I personally taste-tested a variety of Parmesan substitutes to find the best one for every occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for Parmesan is Grana Padano, which is normally much cheaper. Pecorino Romano is also good if you don’t mind a sharper flavor. Nutritional yeast mixed with ground nuts, salt, and garlic powder is a great vegan alternative. And for a really cheap option, try salt-cured egg yolk or seasoned breadcrumbs.
I made this delicious mushroom risotto to test out several different Parmesan alternatives.
“Real” Parmesan is known as Parmigiano Reggiano and is produced in a specific region in Italy. There are strict controls on its production and it must be aged for a minimum of 12 months, but it’s typically aged for between 24-36 months. This aging gives it a hard, granular texture, and a rich, nutty taste. Sadly, it’s also pretty expensive which means it’s not an everyday cheese.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano||Best substitutes||10/10|
|Nutritional Yeast + Ground Nuts||Walnuts best||9/10|
|Dried Olives + Miso||Good for sauces||8/10|
|Cotija Cheese||“Mexican Parmesan”||9/10|
|Salt Cured Egg Yolk||Takes 5-7 days||7/10|
|Seasoned Breadcrumbs / Pangrattato||Very cheap||7/10|
|Umami Rich Ingredients||e.g marmite, fish sauce, mushroom powder||7/10|
|Any Hard Aged Cheese||e.g aged Gouda or Asiago||9/10|
Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano
When it comes to finding a substitute for Parmesan, Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano are two of the best options. Grana Padano is often half the price of Parmesan and is very similar both in terms of texture and flavor. The main difference between Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) and Grana Padano is aging time – Parmesan is typically aged for about 24 months, while Grana Padano is aged for around 9-16 months. This gives Grana Padano a milder, less intense flavor that’s less salty.
Pecorino Romano can also be more affordable (but not always), and has a saltier, sharper flavor than Parmesan. Comparing the two cheeses is like comparing lemon to lime – they’re similar but with a unique twist. Some people prefer Pecorino Romano and you can also get away with using less because of its more robust taste.
Psst… you can also use any generic cheese labeled ‘Parmesan’, but the flavors won’t be as deep and umami-like.
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan in a 1:1 ratio with Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano (you can also use less Pecorino Romano).
Nutritional Yeast + Ground Nuts (vegan)
A great vegan alternative to Parmesan is a blend of nutritional yeast and ground nuts. You’ll often see nutritional yeast suggested as a substitute on its own but I found its flavor too overwhelming. Then I came across the suggestion to mix it with ground nuts and it was so much better!
You can use walnuts, cashews, pine nuts, almonds, hemp seeds, or sunflower seeds, but I think walnuts gets you closest to Parmesan cheese (and they’re nutritional powerhouses!). For 1 cup of raw walnuts, mix in 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast. Then season with salt and garlic powder to taste.
Once you have the mixture you’ll need to store it in the fridge.
Pro tip: Ideally you’d use a food processor to grind the nuts, but a sharp knife can work as well.
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan in a 1:1 ratio with your nutritional yeast and nut mixture.
Dried Olives + Miso (vegan)
Another innovative vegan Parmesan involves using olives and miso paste (this inspiration for this comes from serious eats). The final texture of the mixture means it’s great for sprinkling but also for using in sauces.
You need to mix green olives, white miso paste (although someone in the comments used red), lemon zest, and rosemary until you have a rough paste, and then dry the paste in a low oven for 4-6 hours. If you’re short on time, you can also dry the mixture by putting it in the microwave for an hour on the defrost setting.
When it’s dry and crumbly, you can crumble it into a jar where it’ll keep for 2 months. If you want to create a sort of pesto texture, you can mix some olive oil in.
And as with any homemade recipe, feel free to adjust the quantities to your liking! I’m not the biggest fan of rosemary, so I used slightly less than suggested.
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade olive and miso mixture.
Cotija cheese, often dubbed the ‘Mexican Parmesan’, is an excellent and cheap substitute for Parmesan cheese if it’s available in your area. You can think of it like a cross between Parmesan and feta, with a salty, milky flavor.
In terms of texture, Cotija is less hard than Parmesan, which means it doesn’t shred as well. But you can still grate it or crumble it into dishes. I didn’t find the Cotija cheese has as much depth as Parmesan, so I would recommend substituting it as a finishing cheese rather than when Parmesan is the main ingredient. The saltiness can get too overwhelming if Cotija is the main flavor.
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan with 3/4 the amount of Cotija cheese.
Salt Cured Egg Yolk
Salt-cured egg yolks are surprisingly Parmesan-like and have a rich, umami flavor. But they do require some planning ahead!
To make your own, use a 1:1 mixture of salt and sugar. Nestle the egg yolks into the mixture, ensuring they are completely covered, and let them cure in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. After curing, gently rinse off the salt and sugar mixture and dry the yolks in a low oven until they have a hard, grateable texture (around 2 hours at 150F).
These cured yolks are super budget-friendly and will last a month in the fridge. They’ll add a nice splash of color to your food too!
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan in a 1:1 ratio with grated salt-cured egg yolk.
Seasoned Breadcrumbs / Pangrattato (vegan)
Seasoned breadcrumbs are affectionately referred to as ‘poor man’s Parmesan’ because of their ability to mimic the salty, savoryness of Parmesan at a fraction of the cost. The breadcrumbs also add a nice texture, although you can only use them for sprinkling purposes.
To make Pangrattato, fry homemade breadcrumbs in a high-quality oil, adding seasonings such as garlic, thyme, lemon zest, or, for an extra kick of umami, anchovies. Once the breadcrumbs are golden, season them with salt to taste (flaky sea salt is best).
Psst… if you like spice you can also throw some chili into the mix too.
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan in a 1:1 ratio with your seasoned breadcrumbs.
Umami Rich Ingredients (vegan options)
If Parmesan is being used in your recipe for a hit of umami flavor rather than as a main ingredient, there are loads of alternatives you can consider.
For example, marmite (or any other yeast extract) is an excellent choice for adding some depth to a meat ragu or spaghetti bolognese. An anchovy filet or two will never hurt either. If you’re a fan of Asian cuisine, then you can use your trusty fish sauce or a small amount of miso paste. Both are jam-packed with umami.
Mushroom powder is perfect in sauces, stews, and pastas, but will also impart a slightly earthy flavor. And finally, you can try brewers yeast, which is cheesy and nutty.
Most of these ingredients have a very concentrated flavor, so a little goes a long way. Especially fish sauce, don’t overdo that!
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan with a few drops of your chosen umami-rich ingredient.
Any Hard Aged Cheese
Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano are the best cheese substitutes for Parmesan, but really any hard, aged cheese will work. Aged cheese all have a similar umami depth to them and a crystalline texture.
Aged Gouda, has a rich, caramel-like flavor, so is great if you want something a bit sweeter. Aged Gruyère is another slightly sweeter option with a nutty undertone.
Asiago, especially the aged variety (Asiago d’Allevo) has a fruitier note. And Manchego (a Spanish cheese) is rich and buttery.
The problem with these substitutes is that they might not be much cheaper than Parmesan.
How to substitute: Replace Parmesan in a 1:1 ratio with another aged cheese.
Substitute To Avoid
Aged Cheddar is a versatile and flavorful cheese, but it’s not an ideal substitute for Parmesan. Aged cheddar has a sharp, tangy flavor and a creamier texture. It’s not salty, doesn’t have much umami, and doesn’t melt in the same way as Parmesan.
Using aged cheddar in your dish won’t ruin it (it’s still cheese after all), but it will turn it into a completely different dish.
BEST Substitutes For Parmesan + 1 To Avoid
- 50 g Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano
- 50 g Nutritional Yeast + Ground Nuts vegan
- 50 g Dried Olives + Miso vegan
- 50 g Cotija Cheese
- 50 g Salt Cured Egg Yolk
- 50 g Seasoned Breadcrumbs vegan
- 1-2 drops Umami Rich Ingredients marmite, fish sauce
- 50 g Any Hard Aged Cheese gouda, asigo
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen parmesan substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.