When I studied abroad in Italy I became obsessed with all of the different cheeses the country had to offer. In particular, I loved Pecorino cheese because it was something new, yet at the same time seemed so familiar because it tasted like Parmesan.

After living in the country for a total of seven months, I came to find out that Pecorino and Parmesan are not one in the same. In fact, they are very different. While they both come from Italy and are typically found in hard, grated forms, they each have distinct flavors, and should not be interchangeable in recipes. Here's the difference between Pecorino vs Parmesan and when you should use each.

How It's Made

Pecorino di Pienza

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Parmesan cheese is made from cow's milk. It's aged for a minimum of 12 months, but can be found in some places aged up to three years. The best form of the cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, is the Parmesan that's specifically made in the certain towns in the Emelia Romagna or Lombardy regions of Italy. If you're looking for the best Parmesan cheese, look for this name rather than being fooled by the Parmesan cheese found in the green plastic container

Pecorino, on the other hand, is made of sheep's milk. The aging time varies from five to eight months, which is a lot less time than Parmesan needs to age. Pecorino can be found in many forms, but comes from the regions of Tuscany, Sardinia, and Lazio. To be sure you are getting real Pecorino cheese, make sure the labels are marked with these areas. 


'Borgo della Marmotta', Poreta

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While many people believe that both cheeses can be used for similar dishes, they actually have very distinct tastes. Parmesan cheese has a saltier, nutty flavor. While it can be eaten alone, it is typically just used to complement the taste of whatever dish it is accompanying. 

While Pecorino can also be used as a flavor complement, it can also be eaten alone or with honey or jam. The taste is stronger and tangier, making it bolder and able to stand on its own powerfully. While many dishes may benefit by adding Pecorino cheese, the cheese can, in some cases, overpower the taste of the dish if added too generously. 



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Both of the cheeses look the same, so how can we tell the difference besides looking at the label? Parmesan cheese is typically hard, if not grated, and is a little bit more golden in color. If you're getting the true cheese from Italy, the waxy rind of the cheese will have Parmigiano Reggiano stamped on it in red lettering. 

A distinct way to tell if a cheese is Pecorino instead of Parmesan is to look at the wax because Pecorino often has a black, waxy rind. The cheese also comes in many different forms. If the cheese is younger, it may be softer than Parmesan. Pecorino is also a whiter color than Parmesan. However, it's sometimes not that noticeable, so make sure to double check the cheese is what you want before putting it in your cart. 


Cacio E Pepe KCI_2738

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Now that we know a little more about the difference between Pecorino vs Parmesan, what are the best dishes to use them in? Parmesan tastes great with a classic bowl of spaghetti and red sauce, because the cheese is not too overpowering. More dishes include eggplant Parmesan, Caesar salad, Parmesan crisps, and many more.

Arguably the most famous dish made with Pecorino is cacio e pepe, which is a simple dish with just cheese and pepper. The Pecorino is the main flavor of the dish, and if you haven't tried it I highly recommend it. However, since the cheese is so strong, it adds a lot of flavor to many other awesome dishes.

While Parmesan and Pecorino cheese may look the same, it's important to know the differences because they're unique and should not be used interchangeably. It's also important to make sure you're getting the real deal because it's worth the few extra dollars to taste the pure Italian goodness in each and every bite.

Next time you're making Italian for dinner, really consider Pecorino vs Parmesan to determine which is the right choice. It will make the flavors all the better!