Parmesan Cheese Substitute in Alfredo Sauce



Hi, I'm Maggie. I love cooking for my family and sharing my experiences from the kitchen.

It’s hard to resist the creamy, bold flavor of Parmesan in almost any dish, especially a meal as savory as pasta topped with the iconic Italian Alfredo sauce. 

Some people may have noticed that all it takes is a couple of bites of this dish for a full belly, and Parmesan’s sky-high calorie count is to blame for that. “Occupying” more than three-fourths of the recommended calorie intake in the sauce alone, Parmesan cheese may not be the healthiest cheese you’d want to consume regularly. 

Even though it is a staple in various sauces and dips, Parmesan cheese could be replaced with several similar, weaker, or stronger-tasting ones. If you are looking for a substitute for Parmesan cheese in Alfredo sauce specifically, I’m confident you’ll love some of my recommendations. 

Characteristics of Parmesan Cheese in a Nutshell

The sharp, nutty, and moderately tangy taste of Parmesan cheese makes it easy to recognize. Grate a couple of slices above pasta, pizza, meat, or salad, and you will clearly notice its rich flavor and aroma. 

The lactose levels of Parmesan cheese range from zero to low. It is a hard cheese that melts extremely well, and one of the main reasons why many people are looking for a Parmesan cheese substitute is that it is high in fat (around 35%). 

Consuming about 500-600 calories for lunch is quite normal. The problem with Parmesan cheese is that pre-made Alfredo sauces have about 100g of this salty delicacy, which amounts to roughly 431 calories. 

5 Parmesan Cheese Alternatives

Alfredo sauce is meant to not only enrich, but in many ways diversify the flavor of the dish it is poured over. This bottled miracle can transform otherwise bland, tasteless meals into gourmet delicacies, but it heavily relies on cheese to make it happen. 

So, can you make Alfredo sauce without Parmesan cheese? If you’re fond of using Alfredo sauce every other day but want to lead a healthier lifestyle, I want to recommend several types of cheese that can serve as good substitutes.

No Cheese Substitutes Taste Texture Fat Level Lactose Level
Reference Parmesan Sharp, nutty, bold, tangy Hard 35% 0-3.2%
1 Grana Padano Sharp, nutty, slightly salty Hard 30% 0%
2 Manchego Somewhat sharp, tangy with sweet undertones Semi-soft to Semi-hard 25.4% <1%
3 Gruyère Mild, salty, earthy with nutty undertones Hard 32% 0%
4 Aged Pecorino Very sharp, tangy with hints of spicy Hard 33% <1%
5 Vegan Parmesan Moderately sharp and slightly salty, fruity, and nutty Hard 15% 0%
Parmesan Cheese Alternatives

Cheeses with Similar Texture and Flavor

The firm, powdery texture and sharp, varied flavor of Parmesan are the main reasons why there aren’t many kinds of cheese that can replace it in Alfredo sauce. The closest 1-to-1 alternatives, in my humble opinion, are Grana Padano and Manchego.

Grana Padano

Even though it has just a slightly milder taste compared to Parmesan, Grana Padano is one of the few kinds of cheese that can subtly replace its flavor while bringing a range of “improvements” to your dish. 

Unlike Parmesan, Grana Padano does not contain any lactose. While both are high in fat, Grana Padano boasts a slightly lower level of fat, most of which are healthy fats. 

Just like Parmesan, Grana Padano melts well when grated or shredded. If you want your Alfredo sauce to be lactose-free and slightly lighter on the stomach than usual, Grana Padano is one of the best alternatives to traditional Parmesan. 

This might also be interesting for you: Grana Padano Substitute


In my humble opinion, the second-best substitute for Parmesan cheese in Alfredo sauce is Manchego because of its lower fat level and fairly colorful palette of flavors. The taste of Manchego cheese is primarily tangy and nutty, with hints of sweet undertones complementing the mix. 

Somewhat softer but still firm enough for chefs to easily grate or shred it into Alfredo paste, Manchego is an excellent choice and pairs amazingly well with carrots, beets, and tomatoes. 

Assorted manchego cheese on aged table
Manchego cheese

Parmesan Cheese Alternatives with Milder Flavor

The intense flavor of Parmesan is a very important element in the taste of Alfredo sauce, but it may be just a tad too overwhelming for some people. If you prefer your pasta, noodles, or pizzas lighter and a bit healthier, I recommend using Gruyère cheese instead. 


Whenever I’m not using Parmesan in dishes and toppings that largely depend on its varied flavor, I turn to Gruyère. The taste of this cheese is earthy and nutty, although it can also become quite creamy and salty with age.

Unlike certain brands of Parmesan, Gruyère is lactose-free, but sadly, it is not dairy-free. This cheese is fairly firm and melts fantastically due to its high moisture content.

Ever thought of substituting Gruyère in your favorite dish?

Stronger Flavor and Firmer Texture

Even though Parmesan has a fairly sharp, nutty, and distinctively bold taste, I can imagine a couple of dishes where stronger-tasting kinds of cheese would be a better fit. Pecorino and Romano are my recommendations for chefs who want to make an Alfredo sauce so savory that you’d remember the flavor for weeks. 

Aged Pecorino

Pecorino is a tangy-flavored, hard-textured kind of cheese. Its taste becomes significantly sharper and stronger the older it is, although the ones you can purchase at your local deli may be quite mild if they’ve spent barely over a month in the woven mold. 

“Old” Pecorino cheese is as versatile as Parmesan flavor-wise, and it will completely overtake the taste of your Alfredo sauce. 

With a 33% fat level, Pecorino won’t be too much of a replacement for Parmesan if the reason why you were searching for a substitute revolves around eating healthier. It is “almost” free of lactose with around 0.4%, mainly because it’s made of sheep’s milk. 

many Italian cheese with text PECORINO that means cheese made with milk of sheep and goat in dairy
Pecorino blocks in an Italian deli

Dairy-free and Vegan Parmesan Cheese Alternatives

Since it is made of milk, Parmesan is neither vegan nor dairy-free, although it contains relatively low levels of lactose. Fortunately, vegan Parmesan exists in nearly all supermarkets and online cheese stores, plus making one on your own isn’t too hard. 

Vegan Parmesan

If you took a regular block of Parmesan cheese, stripped it of all dairy content, chopped its fat count in half, and added just a speck of fruitiness, you’d get Vegan Parmesan. 

Since milk-based Parmesan is so popular, dozens if not hundreds of cheese makers strived to make a dairy and lactose-free alternative that resembled the original in terms of taste and texture as much as possible. 

Go Veggie is my go-to supplier of pre-grated vegan Parmesan, although FollowYourHeart’s counterpart is almost just as great.

If you want to make your own, blending three-fourths of a cup of cashew nuts with three tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a quarter tablespoon of garlic powder, and a pinch of salt should do the trick. 

Recipe: How to make Alfredo Sauce Without Parmesan Cheese

Grana Padano and Manchego can be considered 1-to-1 substitutes for dairy Parmesan in your Alfredo sauce; if you’re using Gruyère, consider going 2-to-1 while a bit of experimentation may be needed when using Aged Pecorino or vegan plant-based Parmesan. 

I wanted to share with you my favorite Alfredo sauce recipe that doesn’t include Parmesan cheese.

Parmesan Cheese Substitute in Alfredo Sauce

Recipe by MaggieCourse: MainCuisine: Italian, Other world cuisineDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time


Total time



Alfredo sauce recipe that doesn’t include Parmesan cheese, you’ll need the following items.


  • 100g of grated Manchego or Grana Padano

  • Alternatively, use 200g of Gruyère, or 50g of Aged Pecorino

  • 25g of butter

  • 2 cloves of finely grated garlic

  • 25g of cream

  • A teaspoon of dried herbs

  • A pinch of chopped parsley


  • Set your oven to medium-low temperature
  • Melt 25g of butter in a large-size pan
  • Fry two garlic gloves for a minute
  • Add 25g of cream and stir continuously
  • Add 100g of grated Manchego/Grana Padano (or 200g of Gruyère/50g of Pecorino)
  • Keep stirring until the entire mix has melted
  • Add a handful of chopped parsley

Other Questions

Can I Use Cheddar Instead of Parmesan in Alfredo?

Yes, Cheddar is quite similar to Parmesan as they are both sharp-flavored, nutty types of cheese, but Cheddar is more buttery and has a higher level of fat. 

How Can I Thicken Alfredo Sauce without Parmesan?

Cornstarch can greatly help dairy-based Alfredo sauce become thicker. If you’re making a vegan Alfredo sauce, use 50g nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan (or other cheese alternatives). 

Can You Use Powdered Parmesan Cheese in Alfredo Sauce?

You can, although shredded Parmesan is a better option because it has a higher level of moisture. 

Can You Freeze Parmesan Cheese?

Yes, Parmesan cheese freezes pretty well if you do it right. Before you do, check out our guide to freezing Parmesan.


At the end of the day, I hope you’ve learned that parmesan is not as essential of a component to Alfredo sauce as you initially thought. Even though it gives this sauce a brilliantly colorful flavor, I’d rather use Manchego, Gruyere, Pecorino, or Grana Padano and get similar if not almost identical results. 

If this guide about Parmesan cheese substitute in Alfredo sauce has been useful, please share it with your friends! If you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comment section below.


About Maggie

Hi, I'm Maggie. I love cooking for my family and sharing my experiences from the kitchen.
Related Posts:

Leave a Comment