Does Risotto Have Cheese ? The Essential Non-Essential Ingredient

Risotto is one of the creamiest Italian delights you could ever taste, and it has millions of fans worldwide. You’ve likely had it at least once, and you’ve probably wondered what makes it so creamy. Most often the answer was a mix between parmesan and the rice used. 

But does risotto have any actual cheese in it ? There doesn’t seem to be any noticeable trace of cheese, but the dish does taste amazing. Could it be something else ? Can you skip the cheese entirely in a risotto ? And what makes a great risotto ? Let’s find out !

risotto cheese

Does risotto have cheese ?

Risotto does contain cheese, in the form of parmesan cheese. It also contains butter, so risotto is not dairy free. The parmesan in risotto is actually a key ingredient, as it helps bring flavor, creaminess, and adds to the final texture of a risotto dish.

You may try making risotto without parmesan, but you will need to rely on other ingredients for flavor and a bit of extra fat. For example a fully vegan risotto would have nutritional yeast in place of parmesan for flavor, and some extra cooking oil carefully mixed into the rice for  more creamy goodness.

Is it still risotto if it has no parmesan ? Yes. Will it still be creamy ? Also yes, because the creamy part of risotto comes from the rice, a specific type (arborio) which has more starch than your usual short grain. 

What can you put in risotto ?

You can add whatever you like to risotto, as long as you keep the same texture: creamy rice. So you may add fried bacon bits, a wholly different cheese from parmesan, mushrooms, chopped leafy greens, you name it. 

When thinking of ingredients to add to a risotto, first think about how much moisture they will bring to the dish. This is important, because anything that is extra wet or extra dry will throw off the balance of the dish, and may affect the final texture. And as you know, risotto is all about texture, otherwise it’d just be boiled rice. So here are some considerations.

Delicious ingredients that add extra moisture: zucchini, mushrooms, butternut squash, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers.

Delicious ingredients that dry up a risotto: breadcrumbs, shredded coconut, ground nuts or seeds of any kind.

When you add wine to a risotto, make sure it is a semi-dry white wine, but make it a great one. Cooking risotto with any wine that is bad will make the entire dish just garbage (we’ve been there). Too sour, to wine-y, and just overall gross. Always add less wine than you think you should, this is a really delicate dish, not like roast meat. 

Read also: Does Poutine Have Meat ?

Other cheese types to consider for risotto

While parmesan is the most used ingredient in risotto, there are plenty of cheese possibilities that you can try exploring while you’re at it. You can try using a variety of cheeses as you go, and you may even discover that this dish is as flexible as it can get. Even better, you might also even figure out a specific risotto recipe that you’re personally fond of.

That being said, below are some great cheese options that you can use when making your risotto dish.

1. Mozzarella

Fresh mozzarella or shredded mozzarella — either option works great for risotto. All you have to do is take a big ball of it, dice it in cubes, and stir them afterwards into your risotto dish prior to serving. These mozzarella cubes will melt enough to provide you with a textured risotto dish filled with magnificent cheese pulls.

Do keep in mind that the ratio of fat to carb will be higher, so adding too much mozzarella may result in a slightly gross combination. Less in better in this case.

2. Mascarpone or cream cheese

These cheeses are a great additive for when you want your risotto to look and taste richer and creamier than usual. However, the mascarpone is best to use with parmesan since it doesn’t contain the salty flavor that other cheeses usually provide.

The cream cheese will be a bit tangy and provide some texture and thickness, if you’re alright with the flavor. Either of these cheeses are fairly plain, and they pair very well with some mushrooms, especially shiitake. 

3. Fontina

A semi-soft cheese, Fontina is a cheese that melts easily but still keeps your dish interesting and delectable. You can grate it depending on your preference so that you can achieve your desired flavor. Additionally, what’s great is you can also utilize the fontina leftovers in frittatas and casseroles.

4. Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is similar to Parmesan in that they’re both hard cheeses and aged. However, Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk, which means that it provides a saltier, sharper, and tangier taste to your dish. If you’re alright with this then you’re going to really enjoy your risotto. 

5. Sharp cheddar

Despite not being an Italian ingredient, cheddar is a crowd-favorite that remains absolutely hard to ignore. This is because cheddar melts well into risotto, all while delivering a certain kick of nuttiness too. For this cheese option, either yellow or white cheddar can work. However, it would help if you kept in mind that the former can leave a yellowish hue to your risotto dish that can be reminiscent of mac and cheese.

Ideas for non-dairy risotto

Cheese is delicious and a staple in risotto, but it does not make a risotto. While some enjoy the cheese, there are still many people who dislike its texture or taste and seek out other alternatives.

Also, contrary to what people think, cheese isn’t necessary for risotto and doesn’t do anything to improve its consistency. The creaminess of the risotto depends on the rice and how promptly and thoroughly you stir and combine the ingredients.

That being said, there’s no shame in not being a dairy enthusiast — you’ll still be able to experience the wonders of the risotto dish even without cheese. Here are some alternatives you can try, and all are based on the usual risotto recipe what involves a small amount of white wine. 

1. Mushroom risotto with caramelized onions

To your usual risotto add in some finely chopped mushrooms. We suggest shiitake, or at least throw in some shiitake with the button mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. They have way more flavor than anything. Fry the onions in a bit of butter so they cook off their moisture and get a bit caramelized. The add them into the rice as it cooks, remembering to stir. 

On the side, add some finely or roughly chopped onions to a small amount of cooking oil. Butter will just burn if you cook it this long, so use cooking oil. Sautee the onions in a medium-low flame until they release nearly all their moisture.

The key is to get them to become translucent and turn a bit brown. This is when their natural sweetness comes out, and where it matters how much oil you add. Too much and the onions will end up gross. Too little and they will simply burn. It’s best to only coat the bottom of the frying pan. 

And yes your kitchen will smell of onions for the next 2 days but it’s very much worth it. We recommend serving the onions on top of the mushroom risotto, along with a handful or arugula or water cress. 

2. Pumpkin and sage risotto

To your usual risotto pan you will add some pumpkin puree, of any kind you like. If using canned be sure to get the puree, not the pumpkin pie mix (that one has sugar and spices). We need some plain ol’ pumpkin here. Be sure to add in some finely chopped and sauteed onions. 

Chop some sage on the side, and decide to either stir it into the risotto as it finishes cooking, or sprinkle it on top. Both work fine. For a nice touch add some crumbled goat cheese on top.