Pecorino Romano Cheese Alternatives

Pecorino Romano is a hard Italian cheese made from sheep's milk that is known for its sharp, salty, and nutty flavor. It has a gritty, crumbly texture that makes it perfect for grating over pastas, pizzas, salads, and more.

Pecorino Romano Cheese Alternatives

As a protected designation of origin (PDO) cheese in the European Union, authentic Pecorino Romano can only be made in specific regions of Italy, using traditional methods passed down for generations. This gives it a unique taste that is hard to duplicate.

However, you don't need to miss out on those nutty, umami flavors if you don't have Pecorino Romano on hand! There are several excellent substitutes for Pecorino Romano that you likely already have in your fridge or pantry.

What Makes Pecorino Romano Cheese So Distinctive

To understand how to mimic the taste of Pecorino Romano, it helps to know what makes this cheese special in the first place. Here are some of its defining characteristics:

  • Made from sheep's milk - The Italian word "pecorino" actually means "made from sheep's milk." Sheep's milk has higher levels of fat and protein compared to cow or goat varieties. This gives Pecorino Romano a richer, more complex flavor.
  • Aged 8 months or longer - Pecorino Romano is aged for a minimum of 8 months, though some wheels are aged even longer, up to a year. The longer the aging time, the sharper and more crumbly the cheese becomes. Young Pecorino Romano has a milder, creamier consistency in comparison.
  • Brined during aging process - Traditional Pecorino Romano is rubbed with salt and brined as it ages. This gives the cheese its trademark saltiness.
  • Sharp, salty, nutty taste - The combination of sheep's milk, extended aging time, and brining leads to bold flavors of salt, umami, and nuts.
  • Hard, crumbly texture - The aging process causes moisture to evaporate from the cheese, leaving behind a dry, crumbling texture perfect for grating.

So when searching for a replacement, these are the qualities to look for! Getting as close as possible will ensure your substitute does the real deal justice.

Best Replacements for Pecorino Romano Cheese

If you don't have any Pecorino Romano on hand, don't stress! Here are the top cheeses and dairy-free substitutes to stand in when Pecorino Romano is called for.


True Parmesan cheese (known as Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy) is another protected cheese that can only come from certain regions in Italy. Like Pecorino Romano, it is made from raw, unpasteurized milk and aged over a year to develop flavor.

While Parmesan uses cow's milk instead of sheep's, it has a similar dry, gritty texture and nutty, salty taste. For most recipes, it can be swapped 1:1 for Pecorino Romano by grating over pastas, pizzas, salads, and more.

One difference is that Parmesan is generally less salty than Pecorino Romano. If needed, add a pinch more salt to your dish when using Parmesan instead.

Grana Padano

Grana Padano is often called the "everyman's Parmesan" since the production area is much larger in Italy. Despite this, it shares many qualities with Parmesan.

Grana Padano is made from raw Italian cow's milk and aged nearly a year to develop flavor. The texture is slightly less crumbly than Pecorino Romano, with a sweeter, nuttier taste.

Use an equal amount of grated Grana Padano in place of Pecorino Romano. Since it is less salty, taste the dish first before adding more salt.

Aged Asiago

Asiago is an Italian cow's milk cheese with a smooth, mild flavor when young. But when aged over 6 months, it becomes firm with a sharp, pungent bite similar to aged Pecorino Romano.

For substitutions, use the aged variety known as Asiago d'Allevo. Its crumbly texture and robust flavor stands up well in recipes calling for Pecorino Romano.

Since the flavor is stronger, you can use a little less Asiago than Pecorino Romano called for. Taste and adjust as needed.


Spanish Manchego cheese is a sheep's milk variety with a salty, nutty quality reminiscent of Pecorino Romano. To get the closest match, use Manchego Viejo, which is aged 12 months or more.

The aging gives it a firm, crumbling texture and deep caramel notes similar to Romano. Manchego is slightly sweeter and less salty, but it adds excellent flavor when grated sparingly over Italian dishes.

Aged Cheddar or Gouda

For a more affordable option, go for an extra-sharp Cheddar or aged Gouda cheese. Choose a variety aged at least a year so the texture is sufficiently firm and flavor is nice and sharp.

The taste won't be an exact match since these are made from cow's milk. But adding a bit more salt can help approximate the salty tang. Grated sparingly, these hard cheeses add a tasty pop of flavor to all kinds of Italian recipes.

Feta Cheese

Feta is a classic Greek cheese made from sheep and/or goat's milk. It has a salty, tangy flavor that adds plenty of taste when crumbled over Mediterranean dishes.

The texture and milk type is quite different from Pecorino Romano. But a little feta crumbled over pasta or salad makes a tasty substitute when you have nothing else on hand.

Queso Cotija

Queso Cotija is a Mexican cheese named for the town Cotija in Michoacán. When aged, the crumbling sheep's milk cheese has a dry, salty flavor similar to feta or Pecorino Romano.

While more crumbly than salty, Cotija adds a unique depth of flavor when sprinkled over Mexican recipes. Use it as a topping replacement for Pecorino Romano on pasta or meat dishes for a tasty fusion twist.

Ricotta Salata

Ricotta salata is a firm, salted variety of ricotta cheese made from sheep or cow's milk whey. It has a mild milky flavor with salty, buttery notes.

While considerably milder than Pecorino Romano, ricotta salata adds pleasant salty-sweetness when crumbled over salads, pastas, pizzas and more.

Key Takeaway: Parmesan, Grana Padano, aged Asiago, Manchego, sharp Cheddar, and aged Gouda are all good swaps for Pecorino Romano thanks to their crumbly texture and sharp, salty flavors.

Tips for Getting the Most Flavor from Replacements

When using a substitute for Pecorino Romano, keep these tips in mind to maximize the flavor:

  • Grate or crumble - Get the most surface area out of any hard replacement cheese by grating or crumbling it finely over your dish. This releases more flavorful oils and gives you salty hits in every bite.
  • Focus on aged varieties - Seek out well-aged versions of cheeses like Asiago, Cheddar, Manchego and Gouda. The longer aging time concentrates the flavors and firms up the texture best for grating/crumbling.
  • Add salt if needed - Many replacements for Pecorino Romano are less salty by nature. Taste test your dish first before adding more salt if desired. A light sprinkling can help enhance the salty flavor of milder cheeses.
  • Use sparingly - Alternatives with sharper flavors like Parmesan or Asiago should use a little less than the Pecorino Romano a recipe calls for. You can always add more if you want a stronger cheesy presence!
  • Toast breadcrumbs - If you have no cheese on hand, toasted breadcrumbs are a traditional stand-in for grated parmesan in Italy. Toss panko or breadcrumbs in oil or butter then toast lightly golden. Sprinkle immediately onto hot pasta or other dishes in place of Pecorino Romano.

Key Takeaway: Grating/crumbling, using aged varieties, adding salt, using less of stronger cheeses, and sprinkling toasted breadcrumbs are all ways to maximize flavor from Pecorino Romano replacements.

Dairy-Free Substitutions

If you need vegan Pecorino Romano alternatives due to dietary restrictions, you have tasty options!

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is made from an inactive yeast strain grown specifically for its cheesy, nutty flavor rather than leavening properties.

The flakes have an ultra-savoury, cheese-like taste that can mimic the salty umami hit of Pecorino Romano. Simply sprinkle them over pastas, pizzas, salads, roasted veggies, and anywhere else you would grate Romano.

Since nutritional yeast has a potent flavor, start with half the amount of Pecorino Romano called for in a recipe. You can always add more!

Cashew "Cheese"

Cashews make an excellent base for dairy-free cheese replacements. Soak raw cashews then blend into a smooth paste adding lemon juice, nutritional yeast, salt and seasonings until you get a ricotta-style texture.

Shape the cashew cheese into a log, wrap in cheesecloth, then refrigerate overnight to firm up. Grate over dishes just as you would Pecorino Romano. Tweak the ingredients to make it as savory and salty as desired.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Chopped sun-dried tomatoes add a concentration of rich, savory umami flavor to foods without any dairy.

Use them like you would crumble feta or Pecorino Romano over salads, pasta dishes, bruschetta, and pizzas. They won't provide the same salty flavor but do offer delicious texture and taste.

For an extra flavor and protein boost, use sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil rather than oil. The oil will emulsify over hot pasta and meld all the flavors together.

Key Takeaway: Nutritional yeast, homemade cashew "cheese", and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes make tasty vegan substitutions for Pecorino Romano's salty savoriness.


Is Parmesan a good substitute for Pecorino Romano?

Yes, Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) is one of the best substitutes for Pecorino Romano thanks to its similar production process, hardness, and nutty, salty flavor when grated. Since Parmesan is usually less salty than Pecorino Romano, you may need to add a bit more salt to your dish.

Can I replace Pecorino Romano with feta or goat cheese?

While they won't mimic the exact flavor and texture, you can use crumbled feta or goat cheese as an acceptable stand-in. Their tangy, salty qualities complement similar savory Mediterranean and Italian-style dishes. Just use them a little more sparingly than you would grated Pecorino Romano.

What can I use if I don’t have any cheese?

Toasted breadcrumbs or panko make an excellent no-cheese substitute for grated parmesan or Pecorino Romano. Simply fry them with a little butter or oil in a skillet until browned and crispy then toss immediately over pasta, salads, bakes, etc.

Is there a good vegan/dairy-free substitute option?

Yes! Nutritional yeast flakes make an easy vegan swap thanks to their concentrated, cheese-like umami flavor. Cashews can also be blended into a salty, spreadable texture similar to dairy cheese. Just a sprinkle of either over your favorite recipes mimics the flavors of Pecorino Romano beautifully.


While Pecorino Romano lends a uniquely bold, salty flavor to recipes, there are many excellent substitutes available when you've run out. Italian cheeses like Parmesan, Grana Padano and aged Asiago offer similar nutty, savory notes. Or get creative with crumbled Manchego, feta or ricotta salata!

Any well-aged, harder cheese can stand in when finely grated to top your favorite Italian pasta or meat dishes. And vegan alternatives like nutritional yeast and cashew cheese nail those savory, umami flavors beautifully.

SubstituteKey Qualities
ParmesanSimilar hardness, nutty & salty flavor
Grana PadanoLess crumbly, sweeter nutty flavor
Aged AsiagoSharp, crumbly, pungent flavor
Manchego ViejoAged over 12 months; salty and slightly sweet
Sharp Cheddar or Aged GoudaAged over 1 year; crumbly texture
FetaSalty and tangy
Queso CotijaDry, crumbly; adds unique depth of flavor
Ricotta SalataMildly salty-sweet
Nutritional YeastVegan; offers concentrated, cheesy umami flavor
Cashew "Cheese"Vegan; makes smooth, spreadable texture
Sun-Dried TomatoesVegan; offers rich, savory umami notes
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!