Parmesan cheese is a granular cheese of Italian origin. It has a hard, gritty texture with a fruity and nutty taste. The cheese is produced in provinces like Parma (where it is named after), Reggio, and Emilia in Italy. You may have heard the cheese being referred to as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, reflecting the producing areas. Both names refer to the same cheese.
Parmesan cheese is often called the ‘King of Cheeses’ because it is more or less a perfect food. The cheese is rich in protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. It is also lactose-free and can be enjoyed on its own or combined with other recipes. Its high protein continent makes it a particular favorite among fitness enthusiasts.
So, what is the best substitute for parmesan cheese? The best substitute for parmesan cheese is Asiago Cheese. Asiago cheese is highly versatile and can fit all your parmesan cheese recipes. Asiago cheese is also sweeter than parmesan cheese, so you get more flavor with the same amount. It is made in Italy, and its texture varies, depending on its production process.
Overview of Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan cheese is produced using unpasteurized cow’s milk. It is mixed with naturally skimmed milk and pumped into copper-lined vats. Vats are used because they distribute heat evenly and add copper to the milk mix. After heating, the cheese is placed into a round stainless steel container and allowed to sit in a brine bath for nearly a month. It is then aged for a year.
The long and detailed process accounts for why parmesan cheese is so expensive. Scarcity also accounts for this — bacteria used in aging the cheese only grows in certain areas of Italy, making the cheese impossible to manufacture elsewhere.
Unfortunately, parmesan cheese may not be suitable for some vegetarians as rennet, an enzyme found in goats’ stomach lining, is used in its production. It’s unfortunate because, parmesan cheese goes well with several vegetable-based dishes, like zucchini onion pie and eggplant parmesan.
Why Replace Parmesan Cheese?
- You’re vegetarian: Parmesan cheese is made from an enzyme found in goat and calf gut. It is therefore not suitable for most vegans and vegetarians. However, there are 100% plant-based alternatives that will serve you just as well.
- You can’t find it: The cheese is only manufactured in specific provinces in Italy. As a result, you may not always find it at your local store. Thankfully, there are suitable alternatives available in greater supply around the world.
- You want a different flavor or texture: Parmesan cheese has a gritty texture with a sweet, nutty taste. Even though it’s often called a perfect food, it’s only natural to crave substitutes with a different texture and flavor.
- You can’t afford it: Parmesan cheese is one of the most expensive cheeses in the world, costing up to 50% more than many others. If you have a robust cooking budget, this may not be a problem. Otherwise, you’ll need affordable alternatives that are just as versatile and delicious.
- You want less fat: Parmesan cheese delivers a balance of nutrients, being rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fat. But if you’re on a low-fat diet, it may not be suitable for you. Luckily, tons of replacements are just as delicious and versatile, but without all the extra fat.
- You don’t want dairy: Parmesan cheese is lactose-free and can be enjoyed by lactose-intolerant people. But if you’re avoiding dairy altogether, there are also non-dairy-based cheese substitutes.
Best Substitute Options for Parmesan Cheese
Best Overall Substitute for Parmesan Cheese: Asiago Cheese
Asiago cheese is an excellent substitute for parmesan cheese because the two are so alike. Like parmesan, it can only be made in certain Italian provinces from cow’s milk. Asiago cheese is such a great substitute that it is often mistaken for parmesan in its grated form. The biggest difference between the two is that Asiago has a sweeter flavor.
Asiago cheese may be aged for any period between one month and two years. The longer the aging duration, the harder the cheese will be. The cheese can be preserved at home by wrapping it in butcher paper and storing it in the refrigerator. It can last up to six weeks before going bad.
Best Substitute for Vegans: Vegan Parmesan Cheese
Vegan parmesan is made of almond flour, nutritional yeast flakes, onion and garlic powder, and salt. It is great for vegans and vegetarians who want to enjoy the rich flavor of parmesan cheese without indirectly contributing to animal death. Vegan parmesan can be used with steaming vegetables, pasta dishes, or adding to pesto sauce.
The cheese tastes surprising like actual parmesan cheese with a slightly more umami flavor. You can make the cheese at home or buy brands like Go Veggie vegan parmesan. When refrigerated, vegan parmesan cheese will last up to four weeks and retain its flavor.
Best Substitute for an Umami Flavor: Cotija Cheese
Cotija cheese originates from Mexico, where it is known as queso anejado. The cheese is hard and white with a crumbly texture and is made from raw milk.
Cotija cheese has a sharp, salty taste that blends well with recipes like salads, soups, and casseroles. Cotija cheese is such a great substitute that it’s been dubbed the parmesan of Mexico.
Like parmesan cheese, it is aged for up to 12 months, although it may be lesser with accelerating enzymes. Another similarity between the two is that cotija is also named after the town, where it is produced.
Best Substitute for Low Fat: Sapsago
Sapsago is made in Switzerland from skimmed cow’s milk. It has a pale green color due to the herb used in making it. Sapsago is very low in fat, making it perfect for individuals on a low-fat diet. The cheese has a spicy flavor and can be used as a condiment or grated over food.
Sapsago is dry, hard and very versatile. If you desire a milder version of the spicy taste, you can mix it with some butter. It lasts a very long time, provided it is kept at room temperature or under mild refrigeration.