Pecorino Cheese Substitutes & Taste
Pecorino is one of the oldest cheeses in the world, according to Roman records. The first record of this cheese dates back to Ancient Rome when soldiers were given a one-ounce ration each week, and it was said to give them extra strength come battle time.
Now, we are not suggesting that this cheese is somehow magical, but it certainly is nutritious and delicious enough to lift anyone’s spirits.
Pecorino is an Italian hard cheese and derives its name from the word Pecora, which means sheep in Italian. This sheep cheese is not quite like any other — it can be milky, creamy, firm, granular, smooth, and nutty all at once!
Pecorino comes in three different forms:
- stagionato (firm, nutty, buttery, granular);
- semi stagionato;
- fresco (not aged very long and softer, milder).
Its rind is often edible and rubbed with olive oil, but it can also be inedible if it is dipped in wax or paraffin so make sure you inspect thoroughly before digging in! Pecorino grates and sliced great, and it is one of those cheeses where a little bit tends to go a long way. Its flavor is rich, deep, and complex.
You can find Pecorino in most higher-end grocery stores and we recommend it in its whole form, as opposed to grated or powdered. Sometimes you will find new varieties that blend the cheese with honey, spices, and peppercorns, and even one variety that uses a food-safe mold to flavor it!!
It is also important to note that all Pecorino contains rennet (typically from lambs on the same farm as the sheep) so this cheese is not suitable for vegetarians.
Although most Pecorino is made in Sardinia, it can be produced in other areas of Italy. It has been produced for hundreds if not thousands of years and the process of making this cheese has become revered and respected by Italians.
“Nothing is quite like Pecorino Romano.” In fact, many Romans actually reject the idea that Parmesan Reggiano is superior to Pecorino! They say that Pecorino deserves more clout than the famous cow’s milk wheel… but we’ll leave it up to you to decide!
In the meantime, try any one of these substitutes for Pecorino…
Although quite similar to Pecorino Romano, this cheese should not be confused with its Italian counterpart. Romano cheese is American-made and can be a combination of sheep milk (rare in the U.S) as well as cow, goat, ewe, etc.
This cheese is quite similar to the real thing but will not have the same signature creaminess and grittiness, and will also be paler in color with a less complex flavor profile.
If you’re planning on using Pecorino as a filling for pasta or an addition to an already delicious dish then this alternative will work just fine!
2. Italian Parmesan Reggiano, Grana Padano, or Asiago
You can certainly use either one of these famous Italian cheeses as a substitute for Pecorino. Parmesan will lend itself nicely to any dish that requires a hint of salt and nuttiness, whereas Asiago is a great substitute if you’re on a budget, as both Pecorino and Parmesan can be quite expensive.
Grana Padano is almost indistinguishable from Pecorino except for its subtle flavor profile differences, as Grana Padano is always made from skim cow’s milk and Pecorino as you know is made from full-fat sheep’s milk.
These cheeses will all be slightly different in flavor and texture but are all high-quality and equally delicious!
3. Spanish Manchego
Manchego is probably the most similar cheese to Pecorino in that it is made from sheep’s milk, aged for a certain amount of time, and has a very strong, salty flavor as well as a grainy, crumble texture if you go for an aged version.
The only real difference between these two kinds of cheese is the region in which they are made, and only the most prolific cheese experts will be able to tell the difference!
The other tell-tale sign is Manchego’s signature inedible rind, so keep that in mind if you are using Manchego instead of Pecorino, you may need to purchase a slightly larger piece of cheese to account for cutting the rind off.
4. Cheddar Cheese
Classic Cheddar cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, so it will not have the same flavor profile as Pecorino, but it will melt and grate like Pecorino, especially if you find a good quality, aged Cheddar cheese.
An aged Cheddar will have the same sharp bite, and they stand up to melting, slicing, and eating raw and are used to top elegant Italian food.
Cheddar cheese also has the same smooth texture and firm bite as Pecorino and its Spanish cousin, Manchego, so it does make a suitable substitute if you’re in a pinch!
5. Piave Cheese
Named after the Italian region from which it originated, Piave cheese hails from the Piave river area. This area is dense with farms and flat, robust lands known for their crop yields and livestock farming.
Piave cheese is one of their most famous exports and this cheese, although similar to Pecorino, is completely unique in that it is a cooked cheese!
First, this cheese is cooked and then cured, and then aged, giving it a very full spectrum of flavors, and is sold at each stage with different colors of labels. The youngest of these options is a dense, very crumbly cheese that is mild if not slightly sweet.
The aged version which you will find is most similar to a classic Pecorino, is full-bodied, nutty, and complex. Piave would make an excellent addition to any cheese board or rich pasta dish, and makes a perfect substitute for Pecorino!
6. Ossau-Iraty Cheese
Although this cheese is lesser known and a bit of a tongue-twister, if you can find it, it will make the best Pecorino substitute possible! This cheese is perhaps one of the only known cheeses that are older than Pecorino and has a richer history.
Considered one of the first cheese recipes ever recorded, Ossau-Iraty is literally ancient cheese!! Instead of being made in the hills of Italy, this French cheese is made from sheep’s milk found in France, using French guidelines for cheesemaking.
This cheese is very popular in France but can be a bit tricky to find in the West, so you might have to go searching but we can assure you, this cheese is well worth the wait! Ossau-Iraty is rich and complex in flavor and has a brilliant mouthfeel similar to Pecorino.
If you try this cheese at a market or under the guidance of a cheesemonger, they might suggest that you let the cheese sit on your tongue for a few minutes before chewing, and you will see the flavors of this dense cheese unfold and become nuttier and more complex as the moments pass. If that isn’t a wonderful cheese experience, we don’t know what is!
Pecorino is a unique cheese full of history and big, bold flavors, so finding a replacement for it might seem difficult. However, Pecorino is not so different from the cheeses on this list, especially the ones made in Italy, following the same strict standards and using the same prime ingredients.
The real secret behind Pecorino is the particular sheep’s milk used in its production, so you will not find a cheese that tastes exactly like Pecorino, but we think these examples come pretty close… and if not, then at least you will have a delicious time trying them out!
Related: Most Popular Italian Pasta Dishes