Last week I had friends over for dinner and decided to make my famous Chicken Valdostano, which simply isn’t the same without the intense aroma of Fontina cheese.
I went down to my local grocery store, but I couldn’t find any.
I knew there is no reason to panic because I was often forced to use substitutes for this type of cheese, especially because my boys don’t like the strong smell of Fontina (I still hope they’ll grow to love it one day).
During the dinner, I’ve commented on this issue with my dear friend Hannah, and she said that she never knew what to use instead of Fontina in a dish.
That’s why I decided to share this article with you and help you find Fontina cheese substitute.
What is Fontina and what makes it special?
Fontina cheese is not everyone’s cup of tea, probably because of its smell which has the tendency of intensifying with age.
It is made of cow’s milk, but only the one which comes from Val d’Aosta, Italy. It is an aged and pungent cheese covered with a reddish-brown rind and irregular in shape.
I love that is rich and creamy and has just a couple of small holes. When melted in a dish (e.g., over gnocchi) it gets mild and smooth.
There is a Danish alternative to this cheese, and it’s called Danish Fontina. I think this one is much easier to find in our local grocery stores.
It is similar to the Italian variant, but a bit sweeter than its namesake.
What to cook with Fontina cheese?
I use Fontina cheese in the kitchen frequently, and sometimes even as a substitute for Parmesan (only when it is fully matured).
It is very versatile in taste, and although it is high in calories, it can be used for all sorts of dishes from light meals to main courses.
Also, it melts pretty evenly which gives it an advantage over many other melted kinds of cheese.
Fontina cheese goes extraordinarily well with chicken and pasta, but it is also great for breakfast dishes such as a sandwich, frittatas, and omelets (Do you have the best omelet pan?). Because it is delicate in taste, it can also be used as a dessert cheese.
What can you use as a Fontina cheese substitute?
Since there can never be one cheese that tastes, melts, and smells exactly like another, it is impossible to have one unique substitute for Fontina cheese.
During my years of cooking (I can’t count them anymore) I have found various cheeses that can be used in recipes that require Fontina as an ingredient.
Here are some of them:
- Gruyere: This is one of the closest substitutes I have found. The Swiss Gruyere is made of raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk, just like Fontina. It has a nutty flavor, dense texture, and yellow color. It complements sandwiches, various types of pasta, and soups.
- Gouda: This cheese is obtained from cow’s milk, and it is perfect for melting, grating, and slicing. Its superior taste goes well with salads, fondue, and vegetables.
- Mozzarella: The use of Mozzarella in kitchens around the globe is endless. While in flavor it can’t quite compare with Fontina, it melts evenly just like Fontina cheese, and pairs well with the meals that require that soft, delicate melted cheese effect. I like to combine it with pizzas, lasagna, and meat dishes.
- Taleggio: Taleggio has a similar distinctive smell, tangy taste, and high-fat content as Fontina. It is used in the preparation of bread (e.g., garlic bread), pizzas, and meat-based dishes such as chicken, ham, and bacon recipes.
- Havarti: This famous dessert cheese shares the creaminess of melted Fontina, which is why it should be experimented with when making pasta and sandwiches.
- Bel Paese: This Italian cheese with lingering smell and taste is soft and melts easily. I use it in foods that need thick texture, like pizzas and desserts. It is a nice choice for fondue, as well.
- Appenzeller: I found this one in my grocery store by accident, and I was thrilled. Appenzeller is semi-hard cheese denoted for its spicy taste. It is fantastic in macaroni, pasta, and fondue.
- Edam: Edam is also semi-hard and pale yellow. Its flavor is nutty, but also mild. It is an excellent accompaniment to meaty foods, pasta, and crepes.
- Provolone: This beloved Italian cheese is tangy-tasting just like Fontina. It makes every dish taste delicious, especially salad dressings, pasta dishes, and soups.
- Emmental: You might know this cheese by the name of “Swiss cheese”. It enhances the taste of dishes, especially sauces, but because of its nutty taste, it can also be used as a snack with fondue and fruits.
- Parmesan: I already mentioned that sometimes I substitute Parmesan with Fontina, but this works the other way too because Parmesan is also nutty and thick. It is fantastic when used with vegetables, spaghetti, pasta, and salads.
So, there you have it, the answer to your question. There is no one perfect Fontina cheese substitute.
If we would choose it based on which one has the most similarities with Fontina, I would have to say that is Gruyere. However, some dishes where the recipe demands Fontina require the delicate melting of Mozzarella, while some benefit from the tangy taste of Provolone.
In the end, it all comes down to the recipe, your preferences, what you have in your fridge or what’s available in the grocery store.