7 ‘Grate’ Parmesan Substitutes
Parmesan is famous around the world as the “King of Cheeses”, and for good reason! Parmesan cheese wheels are huge! Weighing close to 90 lbs each and an 18-inch diameter, these wheels are serious business.
Every single wheel is inspected twice and given a stamp of approval following ancient standards set by Italian cheese makers over 100 years ago. Now, if that doesn’t earn you the title of “King of Cheeses,” we don’t know what would!
Parmesan cheese is a very hard (one of the hardest) cheese, with a granular texture which is a result of its high fat and salt content.
Although it is smooth when melted, parmesan cheese is very high in glutamate, which gives it its signature umami flavor, as well as its somewhat grainy texture. Real parmesan is aged for a minimum of 12 months to allow the glutamate to develop.
Once aged, this world-famous cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk is ready for grading, and shortly after that, it is ready for grating! Finely grated parmesan is most popular because, as you may know, parmesan cheese is very expensive!
This is in part due to its long aging process, and because it is only produced in one region of the world… in Parma, Italy. Parmesan Reggiano is produced solely in one village, although its close cousin, Parmesan (sans Reggiano) is produced in Bologna and Mantua.
Regardless of where it is made, this cheese is always made from the best milk, aged for one year, and brined in salt for the first three weeks, giving it its signature salty flavor.
Parmesan only ever contains those two ingredients and is always thoroughly inspected and cared for before leaving its facility to end up in grocery stores all over the world. It is then consumed by cheese lovers all over the world, primarily used in Italian fare, to top pasta, salads, soups, and more.
The price of parmesan fluctuates wildly, based on fuel costs and inflation, so sometimes using parmesan in a humble recipe is beyond your budget. It can also be hard to find in some places, so you may need to use one of the following substitutes.
1. Grana Padano
Grana Padano is very similar to parmesan and is also made in Italy from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Grana Padano is made in other regions of the country and with much less strict grading policies, meaning it is more readily available and often less expensive.
You can use Grana Padano the exact same way as you’d use parmesan, though you should be careful about saying that in Italy!
There is a hot debate over the use of Grana Padano, and many Italians believe it is the “lazy-man’s Parmesan” and considered a cheap shortcut by many high-end chefs and restaurateurs. But for home cooks looking for a solid, budget-friendly version, Grana Padano works great!
2. Gran Moravia
Considered the Parmesan Reggiano of the Czech Republic, this cheese is full of its history, tradition, and storytelling! Gran Moravia is just as it sounds… a version of the classic, Italian-made Parmesan Reggiano, made in the Czech Republic using their own recipes and standard practices.
This cheese is very similar to parmesan in texture, flavor, and appearance. It is salty, nutty, slightly sweet, and full of big umami!
Gran Moravia is made in a very similar way to parmesan, using the same techniques and traditions, but of course tastes and feels slightly different as they use different milk and recipes.
This cheese can be found in specialty stores and used as an exact replacement for parmesan in any recipe.
Similar to Parmesan Reggiano in all facets except its size, Reggianito is the Argentinian version of parmesan!
Just like Gran Moravia, this cheese is made in a very similar way to parmesan and is almost indistinguishable in color, flavor, texture, and quality. The only difference is that Reggianito is made in much smaller wheels.
Although this cheese is only aged for six months rather than a full year, it is very similar to parmesan as it was originally invented by Italian immigrants in Argentina who said they missed their famous cheese from home. Reggianito is an excellent replacement for parmesan in any recipe!
Asiago is another of Italy’s great cheeses. Asiago makers follow the same strict guidelines in production and have the same pride in their cheese as Parmesan Reggiano makers.
Asiago only comes from certain regions of Italy and is the most popular cheese to come from its particular DOC.
Asiago is also made from cow’s milk and is firm and salty, perfect for grating. However, asiago melts faster and has a smoother, less crumbly texture than traditional parmesan, and is considered a Swiss-style cheese. It can be used in salads, soups, pastas, fillings, and more.
Pecorino is a famous hard cheese often made in Sardinia, Italy. The only difference between Pecorino and Parmesan Reggiano is that Pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and comes in different varieties that include ingredients other than milk and salt — a sign of true parmesan.
Pecorino is known for its sharp, unique flavor, due to being made with sheep’s milk, which has a different flavor profile than cow’s milk.
6. Nutritional Yeast
Most vegan folks will admit that nutritional yeast (also known as nooch) is not cheese per se. But it does share some of the same characteristics of the beloved parmesan!
Nutritional yeast on its own is quite savory, and has that same umami flavor you get from real parmesan and its substitutes.
By blending equal parts nutritional yeast with toasted walnuts and adding a generous portion of salt, you can achieve the same texture as finely grated parmesan, as well as the nutty, salty flavor.
Although this substitute is technically not a cheese, pangrattato is paired with parmesan in certain Italian dishes, and makes a fine alternative.
Pangrattato is a mix of toasted breadcrumbs, fried in olive oil on low-medium heat and tossed with salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. Lemon zest can also be added. This topping is excellent on pasta, fish, and meats and lends itself well to the appearance, texture and flavor of any dish, just as parmesan does.
Aside from its lore and traditions, parmesan cheese is loved around the world for its rich, dense, nutty flavor, as well as its salt content and ability to transform any dish into something classic, elevated, and complex. Adding real parmesan to any dish is an easy way to transform it, but because of its unique preparation and long aging process, it can be somewhat expensive and at times, inaccessible to home cooks.
You can use any one of these substitutes in your recipes requiring parmesan, and remember what the Italians always say when it comes to parmesan: “less is more”. You don’t need to use a lot of parmesan cheese to reap the full effects, so use these substitutes with the same principles and remember that other Italian phrase… “Dolce Vita!!”
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