I make it a rule never to turn down the hand-grated Parmesan cheese on top of whatever dish I've ordered at my favorite Italian restaurant. The hard cheese adds a sharp, salty taste that finishes the dish perfectly. When you're buying for meals at home, though, high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano can get expensive. The cost of the real thing has led to some fakes being sold, or some already grated cheese being mixed with fillers. We've got a better answer: find a substitute for Parmesan cheese that costs less while serving the same purpose.
One reason Parmesan is so expensive is that its production is tightly controlled by the Italian government. But it's not the only hard, Italian cheese available. You might automatically reach for the real stuff, and there's nothing wrong with that plan, but other types of aged hard cheese bring the same flavor and texture to any dish at a fraction of the cost at the grocery store. And while these are all good substitutes for Parmesan cheese, they are all also excellent to use in their own right. In fact, for some recipes, you may end up choosing these cheeses on their merits instead of opting for Parmesan.
Here are six excellent substitutes for Parmesan cheese.
Romano cheese can be made in Italy or elsewhere; you can tell what kind of milk the cheese is made with based on the name. Vaccino Romano is made with cow's milk, Pecorino Romano (the best-known Romano cheese) is made with sheep's milk, and Caprino Romano uses goat's milk. All of these are dense, crumbly hard cheeses with a tangy taste. Romano is a great Parmesan substitute to use in pesto.
Grana Padano is another cow's milk cheese made in Italy and carefully controlled by the Grana Padana Consorzio Zanetti. It's aged a minimum of 18 months and, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, the real thing carries a stamp on the rind. Grana means grainy and that's exactly what Grana Padano is. It's a granular, crumbly cheese with a sweet, nutty flavor. There's also an American Grana made by BelGioioso (who makes several versions of a hard or semi-hard cheese that would work as a substitute for Parmesan cheese).
Asiago cheese is a cow's milk cheese with a smoother texture than Parmesan, but it's still crumbly, which means it melts beautifully. The longer the cheese is aged, the more crumbly and sharper-tasting it gets. Personally, while it works as an excellent substitute for Parmesan cheese, I like Asiago better for many dishes like pizza and baked pasta.
Provolone is often found in soft, round slices, and used for sandwiches. A semi-hard cow's milk cheese, provolone can be grated or torn and is exceptionally good in baked pasta and on pizza or flatbreads. It's buttery and a little sweet, with varying degrees of sharp and salty flavor based on where its made and how long it's aged. If you want to be a little extra, try using smoked provolone: it adds another layer of flavor to whatever dish you're cooking and is exceptionally good in baked pasta or pizza.
Monterey Jack is a semi-hard cheese, good for melting. Dry Jack is a variation that ages for at least 10 months and up to four years; during that time the cheese wheels get brittle, producing a crumbly cheese that has a texture similar to Parmesan but with the rich, earthy flavor of Monterey Jack. Use it on pasta dishes and casseroles, but also for omelets, quesadillas, and grilled cheese.
Vegan cheese substitutes for Parmesan cheese
If you're dairy-free, you can still get the savory flavor that comes with Parmesan cheese by using nutritional yeast (which is not the same thing as brewer's yeast or baking yeast). Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast that is dried and sold in flakes. It has that umami or salty/savory flavor that mimics cheese.
Some swear the best Parmesan cheese substitute is actually raw cashews! This vegan Parmesan cheese is made in the food processor and is a great alternative to real cheese.
No matter, if you're looking for a cheaper alternative or your grocery store, is out of the real thing, there are plenty of ways you can substitute for Parmesan cheese.
This article was originally published on August 1, 2019.
Products featured on Wide Open Eats are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.