Grana Padano Cheese is a firm cheese that is usually served grated over meals. It is made with partially skimmed milk in five different regions of northern Italy, all north of the Po River. Grana Padano translated literally means "Grainy cheese of the Po River Valley." Generally, firm cheeses are quite sharp and pungent in flavor, making only a small amount necessary. Grana Padano has a slightly more subtle flavor and is less nutty and salty than other firm cheeses; however, there are many substitutes that will go unnoticed by the average diner.
Parmesan cheese is the most similar in flavor to Grana Padano because they are made in a very similar process, both in the northern region of Italy. Parmesan is slightly more salty and nutty overall than Grana Padano. Parmesan can only be made in the cities of Parma, Reggio, Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. Although made near each other, the cows that the milk is taken from graze on different pastures creating a difference in the flavors of the milk and thus the cheeses. Also, parmesan is made with skimmed and whole milk, making it a slightly fattier cheese. Parmesan can be used as an exact replacement for Grana Podano.
Aged Asiago cheese is another suitable replacement for Grana Padano because it is very similar in texture and flavor. Only aged Asiago works as a replacement because fresh Asiago is a soft cheese. Real asiago is made in the alpine area of the town of Asiago, Italy. Most cheese called Asiago is actually made elsewhere, using techniques and cultures that make a cheese of the same or similar flavor. Asaigo is also made from part skimmed milk, making it similar in flavor to Grana Padano, but it is slightly more nutty and pungent and should be used in only two thirds the amount as Granda Padano.
Romano cheese is an acceptable substitute for Grana Padano, however it is more sharp and pungent than Asiago and Parmesan, so it is least similar in flavor. Romano cheese is named after Rome itself, originally made in the region of Latium, Rome. Most Romano cheese is made in the United States today. Vacchino Romano is the best substitute because it is the mildest and made from cows milk like Grana Padano. Other Romano cheeses, such as Caprino and Pecorino are made with sheep's or goat's milk, which is naturally more pungent in flavor than the cows milk used in Grana Padano cheese. When using Romano cheese as a substitute, use about half the amount for a similar finished flavor.
An acceptable vegetarian replacement for Grana Padano is nutritional yeast powder. Nutritional yeast can be used as a replacement only when being sprinkled on top of a dish. It has a flavor that is nutty, cheesy and creamy. Nutritional yeast does not melt and should not be used as a replacement within recipes. Nutritional yeast is a mixture of sugarcane and beet molasses. It is low in fat and sodium and high in protein and vitamin B. Many versions of nutritional yeast are also fortified with vitamin B12, but not all nutritional yeast includes B12. Nutritional yeast is also referred to as yeshi in the United States.