Provolone is a very popular Italian cheese made from cow’s milk that can be used in a large variety of recipes. Due to its versatility and its mild taste, there are other types of cheese similar to provolone that can work as substitutes in certain recipes.
When looking for a substitute for provolone cheese, the first option is usually mozzarella. However, if you’re up for some new flavors, you can also try stronger cheeses like gouda and fontina.
The best provolone substitutes
Provolone is a traditional Italian cheese that originates in the Pianura Padana (northern Italy). Italian immigrants have brought provolone to the United States, so now it is largely available, even though it may not be as easy to find as other types of cheese and may also be more expensive in comparison.
Provolone usually comes in two varieties:
– Provolone dolce: ages for two-three months, it is made with veal rennet which gives it a more delicate and creamy texture and flavor.
– Provolone piccante: is left to age for a longer time, tastes stronger and sharper, and is made with either goat’s or lamb’s rennet.
Unless you’re importing your provolone directly from Italy, the one you find in the U.S. usually resembles the dolce variety but is far from being similar to the original. Provolone is by now produced in a large number of countries and its taste varies depending on the country of origin.
The ones produced in northern Italy are provolone DOP, which means that the provolone is produced following specific measures and has to meet strict quality standards, which in turn guarantees that the final product is excellent.
It is not hard to understand why it’s not easy to find a cheese like provolone that can take its place in your recipe, but since it’s not always possible to get your hands on provolone, you can try one of the following substitutes.
1. Fontina cheese
In 2016, Fontina cheese was listed among the best cheeses in the world by the Wall Street Journal. This Italian cheese comes from Valle d’Aosta and is another DOP product just like provolone whose origin dates back hundreds of years.
Fontina is a semisoft cheese made from cow’s milk. It has a sweet and nutty flavor, with a buttery texture that makes it the perfect provolone substitute.
Usually, in the production of Fontina, there are no additional ingredients or artificial preservatives, so it is a gluten-free cheese. However, this mostly applies to the traditional Italian Fontina cheese and labels should always be checked beforehand.
Use Fontina in place of provolone in any recipe, even to substitute shredded provolone. Fontina is especially good for melting.
2. Gouda cheese
Gouda is originally from the southern regions of the Netherlands, however, it became so popular that it entered the recipes of many different cultures. There are different types of Gouda, but at its core, this cheese stays the same.
Gouda may be easier to find in stores than provolone or Fontina cheese. It is a semisoft cheese made from cow’s milk and it tastes similar to provolone, but it’s denser. However, the more Gouda ages, the sweeter it becomes, unlike provolone.
Gouda is versatile and can be used in many different recipes, including pasta and pizza. You can cook with it and you can melt it, or you can also slice it and add it to sandwiches.
3. Mozzarella cheese
Mozzarella is one of the most popular types of cheese in the world, so it is easily available everywhere and it can be used almost everywhere, as it’s also a good substitute for many types of cheese, like paneer.
In the U.S. mozzarella is usually made from American buffalo’s milk, however, it’s not the only variety available. This Italian cheese originally has three varieties:
– Mozzarella di bufala campana: this is the original buffalo milk mozzarella and it’s today a DOP product recognized by the European Union. It is produced exclusively in the Campania region of Italy.
– Buffalo milk mozzarella: it includes all other mozzarella made from buffalo milk that is not DOP products.
– Fior di latte: the name can be literally translated as “milk flower”, it’s the mozzarella made from cow milk and is known simply as “mozzarella” because it’s the most common variety and also the least expensive.
While fresh mozzarella is usually the best type of mozzarella to consume, when looking for a provolone cheese replacement it is better to use low-moisture mozzarella, which is made by souring fresh mozzarella and removing all the liquids.
Being a drier product, low-moisture mozzarella is saltier and has a longer shelf life, however, its flavor will always be milder than provolone. Nonetheless, mozzarella is so versatile that it can substitute provolone in every recipe, used in the same quantity.
4. Provola cheese
The name provola can be translated as “little provolone” (though not literally) so it’s easier to confuse the two types of cheese. Provola and provolone are two “pasta filata” types of cheese, the first originating in southern Italy, the latter in the northern regions.
Despite the similarities, they’re different in other ways. Provola is like an aged mozzarella because the production process of these two types of cheeses is the same up until the end, except provola is left to age while mozzarella is sold fresh.
The flavor of provola is also milder and less strong than provolone but works really well when cooked. It can be a good provolone cheese substitute if you’re up for some new flavors.
5. Edam cheese
Back to the Netherlands for another pleasant provolone substitute, Edam cheese is the second most popular type of cheese produced in the country.
While Edam is now produced in many different countries, it is better to purchase the one from Netherlander if you want to taste the original flavor, because Edam-like imitations usually taste nothing like the real one.
Edam cheese usually has a round shape and it looks like a small fruit because of its distinctive red coating. It’s a semisoft cheese like provolone which is easy to slice and melts really well, so you can replace provolone with it in cheese-based dishes.
6. Parmesan cheese
Parmesan is the American term for Parmigiano Reggiano, which in Italy is a specific type of grana (grated cheese) made in the Emilia-Romagna region (specifically the provinces of Reggio Emilia and Parma which give the cheese its name, but also Modena, Mantova, and Bologna).
It is a DOP product made from cow’s milk with no additives and while it can be eaten on its own, it is mostly used grated as topping over a wide variety of dishes, especially pasta.
Not all parmesan-labeled cheeses in the U.S. are Parmigiano Reggiano, as there are many other brands and imitations around.
While parmesan is not really similar to provolone, it fits well in any recipe, so it could work as a provolone alternative when you’re in a pinch. Most dishes would benefit from the savory flavor of parmesan, except fish-based dishes. Parmesan and cheese in general shouldn’t be used on fish.
7. Muenster cheese
Muenster cheese is the American version of the French cheese called Munster, or Munster Géromé. The original takes its name from the town of Munster in France, where this cheese has been made since the Middle Ages.
The original Munster must be made with cow’s unpasteurized milk as it’s an AOC product (french equivalent of DOC, Designation of Controlled Origin) and it’s a soft cheese. The American Muenster is a semisoft cheese like provolone.
If you wish to make Muenster cheese as close as possible with provolone, mix it with low-moisture mozzarella, which will also increase the fat content since Muenster is pretty poor in fats.
These two types of cheese balance each other out because mozzarella is mild and soft, while Muenster is more savory and has a richer texture.
8. Gruyère cheese
Gruyère is a Swiss cheese that is usually left to age for six months, or even longer than that. Its name comes from the town of Gruyères where this cheese was first made, even though it’s famous for being the grilled cheese in the classic French sandwich called Croque monsieur.
Gruyère is pretty versatile because it works well as a sliced cheese in appetizer plates, but it’s also a good melting cheese and it’s especially delicious when grilled. Its flavor is nutty like provolone and it has a creamy and pleasant texture.
Gruyère, together with Emmental, is the cheese commonly used in fondue. Since it works really well when cooked, it is recommended to use it as a substitute for provolone in cooked recipes.
9. Emmental cheese
Emmental is another Swiss cheese and one of the most popular types of cheese in the world, easily recognizable for the small holes that form during the fermentation process. In the U.S. and in many parts of the world it is simply known as Swiss cheese.
Emmental has a mild but appetizing taste and is mainly used sliced, added to sandwiches, or to cheese plates. It is a good melting cheese, in fact together with Gruyère is often used in fondue or as grilled cheese, though it doesn’t expand as much as mozzarella.
Use Emmental as a substitute for provolone in sandwiches or cold meat dishes.
How to choose a provolone substitute.
When choosing a provolone substitute it’s important to understand that provolone is quite unique, so it’s not possible to find a perfect equivalent and if you really need something exactly like provolone, the only choice you have is to venture out and buy some.
We can break down the best provolone alternatives in these categories:
– Best Flavor: Fontina, Gouda, Muenster cheese mixed with mozzarella.
– Best Sliced: Emmental, Edam, Gruyère.
– Best Grilled: Gruyère, Emmental.
– Best Melted: Mozzarella, Fontina, Edam.
– Best Topping: Parmesan.
There are many varieties of cheese, each one with its characteristics and that fits certain recipes better than others. Nothing prevents you from trying to replace provolone with another type of cheese that better fits your taste!