Parmesan Cheese Alternatives

Parmesan cheese is a hard Italian cheese made from cow's milk that is known for its rich, nutty, and slightly salty flavor.

Parmesan Cheese Alternatives

It has a granular texture that is perfect for grating and adding a savory kick to pastas, pizzas, risottos, and more.

However, there are times when you may need or want an alternative to Parmesan cheese.

What is Parmesan Cheese?

Parmesan cheese, also known as Parmigiano-Reggiano, has a long history originating in Italy. To be classified as true Parmesan, this cheese must be made in certain provinces of Italy, including Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, and Modena. The process of making Parmesan is very meticulous, from the diet of the cows to the aging process that lasts at least 12 months. These traditional production methods result in the distinctive flavor, aroma, and texture that has made Parmesan popular globally.

Some key characteristics of Parmesan cheese include:

  • Hard and granular texture: Perfect for grating or shredding over dishes.
  • Tangy, nutty flavor: Depth and complexity of taste due to long aging process.
  • Slightly salty: Adds a savory, umami kick to recipes.
  • Aged 12+ months: The longer it ages, the more complex the flavor. Most Parmesan is aged between 12-36 months.

Parmesan's unique taste and textural qualities make it a versatile ingredient. It can take recipes like pasta, pizza, risotto, soups, and salads to the next level.

Key Takeaway: True Parmesan cheese is carefully produced in select regions of Italy, resulting in a hard, crumbly cheese with robust nutty and salty flavors perfect for finishing dishes.

Common Uses for Parmesan Cheese

There are so many delicious ways Parmesan cheese can be incorporated into recipes:

  • Pasta dishes: The quintessential use for Parmesan is grated or shredded over pasta. A light dusting or heavy coating pairs perfectly with classic Italian pasta dishes.
  • Pizza: Parmesan is commonly sprinkled over pizza fresh out of the oven. It adds an extra layer of flavor and texture.
  • Salads: Grated Parmesan can elevate the taste of fresh salads by adding a salty, nutty contrast. It works great in Caesar and Italian-style salads.
  • Soups and risottos: Stirring Parmesan into creamy soups and risottos helps develop rich, complex flavors and a velvety texture.
  • Baked dishes: Topping casseroles or baked pasta dishes with Parmesan results in a delicious crispy topping after baking. Think eggplant Parmesan or ziti al forno.
  • Snacking: High quality Parmesan can be enjoyed solo as a snack with wine or other beverages. The flavor intensifies when enjoyed on its own.

The options are endless when it comes to enjoying Parmesan cheese. It's a staple ingredient for good reason - that nutty, salty depth of flavor it lends to dishes is irreplaceable. But there are suitable substitutes available if needed.

Why Use a Parmesan Cheese Substitute?

There are many reasons you may need or want to use an alternative to Parmesan cheese:

Dietary restrictions:

  • Dairy-free diet: Those avoiding dairy need non-dairy substitutes.
  • Vegetarian/vegan diet: Traditional Parmesan uses animal rennet, so vegetarian options are required.

Limited access:

  • Cost: Parmesan is expensive, so cheaper substitutes are helpful.
  • Availability: If Parmesan is hard to source, alternatives are necessary.

Flavor preferences:

  • Strong taste: Some prefer a more robust flavor than Parmesan's.
  • Mild taste: Others may find Parmesan too strong and want a milder substitute.

Recipe needs:

  • Melting properties: Choosing a melty cheese makes sense for recipes requiring that.
  • Texture: A crumbly texture may not work for certain dishes.

Having versatile Parmesan cheese substitutes in your arsenal enables you to adapt recipes to suit your lifestyle, tastes, or recipe requirements.

Tips for Selecting a Parmesan Cheese Substitute

With so many Parmesan alternatives available, narrowing down your best option can be tricky. Here are helpful tips for selecting a substitute:

  • Get the texture right: Determine whether you need crumbly, hard, granular, soft, creamy, etc.
  • Match the melting needs: Will this cheese be baked or melted? If so, choose an option that melts well.
  • Consider flavor intensity: Do you want something milder or stronger tasting than Parmesan?
  • Mind dietary needs: Account for elements like dairy, animal products, calories, etc.
  • Fit the dish: Will ingredients like pasta, salad, soup, bake into the substitute?
  • Identify cost constraints: Set a budget so expensive specialty cheeses are avoided if needed.

Taking stock of these considerations before choosing a Parmesan alternative helps ensure it will work for the recipe and preferences at hand. You don't want to end up with a mushy crumble of cheese when you needed fine shreds or an overpowering flavor that overwhelms the other ingredients.

Key Takeaway: When evaluating substitutes, carefully consider texture, melting capability, flavor intensity, dietary factors, dish suitability, and cost to select the best Parmesan alternative for your needs.

Dairy-Based Parmesan Cheese Substitutes

If you consume dairy, the good news is there are many cheese alternatives providing similar qualities to Parmesan. Let's explore some tasty options:

Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is an Italian sheep's milk cheese used similarly to Parmesan. Benefits include:

  • Hard, crumbly texture perfect for grating
  • Salty and tangy flavor with nutty undertones
  • Works beautifully on pasta and Italian dishes
  • More robust flavor than Parmesan

Since Pecorino Romano is stronger in taste, start by using half the Parmesan amount called for in recipes. You can always add more if desired.


Asiago is an Italian cow’s milk cheese with a nutty, sweet, yet slightly milder flavor compared to Parmesan. Key qualities include:

  • Semi-soft to hard texture depending on age
  • Melts easily, great for baking/cooking
  • Lovely tangy and sweet flavor
  • Enhance pasta, soup, and salad dishes

Use an equivalent 1:1 ratio when substituting Asiago for Parmesan. The softness of aged Asiago makes it suitable for grating or melting into dishes.

Grana Padano

Grana Padano is an Italian cheese similar to Parmesan but less expensive. Benefits are:

  • Slightly softer and less crumbly than Parmesan
  • Mild, buttery flavor is less sharp than Parmesan
  • Less expensive, making it more accessible

Use Grana Padano in place of Parmesan in any recipe in a 1:1 ratio for best results. The subtle flavor works well with most dishes.


Gruyère is a fine Swiss cheese that makes an easily accessible Parmesan alternative with qualities like:

  • Hard texture, perfect for grating
  • Sweet and salty flavor, with nutty notes
  • Melts beautifully in baked dishes
  • More affordable than Parmesan

Gruyère is excellent for rounding out flavor profiles of soups, salads, bakes, and pastas requiring a melty alternative to Parmesan.

Dairy-Free Parmesan Substitutes

If you follow a dairy-free, vegan, or plant-based diet, don't fret! You have options for mimicking Parmesan's salty, umami deliciousness.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a vegan staple used to replicate cheesy flavors. Benefits include:

  • Natural "cheesy" umami flavor
  • Low fat and high protein
  • Gluten free and dairy free
  • Favorable consistency when dry for sprinkling

Sprinkle nutritional yeast over pasta, salads, popcorn or make into melty sauce with non-dairy milk for a Parmesan substitute. Start with small amounts as the flavor is quite strong.

Soy Parmesan

Soy Parmesan is a great dairy and lactose-free Parmesan alternative with upsides like:

  • Mimics salty flavor of Parmesan
  • Works beautifully sprinkled onto dishes
  • Contains protein while being dairy free
  • Melts smoothly for creamy textures

Use Soy Parmesan anywhere regular Parmesan is called for. The similar saltiness makes it a seamless substitution.

Almond Parmesan

For a homemade approach, almond Parmesan offers a nutty, textured substitute made by:

  • Grinding almonds into fine crumbs
  • Toasting ground almonds to intensify flavor
  • Adding salt and spices like garlic
  • Keeps well in the fridge

This versatile substitute mimics the texture, flavor, and keeping qualities of Parmesan. Customize it to suit your tastes and dietary needs.

Key Takeaway: When seeking dairy-free Parmesan alternatives, nutritional yeast, soy Parmesan, and almond Parmesan offer tasty ways to mimic the savory saltiness without the dairy.

Additional Delicious Parmesan Substitutes

Beyond the most common options already outlined, consider these substitutes:

  • Aged goat cheese: Strong, tangy flavor; creamy soft texture
  • Manchego: Nutty Spanish cheese, aged 6 months to 2 years; melts beautifully
  • Piave: Fruity Italian cow’s milk cheese with hints of hazelnut and brown butter
  • Halloumi: Salty Cypriot cheese with firm texture, keeps shape when cooked
  • Queso cotija: Mexican cheese with crumbly texture, salty kick, doesn’t melt well
  • Feta: Greek cheese that is tangy, crumbly, and pairs well with Mediterranean flavors
  • Aged cheddar: Sharp cheddar that is widely available and budget-friendly

Don’t be afraid to experiment with these alternatives to find your perfect Parmesan substitute based on flavor preferences, recipe needs, dietary wants, and cost.

Storing Parmesan Cheese and Substitutes

To retain freshness and flavor of Parmesan and substitute cheeses:

  • Refrigerate in original packaging until opened
  • Wrap tightly in parchment or wax paper once opened
  • Place wrapped cheese in airtight container
  • Change the wrapping parchment every few days
  • Avoid prolonged temperature fluctuations

If freezing for longer term storage:

  • Double wrap cheese tightly in plastic wrap
  • Place in airtight freezer bag or container
  • Freeze up to 6 months for best quality and texture

Follow specialized storage guidelines for dairy-free substitutes like nutritional yeast and soy Parmesan as well. Proper storage optimizes shelf life and the preservation of flavor.

Cooking with Parmesan Substitutes

When cooking with a Parmesan cheese substitute, adapt methods and quantities based on the specific qualities of the ingredient:

  • Softer cheeses: Require more delicate handling when grating. May melt faster so adjust baking times.
  • Hard cheeses: Can be aggressively grated into fine particles without crumbling. Hold shape well when baked or fried.
  • Crumbly cheeses: Ideal for sprinkling over finished dishes. Won’t work as well melted into smooth sauces.
  • Milder flavors: Use greater quantities to achieve suitable flavor depth.
  • Pungent flavors: Exercise restraint with measured quantities to avoid overwhelming dish.

Test small amounts of any new substitute before incorporating into full recipes. Sensory assessments of taste, texture, and melting properties will inform ideal usage amounts and applications going forward. A substitute may be delicious but won’t necessarily mimic Parmesan perfectly. Embrace those unique flavors and characteristics.

Key Takeaway: Tailor cooking methods and quantities to suit the distinct qualities of Parmesan substitute ingredients based on preliminary taste and melt tests.

Recipes Using Parmesan Substitutes

Parmesan substitutes can elegantly step in for Parmesan cheese in classic Italian recipes:

Eggplant Parmesan

A beloved vegetarian Italian dish, eggplant Parmesan layers sautéed eggplant, marinara sauce, melted cheese, and fresh basil. Try substituting Parm with:

  • Asiago for gooey melted texture
  • Pecorino for deeper flavor
  • Almond Parmesan for dairy-free option

Pesto Pasta

Pesto pasta combines fresh basil pesto sauce with spaghetti or linguine, finished with Parmesan cheese. Substitute with:

  • Pecorino Romano for the authentic Italian experience
  • Nutritional yeast to keep it dairy-free
  • Manchego for a unique Spanish twist

Parmesan Risotto

Creamy Parmesan risotto features rice slowly simmered in broth, white wine, onions, garlic, and butter or oil before Parmesan is finally stirred in. Swap Parmesan for:

  • Grana Padano to stretch the budget
  • Gruyère for it's smooth melting properties
  • Soy Parmesan to make this classic dairy-free

So while Parmesan may be the traditional choice, don’t limit yourself. Embrace flavor adventures with substitute ingredients perfectly suited to your needs.


What's the closest cheese substitute for Parmesan?

The closest substitutes that mimic Parmesan's texture and flavor are Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, and Asiago.

What is the best cheese to use if you don't have Parmesan?

Some top options to use if Parmesan is unavailable include Pecorino Romano, Asiago, Manchego, Gruyère, or aged white cheddar.

Is there a keto substitute for Parmesan cheese?

Yes, Pecorino Romano makes an excellent keto-friendly substitute with a similar nutrition profile to Parmesan. Other good keto subs are Grana Padano, Asiago, and aged goat cheeses.

What can I use instead of Parmesan cheese if I’m lactose intolerant?

Try dairy-free substitutes like nutritional yeast, soy Parmesan, almond Parmesan, or toasted walnuts/almonds/sunflower seeds for a Parmesan alternative if lactose intolerant.

Is Parmesan cheese gluten-free?

Yes, authentic Parmesan cheese is certified gluten-free. However, some alternative cheese products may contain questionable ingredients, so verify gluten-free status if following a gluten-free diet.

Can I freeze Parmesan cheese substitutes?

Most hard cheeses can be frozen, including Parmesan substitutes like Pecorino Romano and Asiago. However, freezing may impact texture once thawed. Avoid freezing soft substitutes like goat cheese or ricotta salata.


While Parmesan cheese boasts unique qualities that can truly elevate recipes, suitable substitutes are available to achieve similar flavors, textures, and meltability. Hard Italian cheeses like Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano offer comparable results, while options like Gruyère, Manchego, Asiago, cheddar, and others provide delicious flavor adventures of their own.

Vegans need not fear either, with umami-rich choices like nutritional yeast and soy Parmesan mimicking the savory satisfaction Parmesan lends. Even bold whole foods like olives, nuts, and seeds can step in to impart intense hits of salt, crunch and healthy fats when needed.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!