What Is The Best Cheese To Use For Authentic Carbonara?

Experiencing authentic pasta alla carbonara while sitting in a trattoria in Rome can change your life, or at the very least, your perspective on food. How could such a simple plate of food made with minimal ingredients give your taste buds such pleasure? There is no molecular gastronomy going on here, nor are there dollops of caviar or edible gold — just perfect ingredients that play well together. Of course, if there's anyone who can take a few eggs, pasta, and cheese and make them into an iconic dish, it's the Italians.

There are four signature pasta dishes that Rome is famous for: gricia, amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and carbonara. Three out of the four use guanciale, a fatty piece of pork jowl, and all of them include Pecorino Romano, a dry sheep's milk cheese produced in the Lazio region of Italy where Rome is located. When the time comes when you want to re-create that ethereal carbonara you enjoyed on the edge of that piazza, sipping Pinot Bianco, this is the cheese you'll want to get your hands on.

Pecorino Romano is a must

More often than not, it's Parmigiano Reggiano that gets all the attention when it comes to Italian food and pasta dishes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as Parmigiano Reggiano is an incredible tasting cheese, produced with patience and care and having a salty, nutty flavor profile that can't be matched. You can even substitute it for Pecorino Romano if you aren't able to find the latter — but your carbonara won't be truly authentic if you do. Not only is Pecorino Romano a local cheese that simply makes sense for using in a Roman dish, it is saltier than Parmigiano Reggiano and, therefore, seasons the pasta dish better.

Spaghetti is the pasta that is usually equated with pasta alla carbonara, but tonnarelli, bucatini, and even rigatoni are regularly used in Rome, depending on the place you order it from. Any of these can be used to make authentic carbonara. Guanciale is another essential ingredient, but pancetta and even bacon are good substitutes. Finally, egg yolks and black pepper round out the ingredient list of this classic dish. When put together, a creamy sauce is created (without the use of actual cream) that coats every strand of pasta and takes you to culinary nirvana. The cheese itself goes into the sauce, but feel free to sprinkle it liberally over your dish as well.