Parmesan Cheese vs. Pecorino Romano

You likely enjoy Italian food partly for the delicious cheese.

Two popular options are the sharp, salty parmesan cheese and pecorino romano cheese. But what exactly sets them apart?

Parmesan Cheese vs. Pecorino Romano

While they look similar and have some overlapping uses, parmesan and pecorino are made differently.

How Parmesan Cheese Is Made

Parmesan originated in Italy. To be called Parmigiano-Reggiano, parmesan must be produced in certain approved provinces using traditional techniques.

Parmesan comes from cow's milk. It's made into large wheels and aged for over one year, sometimes up to three years. This long aging gives it a characteristic nutty, salty flavor.

True Parmigiano-Reggiano has a hard texture and pale yellow color. It can be grated or eaten in slices or shards. The extensive aging process concentrates the flavor so a little parmesan packs a punch.

Key Takeaway: Parmesan cheese is made from cow's milk and aged over one year, giving it a salty, nutty flavor.

How Pecorino Romano Is Made

Pecorino refers to Italian cheeses made from sheep's milk. Pecorino romano is the best known variety. It's primarily produced in Sardinia and Lazio.

Pecorino romano comes from sheep's milk, making it different from cow's milk parmesan. It's aged for at least 5 months and up to 8 months.

Compared to parmesan, pecorino romano has a sharper, saltier, more pungent taste. It also has a distinctive tang and herbal flavor from the sheep's milk. Pecorino romano is white in color and doesn't melt easily.

Key Takeaway: Pecorino romano is a sheep's milk cheese with a sharper, saltier bite compared to parmesan.

Parmesan vs Pecorino: Flavor and Uses

While parmesan and pecorino romano can both be eaten plain or grated onto foods, their differing strengths make certain uses better suited for each cheese.

Parmesan Flavor and Best Uses

Milder parmesan works well:

  • Grated on pasta, risottos
  • In baked pasta dishes like lasagna
  • Topping vegetables, salads, eggs
  • On its own with cured meats or fruit

Due to its subtle nuttiness, parmesan blends seamlessly without overpowering. It adds a savory pop that enhances many dishes.

Pecorino Romano Flavor and Best Uses

Pecorino romano's boldness stands out when:

  • Paired with strong flavors like red pepper flakes and black pepper in cacio e pepe
  • Served with honey or jam to contrast the saltiness
  • Used sparingly in place of parmesan to add a kick

Too much pecorino romano can overwhelm other ingredients. But in the right amounts, its sharpness shines through.

Key Takeaway: Parmesan has a more subtle flavor good for topping many dishes, while pecorino romano is bold and best used judiciously.

Can You Substitute One for the Other?

You can swap small amounts of pecorino for parmesan and vice versa. But expect a different flavor profile due to their differences.

Some tips when substituting:

  • Use less of the stronger pecorino romano
  • Add pecorino romano slowly until the flavor pops but doesn't overwhelm
  • Grate parmesan more finely if using in a pecorino-based dish to distribute its flavor

Their tastes vary too much to directly replace one for one. But with care you can successfully use them interchangeably.

Key Takeaway: You can substitute parmesan and pecorino romano by adjusting amounts based on their difference in strength.

How to Store Parmesan and Pecorino

Properly stored, both parmesan and pecorino cheeses keep fresh for months. Follow these storage tips:

  • Buy smaller chunks and use quickly
  • Wrap tightly in parchment paper and plastic wrap/foil
  • Store in fridge vegetable crisper drawer
  • Check periodically for mold or off smells
Lasts Best When StoredParmesanPecorino Romano
Room temperature1-2 weeks1 week
Fridge6+ months6+ months
Freezer6 months6 months

With their low moisture and dense texture, hard Italian cheeses resist mold growth. But humidity and air cause them to dry out or spoil faster. Proper storage keeps both parmesan and pecorino fresh for enjoying later.


Is there lactose in Parmesan or pecorino romano?

No, neither cheese contains lactose due to the aging process. Even those sensitive to dairy can often enjoy small amounts.

What's the difference between Parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pecorino romano?

  • Parmesan is the generic English name for a style of cheese. American-made versions mimic Italian parmesan.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano refers to real parmesan meeting strict production requirements in certain Italian provinces.
  • Pecorino romano is a sheep's milk cheese with protected Italian branding.

Can you freeze Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese?

Yes, both cheeses can be frozen for up to 6 months. Make sure to double wrap the cheese to prevent freezer burn. Thaw slowly in the fridge before using.

What wine pairs well with Parmesan or pecorino?

  • For Parmesan, go with red wines like Sangiovese or Barbaresco
  • For pecorino's sharper bite, try pairing with crisp white wines like Pinot Grigio

The intensities match well without overpowering each other.


While parmesan and pecorino romano may seem interchangeable, understanding their differences helps utilize each cheese's unique traits.

Parmesan offers subtle nuttiness good for topping many dishes, while pecorino romano is bold and works best combined judiciously with other strong flavors. Both make wonderful additions to Italian cuisine and can fill in for each other 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!