What Are the Differences Between Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, and Pecorino Romano?

These three Italian hard cheeses are all fabulous.

blocks of hard cheese
Photo: Bryan Gardner

Sometimes a recipe calls for pecorino but you only have Parmigiano in your refrigerator. When you shop at the cheese store, you notice that Grana Padano cost a lot less than Parmigiano. There are probably a lot of reasons why you'd like to know what makes these three famed Italian hard cheeses different, including whther or not you can sub one for the other in recipes and grate any of them over your pasta dinner. To provide clarity on this cheesy issue we asked our resident Italophile and cheese lover, assistant food editor Riley Wofford, for help. Three factors differentiate this trio of hard Italian cheeses, says Riley: the milk source, where they're made, and the aging period. Time of year affects all of them. "Flavors from whatever the animal eats are imparted," she explains. "The cheeses from spring grazing taste grassier, and in the colder months they're creamier and richer."


Made only in five northern Italian provinces, from fresh cow's milk aged for at least a year, this king of cheeses is prized for its sharp, nutty flavor and granular texture. It's our go-to finisher for pastas and meatballs, and for shredding over salads. It's also a delicious snack or appetizer in chunks on its own. To get real high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, look for the full name stamped on the rind.

Grana Padano

Like Parm, this cheese, which is aged a minimum of nine months, comes from cow's milk, but it's milder and slightly sweeter. "It's great in dishes where it isn't the heavy hitter," says Riley, such as mixed with ricotta in lasagna layers, stuffed shells, or ravioli filling.

Pecorino Romanoa

A bit stronger and saltier, this cheese is made from tangy sheep's milk and aged for five months to one year. In its native central Italy, it's traditionally used in cacio e pepe; Riley adds it to pasta carbonara and other rich, fatty dishes, "and sauces that lean to the sweet side, like Bolognese."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles