It’s sprinkled on our pasta, sits on our charcuterie boards, and is melted into our fondue — it’s parmesan cheese. Though it’s certainly not as expensive and luxurious as its "authentic" Italian relative, Parmigiano-Reggiano, American parmesan’s affordability and accessibility make it a staple in many people’s fridges. However, the discovery that wood pulp is added to certain brands of parmesan cheese has caused many consumers to be wary and check their food labels before leaving the supermarket. According to Eater, although this finding was uncovered in 2016 and there are now fines and other penalties involved if a cheese manufacturer is caught using this additive, the fact that it was happening has led some people to steer clear of parmesan completely, according to HuffPost.
If you’re looking for a replacement for your once favorite cheese or you’ve simply run out of the good stuff, there are plenty of substitutes for the nutty, fruity, and gritty qualities of parmesan. Here are some of the most popular.
1. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is essentially a supplement, condiment, and ingredient all in one, and is harvested from a single-celled organism called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, according to Paste Magazine. Affectionately called "nooch," "hippie dust," and yeshi, nutritional yeast is a great source of B12, which is difficult to come by in many plant-based foods, and is packed with antioxidants, according to Healthline. However, be mindful of what recipes you’re using nutritional yeast as a substitution for. Though it has a naturally "cheesy" flavor, it isn’t quite the same as parmesan, and you might need to add other spices and/or lemon juice to get your desired taste, according to one user on Reddit.
A Chatelaine article suggests that when cooking with nutritional yeast, only use half the amount as you would to parmesan cheese.
Now, if you aren’t dairy-free and simply are just out of parmesan cheese, you should give Piave a try. This cheese is very similar to parmesan, with Piave being made out of less mature cow’s milk, making it sweeter and less umami-flavored. Because of this, it goes great in summer pasta, which calls for a lighter element.
However, a drawback of Piave is that it is more difficult to grate, as it is younger. To put it into perspective, parmesan is usually aged for around two years while Piave is aged anywhere from three to 18 months, according to The Green Cow.
Nonetheless, if you’re looking to try out a new cheese or simply don’t have parmesan on hand, consider giving Piave a try! Simple30 states that parmesan and Piave can be subbed in equal quantities, but because Piave is sweeter, you might have to add more salt to balance out its more mellow taste.
3. Pecorino Romano
Lots of people compare Pecorino Romano‘s taste to be the most similar to parmesan, except it is also described as having more of a tang. Otherwise, the key distinction between the two is that parmesan is made out of cow’s milk and Pecorino Romano is made with sheep’s milk. Like Piave, Pecorino is also "younger" than parmesan, as it is only aged five to eight months, per Formaggio Kitchen. As stated before, Pecorino Romano has a very distinct flavor, which can easily be balanced out with the addition of other ingredients so it’s important to be mindful when substituting it for parmesan in recipes. However, if you want to really experience the differences in taste between the two cheeses, A Couple Cooks recommends using a Pecorino Romano in cacio e pepe, which really brings out the unique flavor of the cheese.
Otherwise, like parmesan, Pecorino Romano is great on top of pastas, salads, and pizzas in equal parts.
4. Grana Padano
This cheese rivals Pecorino Romano as the best replacement for parmesan. It’s a hard cheese that’s also nutty, and it’s also lactose-free due to an extensive process that brings out a lot of its natural flavors, according to Delish. This added benefit, while also being slightly more toned down in taste, makes it perfect for those who are sensitive to dairy and has made it widely popular on charcuterie boards and even desserts in recent years. However, it is not advised to melt Grana Padano, because it’s known for its nutty texture. Therefore, it would not be preferable to serve it as fondue, as that would make it difficult to fully enjoy.
Grana Padano retails cheaper than authentic parmesan because it’s produced in mass quantities, according to Simple30. The same article states that the two cheeses are so alike, they can be substituted in equal quantities.
Asiago cheese is another cow’s milk cheese that works as a great substitute for parmesan. Asiago is found in two main varieties: fresh, or "Asiago Pressato," and aged, or "Asiago d’allevo." However, for the most part, it is sweeter than parmesan. Nonetheless, it still has a similar, nutty flavor that can be used on top of salads and pizzas, according to Hungry Howie’s. It’s also softer and moister in texture. Again, because of this, it’s important to be mindful of the dish you are using it in as a substitute.
Like parmesan, Asiago can be used on top of pasta dishes and salads. In these dishes, the two can be swapped in equal quantities. But what you may not know is that it can also be used in sandwiches, because of its softer texture.
6. Dry Jack
Dry Jack is a version of Monterey Jack, and Cheese.com describes its texture as similar to parmesan. It was created not to be runny during the summers, when ice boxes for cheeses were not common, thus resulting in its firm consistency, according to Culture Cheese Magazine. Therefore, Dry Jack would be a great cheese for those charcuterie boards and even paired with other parmesan substitutes. However, though it feels a lot like parmesan, it’s taste is distinctly more earthy, with notes of grass or hay.
Food Champs states that Dry Jack’s older brother, Monterey Jack, is significantly softer than parmesan cheese. But when switching out Dry Jack for parmesan, you won’t lose out on much texture because the former was literally designed to be firmer than its older family member. You can use this cheese in equal parts but be prepared for a grassy flavor.
Another hard cheese that works as a great, affordable substitute for parmesan. Part of this is because it was invented by Italian immigrants who came to Argentina and wanted to create a cheese that reminded them of Parmigiano Reggiano, according to Cheese.com. In the United States, it is usually sold as parmesan because they are that similar. It is a bit harder to come by in the United States, and because it’s mostly sold as parmesan anyways, it wouldn’t be most chefs’ first choice as a parmesan replacement. According to itscheese.com, if you’re really on the hunt to find this cheese, you can try checking online vendors like Amazon.
As stated before, because Reggianito is described to have the same salty taste and granular texture as parmesan, it is sometimes sold interchangeably. Because of this, you can use Reggianito in equal quantities in a lot of popular parmesan recipes.
This parmesan cheese alternative is actually not even a real cheese; it’s breadcrumbs, fried in oil and combined with seasonings such as garlic, salt, and thyme, according to Reddit user anxiety_anne. Pangrattato is often called "poor man’s parmesan," according to Riverford Organic Farmers, and though it might not offer the same cheesy flavor as the dairy product it’s trying to replicate, it still offers a nice crunch and savory element to a dish, which usually is pasta. Unfortunately, you can’t really find Pangrattato in grocery stores, according to Food Fit For Felix. So be prepared to have some old sourdough on hand the moment you decide to give this crunchy, flavorful topping a try.
Thankfully, there are many recipes for Pangrattato that don’t require many culinary skills or time. This recipe from Chef Not Required only takes a total of 15 minutes. Serve it over pasta and enjoy!
9. Vegan parmesan cheese
Many vegan varieties of parmesan cheese are made from nutritional yeast, which was talked about before. Kelly’s Roasted Garlic Parm contains "nooch" but also raw cashews, spices, and roasted garlic for an extra zing of flavor. Vegan parmesan cheese can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the Kelly’s one comes in a powdery form that makes it easy to sprinkle on pastas, pizzas, and vegetables. There are also many types of vegan block cheeses that look nearly identical to the real thing. One example is Violife’s "Just like Parmesan," which is made out of coconut oil and food starch and can be grated over pasta or served on charcuterie boards like actual parmesan. Sadly, there are only so many brands that sell vegan parmesan, though that number is on the rise as plant-based diets become more popular.
However, a lot of well-made vegan parmesan cheeses can replace the legit thing in equal quantities.
10. Homemade cashew blend
If you aren’t a fan of any of the vegan parmesan cheeses out there, you can easily make your own! While there are many different recipes on the internet, this one by Food52 just has four ingredients and requires only a food processor. You just pulse together cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic, and miso paste to produce clumps of "cheese" that taste pretty dang similar to the real thing. A nice thing about making your own "parmesan" is that it’s a lot more affordable and you can make it in large quantities. However, some people might rather not go through the motions of assembling the ingredients and creating their own cheese, in which another substitute might be more suitable.
Cashew cheese can be sprinkled onto pasta as normal parmesan is. If you’re feeling crafty and want to try out something new, give this homemade cashew blend a try!