substitutes for Parmesan cheese in pesto

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Making pesto? Need a quick, but effective substitute for parmesan cheese in pesto? Keep reading to see how to easily replace parmesan cheese, but still make the yummiest pesto recipe!

substitute for parmesan cheese in pesto


I’ve shared the best substitutes for basil in pesto here, but today, I got the idea to share the best Parmesan cheese substitutes for pesto.

This list is helpful, outlines all the alternatives in one place and provides links for resources that show you how to make pesto with each of the substitutes listed here!

Best ways to substitute for parmesan cheese in pesto

Romano cheese

grated Romano cheese


An awesome substitute for Parmesan cheese in pesto is Romano cheese. Indeed, Romano cheese is often used together with parmesan in many pesto recipes!

Regular American Romano cheese works in place of Parmesan in pesto recipes because both of those cheeses are hard and savory. Even though Romano is sharp, tangy, and salty, compared to the rich, nutty, umami Parmesan, a 1:1 substitute can be used.

Also, since Romano cheese is saltier than Parmesan, consider adding less salt to your pesto made with romano cheese. For example, most pesto recipes use ¼ teaspoon of salt, so consider reducing this to ⅛ teaspoon if you use Romano cheese to make your pesto recipe.

Pecorino Romano cheese

grated Pecorino cheese


Pecorino Romano is a type of authentic Italian cheese that can be used in pestos. Pecorino has a bolder, saltier, and tangier flavor when compared to American Romano cheese which means that it is best to omit salt altogether at first, then adjust to your taste.

This type of cheese is a good alternative to Parmesan cheese in pesto recipes because it is also a sharply flavored hard cheese like Parmesan. A 1:1 substitute is okay here.

Feta cheese



Another type of cheese that can be used to make a pesto recipe is feta cheese. Feta cheese is a rich, tangy, slightly salty cheese that adds a delicious flavor to pesto.

While it is not a popular cheese of choice for a pesto recipe -for obvious reasons since it is a softer, creamier cheese- you can use it in place of Parmesan at a 1:1 conversion ratio.

Omit extra salt in your pesto recipe since feta cheese is salty enough on its own. You can see how to make a feta cheese pesto here.

Cheddar cheese

Cheddar cheese


Cheddar cheese is another less popular cheese choice for pesto. It is a good parmesan cheese substitute for pesto because it’s cheaper and more common.

Using cheddar cheese, you will lose some of that umami flavor that Parmesan would add to the pesto. However, if this is all you have in your kitchen, then it works okay. Check out a recipe for cheddar cheese pesto here.

Manchego cheese

Manchego cheese


Manchego cheese makes a good substitute cheese for pesto too. Use Manchego cheese just like you would use Parmesan cheese in any non traditional pesto recipe. 

It should be noted that aged Manchego is the best option here as it has an intense, zesty flavor with a slightly salty finish that works well to complement the herbs and nuts in a pesto. 

See how to make pesto with Manchego cheese here.

Gruyere cheese

grated Gruyere cheese


You don’t always have to stick to the same old Parmesan cheese to get a delicious pesto, and a pesto recipe with gruyere cheese is the perfect example of that.

While gruyere cheese is not a very popular cheese for pesto, this cheese which is slightly sweet with a nutty flavor pairs quite well with pestos made with pecans.

Read more about how to make gruyere cheese pesto here.

Vegan substitutes for Parmesan cheese in pesto

No cheese

 pesto without cheese


Did you know that you could make pesto without cheese? If you didn’t, then now you know! Pesto without cheese is great for vegan or dairy free eaters. But, it’s also great for people who may just not have any cheese available at the moment.

Learn how to make pesto without any cheese here.

Nutritional yeast + Nuts (of choice)

Nutritional yeast


Nutritional yeast with the addition of nuts like cashews or pine nuts, walnuts, or even sunflower seeds makes a great vegan replacement for parmesan cheese in pesto.

This substitute works well for vegan eaters who can enjoy the nuttiness and slight sweetness of the nuts and the cheesy umami notes of the nutritional yeast. 

If you’re using this substitute, unsalted nuts are the best option. I quite enjoy using unsalted cashews when I feel like making vegan pesto. See how to make pesto with cashews and nutritional yeast here.

Grab a bag of nutritional yeast at a reasonable price on Amazon if you want to give this substitute a try.

FAQs about parmesan cheese substitutes for pesto

Personally, I wouldn’t use mozzarella cheese in my pesto recipe if I had a choice due to its milder flavor compared to the sharp flavor of parmesan. However, in a pinch, it can make an okay pesto. For the best results when blending mozzarella cheese into a pesto, keep the mozzarella cheese in the fridge right up until you’re ready to add it to the blender/food processor.

If you use it at room temperature it will be too soft and if you freeze it, then it might be too hard on your blender.

Yes, you can. Cotija cheese is another less popular cheese that is used in pesto recipes. However, aged Cotija cheese works particularly well in pestos since it has a similar texture to parmesan cheese. Indeed, it is often referred to as the Parmesan of Mexico. Additionally, it complements most nuts quite nicely. A 1:1 substitute is great in the case of Cotija cheese. 

Final thoughts

Almost all pesto recipes you come across are made with Parmesan cheese. Indeed, in its authentic state, pesto is made with Parmesan and it tastes quite lovely. However, with just a few tweaks, you can use cheeses you have on hand, or actually like, to make delicious pesto for your pasta, rice, chicken, veggies, or anything else you eat with your pesto!

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