What Cheese Goes Best With Pesto: 7 Tasty Combinations

May 26, 2022 | Pairing Guides

We’ve put together a list of cheeses that go well with pesto also to help substitute parmigiano reggiano in the recipe. Pesto is a fantastic Italian sauce that isn’t just used for pasta but also used to marinate, top and dip other ingredients with. Pesto is made up of very simple ingredients, one of which is cheese.

Pesto is an amazing sauce that is often overlooked in the glossary of all things Italian. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a popular sauce but not nearly as popular as the tomato-based sauces of Italian cuisine and even the oil-based sauces.

Italian cuisine is known for its tomatoes, basil, and olives. These three make amazing Italian dishes from puttanesca, all’amatriciana, pasta pomodoro, and many more. Tomatoes and basil are often paired together because the tomatoes enhance the flavor of the basil and vice versa. Olive oil on the other hand is used to saute the contents of the pomodoro sauce and they’re also frequently used to drizzle on top of breads, salads, and even stews.

But today, we’re focusing on pesto. What is the relation of this sauce’s ingredients to the rest of the cuisine?

See, Italian cuisine isn’t big on fancy ingredients but it is big on good quality ingredients. What makes Italian food so great is the freshness of its simple ingredients. Pesto is particularly made with fresh basil, olive oil, parmigiano reggiano cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and some salt and pepper.

Pesto originated in the northern Italian region of Liguria, known for its jagged cliffs that house some of the best herbs and olive trees in the world. Excellent quality olive oil and basil are found in this region. These are the important ingredients to make pesto.

Pesto is often made with cheese to finish this wonderful sauce. The cheese that is often used is parmigiano reggiano or other cheeses that are similar to that.

We’ve come up with a list of cheese that goes well with pesto to also substitute the presence of parmigiano reggiano in an event that you can’t find any.

Pecorino Romano

1. Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is a Roman cheese that is made with sheep’s milk. Pecorino is very similar to parmigiano except that pecorino romano is made of sheep’s milk. It is also salty and a little tangy and nutty in taste with that hint of grassy and earthiness to it. It has that same bit to it with the same crystals and mouthfeel as parmigiano. A nice finely grated load of pecorino would do good with pesto in a sauce and in pasta to bind all the ingredients together.


2. Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano reggiano is the most classic cheese to add to pesto. It’s the cheese of choice and it’s the best kind of “parmesan” in the whole of Italy, and the world. Parmigiano reggiano isn’t exactly the cheapest and not a lot of it is widely available because it’s so special that only a good number is produced per year.

Remember that parmesan requires aging and in order to make it great, you must wait. Parmigiano reggiano isn’t only great to add to pesto but it also makes a great binder for pasta when you make a pesto pasta dish. You could also melt parmigiano reggiano with some mozzarella to make a pesto dip.


3. Asiago

Asiago is the younger brother of parmigiano reggiano. If you’re looking for something a little lighter to the palate and less salty and nutty, asiago would be your choice of cheese. If you’re in the middle of making pesto and you find yourself without parmigiano reggiano, you could easily replace it with asiago. Asiago could be easily sourced from delis and well stocked grocery stores.


4. Manchego

Manchego isn’t an Italian cheese but a Spanish cheese that is often used to substitute parmesan in plenty of dishes. Manchego is a cured cheese and has salty and nutty notes as well. However, it doesn’t exactly translate to the flavor of parmigiano reggiano. Manchego still makes a great substitute for parmesan in pesto and it’s also very fun to dip slices of manchego in pesto dips. We also love the combination of manchego with breadsticks and pesto sauce.

Aged Gouda

5. Gouda

Gouda is a delicious cheese that has notes of saltiness, caramel, and nuttiness. It’s a great cheese to add to sandwiches, melt, top vegetables with, and many more. Since this is a salty and nutty cheese, it sometimes reminds us of parmesan cheese. It’s a nice alternative for parmesan in pesto and it’s also nice to add to a chicken pesto sandwich. The gouda really stands out in the sandwich and more importantly, enhances the flavor of the pesto.


6. Aged Cheddar

Aged cheddar is a great cheese to pair with pesto or to substitute the parmesan in pesto for. Cheddar is usually mild and salty but aged cheddar is a lot sharper and pungent in smell and taste. Aged cheddar is a good cheese to have with pesto because pesto is mild and fresh. Combining it with a stronger tasting ingredient in sandwiches and appetizers helps enhance the taste of the pesto sauce and the cheese. We like making grilled cheese pesto sandwiches with aged cheddar and mozzarella cheese.


7. Cotija

Cotija cheese is a Mexican cheese that is very similar to parmesan. It is made from cow’s milk. It’s salty and milky with some hints of nuttiness. The texture is dry and firm and it’s very easy to grate. If you’re looking for an interesting cheese to pair with pesto that’s quite close to the original, try mixing cotija cheese into the pesto recipe. It’s also nice to replace it in pasta dishes and dips. Cotija cheese is found in well stocked supermarkets and Mexican grocery stores.


Hey there! I'm Isabel. I love cooking, dogs, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good flavorful food, to share with family and friends.



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