5 Clever Substitutions For Fontina That Will Melt Your Heart
Recently I spent a month on a paleo diet, which among other things, doesn't allow you to eat dairy. Missing out on the wonder that is cheese nearly killed me. It has both creaminess and bite at the same time. Different cheese varieties have the power to take you into worlds that are nutty, peppery, salty, sweet, and bold. What could compare with that?
Fontina cheese is a very unique product; a creamy grass-fed cow’s milk semi-soft cheese that only comes from the Aosta valley in Italy. Originating in the 12th century, fontina cheese has a special flowery taste due to the very particular diet of the cows.
The taste is also natural and fresh as it is made into cheese within two hours of milking. Being aged under specific humidity and temperature conditions, this kind of cheese has a very strong scent and becomes mild and soft when melted.
Fontina is often recommended over other cheeses because of its versatility and its more smooth and even melt. This cheese is great served on its own, in sandwiches, in salads, and in cooking. It also goes well with wine, but then again what doesn’t?
Fontina has a very specific, very sought after intense nutty flavor, also described as earthy, mushroomy and woody. True fontina is hard to source and expensive to buy, generally considered a special occasion dish.
Fontina finds itself the star in many cuisines, not least of which is Italian. It is an excellent addition to a cheese platter or antipasto plate, it is wonderful combined with mozzarella on pizza, or melted into grilled cheese sandwiches, on croissants, in egg dishes, on pasta or in a gratin or fondue.
Cheese is a wonderful ingredient because it doesn't really make people nervous (except maybe blue vein cheese). Anyone can use cheese confidently and it is delicious even with the simplest accompaniments and very few cooking steps.
I'm already picturing melted fontina dripping over crusty bread, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper and a handful of arugula.
Many people are brave enough to try making a fontina cheese recipe, based on the rave reviews of its amazing flavor, but what do you do then if you can't get it?
5 Clever Substitutions For Fontina That Will Melt Your Heart
#1.Fontinella Or Fontal Cheese, From Other Parts Of Italy
These cheeses are the best substitute because they are closest in flavor to the original. They are produced in other parts of Italy so that the conditions can be replicated as well as possible. Also, these are hard conditions to replicate; the cows of fontina only graze above a certain height on the mountain, where only certain vegetation grows.
While few supermarkets may stock these, you are likely to find them at gourmet food stores and you can also buy them (and original fontina) online. These two cheeses may cost around half what you have to pay for true fontina cheese
#2.Danish Or US Fontina
The fontina most readily available in the US is Danish fontina, so most likely this is the taste you are most used to when you think of fontina anyway. Danish fontina is sweeter, milder and more buttery in flavor and a bit softer and paler than the real thing. This cheese is a lot less pungent than Italian fontina if that is what turned you off the original one in the first place. Danish fontina is generally easier to get and is lower in price.
This does not taste the same as true fontina but can create lovely dishes in its own right. Danish fontina’s texture is just as good, and it is an excellent cheese for melting. For more information on Danish fontina see here
Lesser known again is the Swedish fontina which is also easily sourceable in the US and as good as the Danish version. Both are characterized by the dark red rind around the cheese.
#3.Other Cheese (Gouda, Taleggio, Goat’s Cheese, Appenzeller, Emmental, Gruyere, Provolone, Mozzarella, Havarti, Bel paese, Parmesan, Cheddar, Edam, Reblochon)
Some other cheeses are recommended as acceptable substitutes for fontina cheese, and all of those mentioned with melt well and provide a similar taste to what you're used to from Danish fontina. These cheeses are generally less expensive and easier to find.
If you are trying to find a substitute with the sharp, strong bite of the original Italian fontina, you will notice that dishes with these cheeses, while tasty and lovely in texture, are not as sharp in bite. You can still create a successful dish, but if your guests are purists they may spot the substitution right away.
The best thing to do when substituting is consider the role that fontina is playing in your finished dish, and then choose a replacement that has similar qualities. For instance if the recipe is using it for taste, you need a bitey cheese like Parmesan, if it calls for melting like fondue, you need something that becomes lovely and creamy and does not re-harden when it cools.
One thing you can try is mixing the following to an even paste:
- Grated gruyere
- Grated parmesan
- A little milk
- A dash of vinegar
Then use this as a substitute for fontina in melting dishes; it should more closely resemble the strong bite of Italian fontina than milder cheeses on their own. This mix is like the blend of creamy and sharp that fontina gives naturally.
#4.Vegan Substitutions And Lactose-Free Options
Of course, you could be looking for a substitute for other reasons than availability and cost; you may have dietary requirements, allergies or need a lower calorie replacement for your fontina.
There are some companies these days making fantastic quality non-dairy cheese, which not only tastes great, but retains the essential properties of cheese, that is, it melts. There is even a recipe for making your own cheese from cashew cream and herbs. However, I’m not sure I would recommend going down that path.
For some really good dairy-free recipes and substitutes check out
Wine will suit vegans and lactose intolerant people and is lower in calories than fontina. It is easy to source and can be (relatively) inexpensive. I wouldn’t recommend adding it to your recipe directly, but if you have a couple of bottles on hand to give to your guests before dinner, then they won’t notice if fontina is missing from your dish. You may even not need to serve a dish at all.
Fontina is a truly unique, truly special dish, which can be used so broadly in so many different types of cuisine. The very specific nutty bite of this cheese is hard to replace as is the smoothness with which it melts. But see what you can source, and play around with tastes and textures until you are happy.
Relax and remember to enjoy this process. You get to taste, try, and taste again, and learn a little more each time. Cooking is supposed to be adventurous and you never know what, with a little imagination and confidence, you could discover.