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Romano is a hard cheese with a crystalline texture and nutty, umami flavor. It’s named after Rome, its city of origin.
Pecorino Romano is the traditional type of Romano and has Denominazione di Origine Protetta (“Protected Designation of Origin,” or DOP) status in the European Union. Only cheese that meets certain standards can be considered Pecorino Romano.
However, cheeses labeled “Romano” alone do not have to meet these standards. In the United States, Romano is often made from cow’s milk and has a slightly less tangy flavor.
While tasty when grated onto pasta or baked into savory pastries, Romano can be expensive and difficult to find.
Below are 6 delicious substitutes for Romano cheese in cooking and baking.
One popular substitution for Romano is Parmesan cheese.
Named after the Italian province of Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, dried cheese made from cow’s milk.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a DOP cheese and can only be produced in certain areas of Italy, including Bologna, Manua, Modena, and Parma (3).
True Parmesan must be aged for at least two years, giving it a rich, sharp flavor and crumbly texture.
However, in the United States, the label “Parmesan” is not regulated, so cheese labeled as such doesn’t need to age that long.
Similarly to Pecorino Romano, aged Parmesan cheese grates well and has a sharp, nutty flavor. However, due to different production methods, Parmesan is considerably less salty and tangy.
When substituting Parmesan for Romano, use a 1:1 ratio. Just keep in mind that you may need to add additional salt to the recipe.
In addition to being a good cheese to grate over dishes, Parmesan melts well and can be added to baked pasta dishes or savory pastries.
Summary Parmesan cheese’s texture and nutty, sharp flavor are similar to those of Romano. It can be substituted in recipes at a 1:1 ratio, though you may need to add salt.
Grana Padano is another hard, Italian cheese with a crystalline texture and rich flavor.
While it’s also a DOP cheese, it may be produced in a much larger area of Italy. As a result, it’s often a less expensive option.
Made from aged cow’s milk, Grana Padano has a sweeter, more subtle flavor with a slightly less crumbly texture.
That said, it’s flavorful and holds up well as a 1:1 substitution for Romano cheese. Yet, you may need to add more salt depending on the recipe.
Summary Grana Padano is an aged cow’s-milk cheese that’s slightly sweeter than Romano. As it has a similar texture and rich, nutty flavor, it can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio.
Sometimes referred to as Parmesan’s cousin, Piave cheese is produced in Belluno, Italy and named after the Piave river.
This hard, cooked-curd, DOP cheese is sold at five different points of its aging process.
Younger Piave cheese is white and slightly sweet, but as the cheese ages, it becomes straw-colored and develops a strong, full-bodied flavor similar to that of Parmesan.
While less salty, aged Piave cheese can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio for Romano. However, the amount of salt in the recipe may need to be adjusted.
Summary Often compared to Parmesan, Piave cheese has a full-bodied and slightly sweet flavor. While less salty than Romano, it can be substituted in recipes at a 1:1 ratio.
Another Italian cheese, fresh Asiago cheese has a smooth texture and mild flavor.
As it ages, it forms a harder, crystallized texture and sharp, pungent flavor.
Like Parmesan, Asiago is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. It has a sharper, nuttier flavor than that of Parmesan or Romano.
While it can be grated over foods, Asiago is often softer than Romano. It’s usually eaten by itself or as part of a cheeseboard.
To substitute, use a 1:1 ratio of Asiago to Romano cheese.
Summary Asiago has a sharper, nuttier flavor than that of Romano but is less tangy. While it grates well, it’s slightly softer and can be enjoyed on foods or by itself. In recipes, grated Asiago can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio.
While not Italian, Spanish Manchego is a semi-hard cheese with a tangy flavor similar to that of Romano, as it’s also made from sheep’s milk.
Produced in the La Mancha region of Spain, Manchego is a DOP cheese. True Manchego can only be made using the milk of Manchego sheep.
There are several types of Manchego, which are classified by the age of the cheese. Younger cheese, labeled “semi curado,” is soft with a fruity, grassy flavor. As it ages, it becomes flaky with a sharp and slightly sweet flavor.
When substituting for Romano, look for Manchego Viejo — a Manchego cheese aged for a least one year.
Similarly to Grana Padano, Manchego is less salty and slightly sweeter than Romano, but it will still add excellent flavor when grated over pasta or baked into a pastry.
Summary Spanish Manchego is a sheep’s-milk cheese with a sharp, slightly sweet flavor. To use it as a substitute in recipes, use aged Manchego cheese for a more similar texture and flavor at a 1:1 ratio.
Whether you’re vegan or allergic to dairy, you can still enjoy flavors similar to those of Romano cheese.
There are two typical substitutes to choose from — nutritional yeast or store-bought cheese alternatives.
Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast grown specifically to be a food product.
It has a cheesy, savory flavor and contains all nine essential amino acids, as well as certain vitamins ().
When fortified, nutritional yeast can be especially rich in B-vitamins, including B-12, which vegan diets often lack. You can purchase it as flakes, powder, or granules ().
Nutritional yeast is suitable to sprinkle over food, as it has a nutty, umami flavor that replicates the taste of Romano cheese well.
As the flavor of nutritional yeast can be strong, you usually need only half the amount of nutritional yeast as you would Romano.
To replicate the more nutty, buttery flavor of Romano cheese, nutritional yeast can be combined with cashews for a homemade vegan alternative.
Here is a basic recipe to make your own vegan Romano:
- 3/4 cup (115 grams) of raw cashews
- 4 tablespoons (20 grams) of nutritional yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder
- Place all ingredients in a food processor.
- Pulse until the mixture is a fine meal texture.
- Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in your fridge for up to two months.
Be sure to only process the mixture until it forms a fine crumb. If you mix it beyond that, the oils from the cashews will add moisture and form clumps.
Store-bought Romano cheese alternatives
If you don’t feel like making your own alternative or like the taste of nutritional yeast, there are several brands of cheese alternatives at the grocery store and online.
Just note that they’re usually advertised as Parmesan — not Romano — substitutes.
When buying store-bought alternatives, make sure to check the labels, as many contain common allergens like soy, gluten, or tree nuts.
Additionally, some soy-based alternatives contain casein, a type of milk protein, and are therefore not dairy-free or vegan-friendly.
Most store-bought options are designed to be used at a 1:1 ratio in place of Romano cheese. However, it’s always a good idea to check the label for notes on this.
Summary Many brands offer alternatives to Parmesan cheese. It’s important to thoroughly read labels before buying to check for any potential food allergies. If you are dairy-free or vegan, avoid products containing casein.
Romano cheese adds a satisfyingly rich, nutty flavor to dishes like pasta and pizza.
However, it can be expensive and difficult to find.
Luckily, there are many equally delicious alternatives you can use instead.
For those who are vegan or dairy-free, you can achieve a similar cheesy, umami flavor by making your own Romano cheese alternative at home with just a few simple ingredients.