Montasio is a cow's milk cheese originating from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy.
With its subtle, mildly nutty and sweet flavor, it has become popular in Italian cooking, especially for melting purposes.
However, montasio can be difficult to find outside of Italy. If you come across a recipe calling for montasio and cannot locate it, several good substitutes are available.
What is Montasio Cheese?
Montasio belongs to the family of semi-hard Italian cheeses. It was originally produced by monks in the 13th century in the village of Montasio in the Carnic Alps located between Friuli and Austria.
The cheese is made from whole cow's milk and then aged. A young montasio is aged 2-5 months. It has a creamy, smooth texture and mild, delicate flavor. An older montasio is aged for 12 months or longer, becoming hard and crumbly in texture with a sharper, more robust flavor.
For cooking purposes like fondue, melted cheese dishes or baked pasta, the younger style of montasio is preferred. Its melting properties and subtle sweetness make it an excellent choice.
Key Takeaway: Montasio is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese produced in northeast Italy, aged 2-12 months. The younger version (2-5 months) works best for melting.
Why Substitute for Montasio Cheese?
There are two main reasons you may need a montasio cheese substitute:
- Availability: Authentic montasio can be difficult to locate outside of Italy. Even stores specializing in international cheeses may not carry it. Ordering online is an option but can be expensive and time-consuming.
- Regulations: Unpasteurized montasio made in Italy cannot be imported to some countries like the USA due to food safety regulations. However, some producers make pasteurized versions approved for export.
Rather than missing out wonderful Italian dishes calling for montasio, substitutions with more readily available cheeses make a good solution. The key is to match the flavor profile and melting qualities as closely as possible.
Good Substitutes for Montasio Cheese
Here are some excellent options to substitute when montasio cheese is needed:
Asiago is an Italian cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region, usually made from whole milk. It comes in fresh and aged varieties:
- Fresh Asiago (Asiago Pressato): Aged around 2 months, this smooth-textured version works well melted or grated. Its tang makes it more flavorful than young montasio.
- Aged Asiago (Asiago d’Allevo): Aged 8 months to 2 years, it becomes drier and nuttier like Parmigiano-Reggiano. Only use aged asiago grated or shredded raw over dishes instead of melting.
With its origin also being in northeastern Italy, flavor and texture-wise, asiago makes an authentic regional substitute for montasio in cooked preparations calling for melting cheese.
Fontina is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from the Aosta Valley region of northwestern Italy near the French and Swiss borders. It has a supple, smooth texture with a mildly nutty, buttery, slightly fruity flavor when young. Aged fontina becomes more pungent and takes on earthy, mushroom notes.
For melting purposes, Italian fontina is perfect substitute for montasio cheese. Its fat content enables it to get silky smooth when melted without oil separation. And its subtle nutty sweetness closely mimics montasio.
Outside Italy, Danish and French fontina can work but lack the sweetness and Alpine terroir of the Italian original.
Fontal is an Italian cow’s milk cheese made in the Friuli-Grave plains and hills to the south of montasio’s origin. It is semi-hard like montasio but with tiny eyes formed by the propionibacterium used for aging 3-8 months.
With Fontal also being from Friuli, it makes an authentic regional substitute for montasio in terms of terroir and flavor. Its texture smooths out beautifully when melted.
Friulano cheese originated from the province of Pordenone in the Friuli region. It uses a lactic coagulation method with calves rennet to produce a semi-hard, smooth textured cheese aged 60 days. Friulano has a delicate, mildly tangy and nutty flavor.
As a close cousin and neighbor to montasio geographically and production method-wise, Friulano serves as an excellent regional substitute in cooked applications calling for melted montasio.
Also known as quesillo or string cheese, Oaxaca originated in Mexico not Italy. However, with its mild flavor and superb melting texture, it works well in place of montasio. When melted completely, Oaxaca forms long gooey strands, great for pulling baked dishes together or stretching in foods like quesadillas.
While not Italian in origin or flavor, the melting consistency of Oaxaca makes it one of the most easily obtainable substitutes for montasio available internationally.
Piave is an Italian cow’s milk cheese from the Dolomites mountains of Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige regions. Its name comes from the Piave River. Aged for 20-60 days, it develops a subtle sweetness with tangy and nutty notes.
Similar to montasio in texture, Piave cheese melts smoothly while adding delicate caramel flavors. With production just 150 miles away in northern Italy, Piave works wonderfully as substitute when montasio is unavailable.
Other Potential Substitutes
Here are few other cheeses that can potentially stand in for montasio in a cooked preparation:
- Pecorino – made from sheep’s milk; salty, tangy flavors
- Swiss Gruyere – nutty, fruity, salty flavors; good for melting
- Emmental – Switzerland; fruity, nutty sweetness; melts well
- Gouda – Netherlands; mildly nutty, salty, buttery when young; ages intensely
- Monterey Jack – California; mild, buttery; melts easily
- White Cheddar – various origins; sharp when aged, mild when young; great melter
The suitability of these cheeses depends on the specific dish and personal preferences around flavor. Their textures all enable excellent melting properties. But they may seem too sharp or salty compared to montasio’s delicate sweetness. Mixing small amounts with fontina or asiago can balance that out when needed.
What About Mozzarella?
You may be wondering why mozzarella is not on the recommendation list for substituting montasio. After all, mozzarella melts beautifully as one the world’s favorite pizza cheeses.
The reason is flavor. Mozzarella possesses a very mild milky flavor compared to montasio’s nutty sweetness. And authentic mozzarella actually does not fully melt without some oil separation. So while fine on a pizza, mozzarella fails to capture the essence of montasio for other cooked applications calling for a smoothly melted cheese.
Tips for Substituting Montasio Cheese
- For baked pasta, risottos, fondue or frico, use fontina, asiago pressato, piave or friulano to closely mimic montasio’s delicate nuttiness and texture
- Mix in small amounts of aged asiago, gouda or cheddar if you want to add sharp, salty contrast
- For quesadillas, tacos al pastor or burritos, Oaxaca/quesillo cheese makes the best melting substitute
- When layering lasagna, manicotti or stuffed pasta, combine fontina and fresh mozzarella for sweet nutty flavor and luscious meltiness
- For meatballs, fondues or pizza, swap in a 50/50 blend of gruyere and Emmental to simulate the sweet, nutty quality of montasio
- For antipasto platters, use grated aged asiago, piave vecchio or aged gouda to sprinkle over items in place of montasio
Key Takeaway: Fontina, asiago pressato, piave and friulano offer the closest direct substitutes. But other cheeses like gruyere can replicate the sweet nuttiness when blended wisely.
What’s the best cheese for making frico instead of montasio?
Can I substitute mozzarella for montasio in baked ziti or lasagna?
Mozzarella lacks the sweet nutty flavor of montasio. For the best results, use a blend of fontina, fresh mozzarella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The fontina provides creamy meltability and nutty sweetness close to montasio, while the mozzarella gives stretch and moisture, and the Parm adds salty richness.
What cheese could I mix with provolone to emulate montasio?
Provolone has a smooth texture but sharper, more pungent flavor than montasio. Mixing provolone with fontina, Jack or fresh mozzarella can temper the intensity. Using a ratio of 70% provolone and 30% fontina or Jack provides a good balance of melt and nutty sweetness approximating montasio.
Is there an American cheese that mimics montasio well?
No single American cheese can fully replicate European montasio. But mixing Colby and Monterey Jack in equal ratios comes surprisingly close in nutty flavor and melting consistency when needed in say a pasta bake or casserole. The buttery Jack sweetens and evens out the tangy sharpness of young Colby. For more aged flavors, use white cheddar instead.
Montasio may not yet have the global fame of Asiago or Parmesan. But it rightfully earns a place among the great melting cheeses of Italy.
With production centered in the Carnic Alps of Friuli, montasio captures the essence of this unspoiled region’s milk and pastures.