Parmesan Cheese vs. Mozzarella Cheese

Parmesan and mozzarella are two of the most popular types of cheese used in cooking. Both have their origins in Italy and are key ingredients in many Italian dishes.

Parmesan Cheese vs. Mozzarella Cheese

However, there are some notable differences between parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese when it comes to their texture, flavor, aging process, melting abilities, and best uses.

What is Parmesan Cheese?

Parmesan cheese, also known as Parmigiano-Reggiano, originated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. By law, authentic parmesan can only be produced in certain provinces like Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena and Mantua.

Parmesan is made from raw, unpasteurized cow's milk. The milk is partially skimmed and then formed into wheels and aged for at least 12 months, though longer aging produces a sharper, more complex flavor. This extensive aging results in a hard, granular cheese that is pale yellow in color.

Some key traits of parmesan cheese include:

  • Texture: Hard, crumbly, and gritty
  • Flavor: Strong, nutty, savory with a slightly salty taste
  • Color: Pale yellow
  • Fat Content: 25-32%
  • Best Uses: Grated over pasta, risotto, soup and salads as a seasoning

Because it takes significant time, labor and care to produce authentic parmesan cheese, it tends to be more expensive than other hard Italian cheeses. But a little bit of parmesan goes a long way in adding a rich, savory flavor punch to dishes.

Key Takeaway: Parmesan cheese is made from raw cow's milk and aged for a minimum of 12 months, resulting in a hard, crumbly texture and deep, nutty umami flavor.

What is Mozzarella Cheese?

Mozzarella originated in southern Italy, particularly the Campania region where buffalo milk was plentiful. Fresh mozzarella or mozzarella di bufala is traditionally made from the milk of Italian Mediterranean buffalos. However, cow's milk is also commonly used.

The process of making mozzarella is known as pasta filata, which involves stretching and pulling the curd into strands. This gives the finished cheese its distinctive stringy, elastic texture. After forming the curd into balls, the mozzarella is packed in liquid whey or brine.

Unlike parmesan, true mozzarella cheese does not undergo an extensive aging process and is meant to be consumed fresh. Low moisture, part skim mozzarella can keep refrigerated for up to a week, while fresh mozzarella should be eaten within just a few days of it being made.

The main characteristics of mozzarella cheese include:

  • Texture: Soft, smooth, milky - can stretch when melted
  • Flavor: Mild, delicate, slightly salty and tangy
  • Color: Porcelain white
  • Fat Content: 17-22%
  • Best Uses: Pizza, pasta, salads, sandwiches

Thanks to its high moisture content, mozzarella has a softer, creamier texture than aged hard cheeses. When baked or grilled, it beautifully melts, stretches and browns.

Key Takeaway: Mozzarella cheese is a fresh, unaged cheese made from the milk of water buffalo or cows. It has a bright white color and soft, milky texture that melts and stretches when cooked.

Main Differences Between Parmesan and Mozzarella

While parmesan and mozzarella are both Italian cheeses made from cow or buffalo milk, they have notable differences when it comes to:


Parmesan is a hard, crumbly cheese that breaks into grated shards and powder. Mozzarella is soft and pliable with an elastic, stringy texture.


Parmesan is sharper, tangier and more pungent, while mozzarella is milder with a delicate milky flavor.

Aging Process

Parmesan is aged 1-3 years to intensify its flavor and texture, while mozzarella is not aged and meant to be eaten fresh.

Melting Abilities

The high moisture content of fresh mozzarella allows it to beautifully melt and stretch when cooked. Aged parmesan has a grittier texture and does not melt as easily.

Best Uses

The intense, savory flavor of parmesan makes it ideal for grating and seasoning dishes. The milky flavor and stretchy texture of mozzarella suits being the bulk of pizza or baked pasta.

TextureHard, crumblySoft, smooth
FlavorStrong, nuttyMild, delicate
Aging12+ monthsNot aged
MeltingLow meltabilityMelts and stretches
Best UsesSeasoning dishesPizza, pasta bakes

Both cheeses can add wonderful flavor to Italian cuisine. But their differing characteristics make parmesan and mozzarella suited for different uses.

How is Parmesan Cheese Made?

Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese requires painstaking effort to create. The process includes:

  1. Quality Milk: The cows graze on grass and hay from approved northern Italian dairy farms. Their milk has just the right protein and fat balance.
  2. Curdling: Rennet and whey are added to partially skimmed milk to form curds, while keeping just the right ratio of fat to solids.
  3. Forming Wheels: After heating the curd mixture, it coagulates into one mass, which cheese makers skillfully separate into two equal pieces. These lumps are pressed into molds to form wheels.
  4. Brining: The wheels are soaked for 3 weeks in saltwater brine, which draws out moisture and allows salt absorption. This helps inhibit bacteria growth during aging.
  5. Aging: The parmesan wheels age on wooden shelves for at least 12 months to develop complex flavors and hard texture. Most are aged for 2-3 years.
  6. Inspection: Strict protocols certify which wheels qualify as true Parmigiano-Reggiano worthy of fire branding. This rigid process limits supply and increases cost. But it guarantees quality traditional production methods are followed.

The result is a granular, brittle cheese with crystalline structure that fractures beautifully and packs an umami punch.

Key Takeaway: Making authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano involves carefully controlling the ingredients and process - from the farm source, to forming wheels by hand, salt water brining and aging over 1 year to intensify flavor.

How is Mozzarella Cheese Made?

There are a few variations, but traditional mozzarella di bufala production follows this general process:

  1. Curdling Milk: Rennet is added to milk (often from Italian water buffalo) to curdle it. The milk can be pasteurized or raw.
  2. Cutting Curds: The coagulated curds are cut into little pieces and then mixed and stretched in hot whey to develop texture.
  3. Molding: The pliable stretched curd mass is hand pulled into long ropes and shaped into balls or braids.
  4. Brining: Unlike aged cheeses, the fresh mozzarella balls do not spend weeks in saltwater. Instead they get briefly brined or packed in whey to absorb some salt before sale.
  5. Quick Use: Within just hours or days of production, the fresh mozzarella balls are sold to consumers or restaurants to use soon. Their delicate milky flavor declines with extended storage.

The process avoids prolonged aging or pressing to make the end product soft and milky white in color - ideal for melting smoothly over pizza. Thanks to its high moisture and mild flavor, it complements other ingredients without overpowering them.

Key Takeaway: Fresh mozzarella cheese is made by briefly brining hand stretched and molded unaged cheese curds, which keeps it soft textured with a light milky flavor.

Ideal Uses for Parmesan Cheese

The intensity and saltiness of aged parmesan means that a little bit can provide tons of flavor. Its distinctive taste and granular texture also make it ideal for:


The crumbly texture of wedge parmesan makes it perfect for grating into a fine shower of flavorful cheese powder.

Seasoning Dishes

Sprinkle parmesan over pasta, risotto, minestrone soup or Italian-style salads for a savory flavor punch.

Enhancing Rich Foods

The sharp saltiness of parmesan pairs well with foods like meatballs, mushroom sauces and olive oil to accentuate their richness.

Standing Up to Robust Toppings

Hard Italian cheeses like parm hold up to pungent ingredients like garlic and aged balsamic vinegar when used as a pizza topping.

Adding Salty Tang

A little bit of parmesan adds a tasty tang that contrasts sweet fruits like pears, melons, figs or homemade jam when arranged on a cheese plate.

While you can bake parmesan into dishes, its granular texture doesn't melt smoothly. Parmesan is best when showered over food or enjoyed in shards.

Ideal Uses for Mozzarella Cheese

Thanks to its mild flavor and soft texture that beautifully melts and stretches when cooked, mozzarella cheese suits:

Melting Cheesy Bakes

Oozing mozzarella is stringy cheese heaven in lasagna, vegetable bakes, stuffed shells or as pizza cheese blanketed in tasty toppings.

Adding Creamy Softness

Fresh mozzarella adds a lovely creamy soft contrast of flavor and texture amidst crunchy components in salads or charcuterie boards.

Complementing Other Flavors

The mild milky flavor harmonizes well with the sweetness of vegetables like tomatoes and bell peppers as well as rich meats.

Binding Flavorful Ingredients

When tossed with basil, tomatoes and balsamic, fresh mozzarella turns them into a caprese salad. Its mildness allows the other ingredients’ flavors to shine.

Stuffing Fried Foods

Balls or blocks of mozzarella can be battered and fried or used to stuff moist ingredients into arancini, calzones and deep fried ravioli.

The beauty of melting soft fresh mozzarella is it allows other ingredients’ textures and flavors to take the spotlight while contributing its creamy mouthfeel.


Is mozzarella or parmesan better for pizza?

Mozzarella is better for pizza thanks to how it melts into delicious stretchy strings across the surface. Parmesan doesn't melt smoothly so is best just grated on top.

Can you substitute parmesan for mozzarella?

It's best not to substitute parmesan for mozzarella or vice versa. Their flavor intensity, melting capacities and textures behave quite differently during cooking.

Is fresh mozzarella the same as regular mozzarella?

Fresh mozzarella is sold packed in water or whey and has a softer, creamier texture than regular block mozzarella which been aged for longer. Both can work great on pizza though!

Can I mix parmesan and mozzarella?

You absolutely can combine parmesan and mozzarella in baked Italian dishes like lasagna, vegetable bakes or eggplant Parmesan! Their flavors and textures pair excellently.


While mozzarella and parmesan are both prized Italian cheeses, they differ considerably in terms of their aging process, texture, melting capacities and best culinary uses.

Mozzarella is perfect for melting smoothly across pizza, pasta bakes, lasagna and other dishes needing gooey cheese. It has a softer texture and clean, milky flavor that lets other ingredients shine.

Parmesan is specially suited for grating and seasoning foods. Its crumbly granular texture and intense nutty, salty kick make it ideal for accenting flavor. A little bit also goes a long way!

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!