texture that’s essential for Alfredo sauce. Both these cheeses are also easy to find in most grocery stores. If you don’t have any on hand, gouda is an easy substitute; its slightly sweet and nutty taste makes it perfect for Alfredo sauce.
Cheaper Parmesan Substitution – Nutritional Yeast, Miso
If you’re looking for a vegan alternative to parmesan cheese that still gives your dishes the same rich umami flavor, nutritional yeast is an excellent substitute. It’s packed with B vitamins and has a cheesy flavor profile that makes it perfect for pastas and salads. Or if you want something a bit sharper, try miso paste — it provides the same salty and nutty flavor as parmesan but with a bit of funkiness. It can be used in any dish that calls for parmesan cheese and will add depth of flavor. However, it’s important to remember that the flavor of miso paste can be quite strong, so use it in moderation.
Best 5 Cheeses as Parmesan Alternative
Texture-wise, Grana Padano is a hard, crumbly cow milk Italian cheese that’s very similar to parmesan but less crumbly. In fact, it’s one of the most compared cheeses to parmesan, where Italian use them interchangeably in almost every recipe. The production took place in a similar area and their method is quite the same — Grana Padano is less strictly bound by regulations and often sold in a less matured form. This results in an almost identical twin cheese but milder, and with that Grana Padano is cheaper than parmesan.
Pecorino Romano is sheep milk grainy cheese that has a slightly sharper, saltier taste than parmesan. Think of it as parmesan cheese but a sheep milk version. They have a similar texture, but Romano tends to be earthier and grassier in flavor. Read our detailed comparison of Parmesan vs Romano cheese.
Asiago is a top option that has a sweeter, creamier flavor than parmesan. Regionally, asiago is considered a distant relative to parmesan where it’s classified as a Swiss-style alpine type of cheese. And it’s closer to Emmental and Gruyere families. Asiago’s texture is moister and less crumbly and is also slightly sweeter than parmesan. We’ve discussed more in Asiago vs Parmesan article in detail.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is considered to be the real parmesan cheese, as it has a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status. A wheel of Parmigiano can sell for thousands of dollars — where a pound of it can easily go for $20-40, which is definitely on the expensive end. Budget-wise, you can get the regular parmesan at about half its price but the taste won’t be as complex, rich, and nutty.
Commonly known as the parmesan of Mexico, cotija is a semi-hard Hispanic-style cheese but tangier than your regular parmesan cheese. This cheese is dry and great for grating. It is a longer-aged cow’s milk cheese that is often used as a topping for dishes such as tacos and enchiladas. It has a salty, crumbly texture with a slightly sour taste — like a blend of feta and parmesan.