There are countless reasons to love Italian food! Without doubt, one of them is the great variety and amazing taste of Italian cheeses. Just take a look at igourmet’s cheese encyclopedia and you’ll see that there’s more than 33 kids of cheese from all regions of Italy. From Cacio di Fossa, or goat cheese buried underground during aging to blue-veined cow’s milk Gorgonzola, Italian cuisine offers a cheese variety for every taste.
Unless you’re a cheese connoisseur who lives in Italy, getting access to all of them can be highly difficult and outright expensive. For people like you and me who live elsewhere in Europe or across the Atlantic in the U.S. and Canada, the variety is limited to the cheeses we can find in the grocery store.
Two Italian cheeses you’ll find in any store and no matter what country you live in are parmesan and Pecorino. And one question that home cooks often ask on Google is, what is the difference between them?
Continue reading this blog post to find out.
Pecorino vs. Parmesan
Pecorino and parmesan are Italian hard cheeses. In traditional Italian recipes, are used as a cooking ingredient or grated over pasta. Pecorino cheese is made from sheep’s milk and aged for up to 12 months, whereas parmesan cheese is made from cow’s milk and aged for up to 24 months.
Pecorino cheese has a saltier and sharper taste compared to parmesan. When aged in the right conditions, cheese develops a richer aroma and more refined flavor. Pecorino cheese is at least one-year younger than parmesan, which is also why it’s the less pricey of the two.
Though the best way to enjoy Italian food is by following the original recipe, you can generally substitute pecorino cheese for parmesan. Keep in mind that pecorino cheese is two to three times saltier than parmesan. To avoid making overly salty food, use only 30 grams of pecorino cheese for every 100 grams of parmesan that the recipe calls for.
Parmesan cheese is almost twice as expensive as pecorino cheese. On Eataly, for example, 0.5 lb of Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP costs $17.90, whereas Pecorino Romano DOP costs $8.90.
Pecorino cheese is one of the most ancient Italian cheeses. It dates all the way back to ancient Rome and was a staple in Roman cuisine. Today, Pecorino Romano cheese is still made in the region of Lazio following the two-thousand-year-old recipe. Many of the pasta dishes served in the region today, like Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, date back to Roman times (and pre-date the introduction of tomatoes to Italy).
Pecorino cheese is made from 100% sheep’s milk. During aging, the wheels are dry-salted by hand numerous times to give it its distinct salty taste. It’s aged anywhere between 8 to 12 months, which gives it a granular texture and strong flavor. When younger, pecorino has a soft and rubbery texture. When aged for more than 8 months, its texture becomes granier and its taste sharper and smokier.
To buy the best pecorino cheese, look for Pecorino Romano in the Italian imports aisle at the supermarket. The “Pecorino Romano” name is protected by Italy and the European Union — and only a select number of dairy farms that follow strict standards for authenticity and that are geographically located in or near the region of Lazio, Italy, can label their cheeses with it.
If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, look for Pecorino cheese imported from Italy. Because production of pecorino isn’t regulated the same way as in Europe, American pecorino cheese is made from cow’s milk and is nothing like the original.
Recipe ideas with pecorino cheese:
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper)
- Bucatini Alla Gricia
- Chicken Ceasar Salad
- Anchovy Pasta with Breadcrumbs
Parmesan dates back to the Middle Ages. The story goes that it was first made in Bibbiano, a small town in the province of Reggio Emilia with a population of 10,000 people today.
Parmesan is a hard and granular Italian cheese. It’s made from 100% cow’s milk and is aged anywhere between 12 to 24 months. The longer aging process compared to other cheeses gives it its distinct nutty flavor and slightly gritty texture.
To buy the best parmesan cheese, look for Parmigiano-Reggiano. Only producers from Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Bologna, Modena, and Mantova provinces in Italy that follow strict standards for authenticity are allowed to label their cheeses using the Parmigiano-Reggiano name. That’s about 350 dairy farms that make 3.6 million cheese wheels per year.
Only natural whey culture and calf rennet (a set of enzymes produced in the stomachs of calves) are allowed as starters in the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The only additive allowed is Mediterranean sea salt. The cheese absorbs the salt while it is submerged in brine tanks for 20-25 days.
If you can’t find Parmigiano-Reggiano, look for Italian-imported Parmigiano cheese. As the production of cheese products named “parmesan” isn’t as regulated in the U.S. as in Europe, American-made parmesan cheese is unlikely to have the same taste, aroma, and texture as the original.
Recipe ideas with parmesan cheese:
- Chicken Parmigiana
- Pasta Amatriciana
- Arugula Salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Artichoke risotto
- Leek and Italian sausage risotto
Did you know that one of the most popular parmesan cheeses sold in the U.S. is actually made in Argentina? If you like parmesan cheese, check out my post titled The Only Guide to Parmesan Cheese You’ll Ever Need.
Parmesan and pecorino are not the same cheeses. It’s true that Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano are both Italian hard cheeses, but the similarities end there, including price. Parmesan as nearly twice as expensive as pecorino cheese for a number of reasons.
Parmesan is made from cow’s milk and aged up to 24 months, whereas pecorino is made from sheep’s milk and aged up to 12 months. Parmesan has a rich and nutty taste and grainy texture, whereas pecorino has a salty and tangy taste and rubbery texture.
If you can’t follow the original recipe, you can substitute pecorino cheese for parmesan. Because pecorino has a higher salt content than parmesan, use 1/3 of the amount that the original recipe calls for.