If you see a great-looking Italian recipe and want to try it, but can't find the Pecorino cheese it calls for, we can help. Getting specialty cheeses in your local grocery store can sometimes be a challenge, and when you can't find the perfect fit it's time to reach for a substitute or several substitutes, so you can still get the right flavors.
The good news is that pecorino cheese, while delicious and unique, has plenty of high-quality substitutes that might be easier to find in your local grocery stores.
Here’s what you need to know about what pecorino cheese is, what it tastes like, and how to substitute it for another cheese in your cooking.
What Is Pecorino Cheese?
The first thing you need to know about pecorino cheese is that it’s a sheep’s cheese. It’s similar in taste and texture to Parmesan Reggiano, but with a slightly different flavor because the two cheeses are made from different milks.
Pecorino cheese also has a slightly different texture and melts a little differently from parmesan because of the different mixture of fats and proteins in both the cheese and the milk it's made from.
It’s often used in dishes that call for a creamy addition and a strong flavor, which might seem odd at first because pecorino is a very firm hard cheese.
What Does Pecorino Cheese Do In Your Cooking?
Pecorino cheese can be used both as a core ingredient in your cooking and as a garnish sprinkled over the top of a meal before serving.
It's a delicious cheese on its own, salty and tangier than most cow's milk cheeses thanks to the sharper taste of sheep's milk. In your cooking, it often mellows a little, softening to create a creamy texture melted into broths and sauces, and it also gets a more pronounced nutty flavor when it's heated.
There are different types of pecorino cheese. Pecorino really just means sheep, but pecorino cheese as sold in the United States is pretty predictable. The key when you’re buying pecorino itself is to look for a brand that is 100% sheep’s milk. Some brands call a combination of sheep and goat milk cheese pecorino, but those cheeses are likely to have a sharper taste and may also have a softer texture.
Pecorino is also a classic choice for pastina recipes, and if you’re ever looking for comfort in a bowl, pastina is where it’s at!
The Best Pecorino Cheese Substitutes
Now that you know what Pecorino cheese is, and what it’s used for, we can start recommending good substitutes for pecorino cheese in your home kitchen.
Remember that no substitute is going to taste or act exactly like pecorino cheese. But, with so many good varieties of cheese and plant-based cheese out there, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Parmigiano Reggiano, commonly known as Parmesan here in the United States, is a fantastic substitute for pecorino, and probably the first one you should reach for if you’re cooking a recipe that calls for pecorino. Especially if that recipe happens to be a traditional Italian recipe.
While this cheese is made from cows’ milk, and therefore different from pecorino in both taste and texture, it’s a similarly salty, rich, and nutty cheese overall.
Asiago is another good replacement if you can’t find or don’t like parmesan. It’s a bit softer and creamier than either pecorino or parmesan, but neither should cause serious problems. It’s a little milder and sweeter, but it works equally well in most recipes.
Asiago might actually be the best choice for tomato-sauces and dishes with a lot of acid in them.
Manchego might be a Spanish cheese, but it’s still a fantastic substitute for pecorino in most recipes. It’s nutty and tangy like pecorino and comes with a similar taste thanks to the sheep milk used for the cheese.
It’s also got a similar texture, which is particularly helpful since you can get very similar results from this cheese, and people might not even notice that you’ve substituted the pecorino.
Halloumi is a good option despite being much softer and less crumbly than a good pecorino. It’s also a little chewier than pecorino, which can help make it a little creamier in pasta dishes and works just as well as a topping or soup ingredient.
Feta is another option, though it’s going to stand out a bit more than other substitutes for pecorino. It’s saltier, and it doesn’t melt as much as pecorino would, which makes them a much better option for recipes that call for pecorino as a topping.
However, in those recipes, using feta will give your recipe a delicious Greek twist.
Hard Goat Cheese
Goats cheese is actually generally going to give you a more similar flavor than other kinds of sheep’s cheese when it comes to pecorino. Goat cheeses tend to be a little tangier than sheep cheese, but that actually works in your favor.
They are also more prone to melting, which can make for a much creamier texture in sauces and soups.
White cheddar, especially a sharp white cheddar, is a good option if you can’t find either a hard Italian cheese, or if you prefer a slightly sweeter less salty cheese.
It is important to look for a high-quality white cheddar though. Aged or smoked cheddars are generally going to work better.
Ricotta salata is a bit saltier and doesn’t have as many flavor notes as pecorino, but it’s also creamier, so there are advantages to using both cheeses.
If you like ricotta in other foods, ricotta salata is a good substitute option.
Iberico cheese is a good substitute for salads, cheese plates, pastas, and most other meals as well.
That said, it’s not as crumbly and doesn’t have the same toothsome texture as Pecorino. However, as a Spanish goat cheese, it’s a good approximation of sheep’s cheese.
If you’re looking for a milder white cheese as a substitute, sharp provolone is a fantastic, and very creamy, substitute.
Grated Brazil nuts are a good vegan alternative to pecorino cheese. They don’t melt, but they bring similar flavor notes to your dish. You can blend them into a butter if you’re looking for a creamier texture in soups and sauces.
Nutritional yeast is a good option for getting a cheesy flavor without cheese. It's not quite as salty and doesn't melt so much as mix into your foods. However, it's a good option for adding umami and delicious savory flavors into your food.
Sun-dried tomatoes might sound like an odd substitute for a cheese, but hear us out. Sun-dried tomatoes have a concentration of amino acids that create an umami flavor.
The acids and added seasoning in a lot of sun-dried tomatoes also help get you a little closer to pecorino flavor, as does the nuttiness in the tomatoes after drying.
These are a great addition to Italian and Greek dishes both and works as a vegan pecorino replacement in a pinch.
Salted Roasted Almonds
Similar to Brazil nuts, you can use salted and roasted almonds to boost the umami of a dish, adding a similar saltiness and flavor as pecorino.
You can also use almond butter for a creamier sauce and a cheesier-tasting finish. It won't replace the cheese pull you get from some very cheesy dishes, but everything else can come close with salted roasted almonds.
As a trick to get even more umami flavor, toast your almonds lightly in the oven before crushing or grating them to add to your meal. That will help bring out the creamier and more umami flavors naturally in the nuts.
Last but not least, this is actually an old Italian trick! Adding salted toasted breadcrumbs to your dish can actually give you a very similar taste to pecorino. They’ve even been nicknamed poor-mans pecorino at different points in time.
The biggest problem with this substitute is that breadcrumbs can’t melt or fully dissolve into a soup or sauce. However, they can help thicken sauces, and adding a little seasoning on top can help round out the flavors and give you a delicious finish.
Combine these with nutritional yeast or nut butters for an even closer substitution for pecorino.
Cooking Tip: Hard Cheese Store For A Long Time
One of the things you should know about pecorino and other hard cheeses is that these cheeses are a way of safely storing the calories and nutrients in milk for a long time. Making cheese used to be primarily a way of preserving the food for later consumption.
That means that you can keep hard cheeses, especially traditional hard cheeses, for a long time before they start to go bad, especially if you keep them in the refrigerator.
If you’re having a hard time finding cheeses or having a hard time finding enough cheese for a single meal without getting more than you need, go ahead and buy the larger cheese portions.
That way you can put them in the fridge and continue using the same serving of cheese for multiple different meals! And for even more home Italian cooking, try these 25 weight watcher’s friendly Italian chicken recipes!