Today, we will explore the best cheese for pasta made with white and red sauces. This comprehensive guide will not only look at which options are best but how and when to use them.
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How To Choose A Cheese For Pasta Dishes
I’m not going to sit here today and preach that some cheeses don’t work for this or that pasta. Because at the end of the day, there are only two REAL factors to consider when choosing which cheese to use in pasta.
The first is whether or not YOU like the flavor of the cheese, and the second is if that flavor of that cheese (and sometimes texture) works with the flavor of the sauce base.
There are some great natural flavor pairings for pasta and cheese. Gouda and bechamel sauce. Feta in a basil and tomato penne pasta. Or the classic pairing of Parmesan on top of a creamy Carbonara.
But some cheese options simply work better than others! They make a safe and versatile pairing that can guarantee an amazing pasta flavor.
That being said, you can still experiment with different combinations to discover a new personal favorite or create an entirely new and unique pairing yourself.
You can use these options as-is or use a different kind of cheese with a similar flavor profile and texture to substitute with.
Texture Of The Cheese When Heated
Now, while this isn’t a massive factor to consider, it’s important nevertheless.
If you want a melty, rich, luscious, creamy mac and cheese, feta won’t work. You can add it to the mix, of course, but alone it won’t help create that signature mouthfeel.
So, in that case, I would use Cheddar, Goude, Mozzarella, Swiss, Edam, or Raclette cheese. Really any cheese that melts completely and creates a stringy cheesy texture!
These types of cheeses (melting cheeses) are traditionally used in white creamy pasta, not tomato-based or herb-based pasta.
For those, a better option would be the cheese that doesn’t melt. It can soften, like feta, Parmesan, or camembert, but it shouldn’t melt. This helps add some more texture with a creamy mouthfeel still.
Best Cheese For Creamy Pasta
Creamy pasta is any type of pasta made with cream or milk. Usually, it’s a type of white sauce, like a bechamel sauce.
Here, the aim is to make the pasta even more creamy with melty cheese.
We start off with an extremely common and globally available cheese, cheddar.
What makes this option great is that it’s easy to find, affordable, and comes in a multitude of flavors, all of which melt completely.
The different flavors come from the aging period. “Fresh” or “unaged” cheddar has aged for a month or so. Then, you usually get 3, 6, 9, or 12-month-old cheddar. The older it is, the more bitter, complex, and tart the flavor will be – but in the best way possible! Unaged cheddar is much sweeter.
When experimenting with aged options, start with a little and add more as you go. You don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the pasta.
This is another very safe, easy-to-find, and budget-friendly melting cheese to use.
Now, granted, some people do find it a little boring. However, I love using it in creamy pasta ALONG with other cheeses. Its neutral flavor profile makes it easy to pair while it still adds a creamy rich texture.
Mozzarella is traditionally more used in pizza than pasta. But, like Gouda, it’s a fantastic basic melting cheese that can be used along with other options.
These are a couple of different textures and flavors you can play around with. But what makes this option a personal favorite is the shapes they come in, aka., Bocconcini balls.
There are a few options you can try, mainly traditional ricotta or ricotta salata.
Traditional ricotta is much creamier and has a slightly sweet flavor with notable salty flavors.
Ricotta salata is more crumbly but still uber creamy and decadent. It’s also much saltier, so consider this when seasoning the other pasta elements.
5. Swiss Emmental, Alpine Cheese, Or Gruyere
All of these are common Swiss cheese options that have excellent melting qualities.
While they do have somewhat different flavors, they are all very neutral and therefore very easy to pair.
For the most part, you can expect slightly sweet and salty flavors with a nutty undertone, perfectly suited for heartier meals.
6. Soft Goat’s Cheese (Chevin)
Usually, goat’s cheese is very crumbly and traditionally used for red pasta. However, if you use smooth, creamy soft, or fresh goat’s cheese, it will flawlessly melt into your white pasta sauce.
For this cheese, there are many different flavors. The Chevin logs even come seasoned with pepper, herbs, spices, and dressings.
It’s a fantastic way to experiment with more daring flavors, all while keeping that creamy texture you are looking to add.
Best Cheese For Red Sauce Pasta
The types of cheese for red pasta are anything with texture. You don’t really want melting cheese because it creates an odd, rubbery texture thanks to the acidic tomatoes.
1. Parmesan Or A Similar Hard Italian Cheese
You can buy regular Parmesan cheese or something a little more complex like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Basically, any type of hard Italian cheese.
This cheese can be added finely grated or as small shavings. They add a salty flavor with a bitter undertone. This combination of qualities helps create a well-balanced tomato pasta.
Feta cheese is arguably the easiest to add for red pasta types. And you also get different textures for it.
Usually, I would recommend something a little crumblier for tomato-based pasta. It’s easy to work with and makes a great topping.
The feta cheese will soften when heated but never melt. So, you still get that creamy mouthfeel but with a slight bit of texture
This is an incredible option for experimentation. You can use any type of blue cheese that you’d like. This option is just the easiest to find for me.
This type of cheese will add a zingy, bitter, and complex flavor to your pasta, especially red options. That being said, don’t be scared of adding it to white pasta as well. It works surprisingly well.
Last but not least, if you can get your hands on Asiago, it’s an option worth trying.
It can be grated or crumbled and works with almost every kind of pasta, red or white. It has a super creamy texture but won’t melt completely.
And, like Swiss cheeses, it also has that unique nutty undertone that will help make pasta hearty!