The Unexpected Cheese Ina Garten Sprinkles On Her French Onion Soup

It comes as no surprise that pro chef Ina Garten has adapted her own version of the bistro classic, French onion soup. The author and "Barefoot Contessa" host excels in comfort food recipes, but often with her own twist. Traditional French onion soup is characterized by a richly-flavored stock and lots of caramelized onions, but the crowning glory of is a very generous layer of melted cheese on top of a crisp crouton. The go-to cheese to use is often Gruyère or Comté, but Garten opts for a rather unusual choice: grated Parmesan.

Parmesan is sometimes used in conjunction with other cheeses in French onion soup, but rarely alone. It's nutty, sharp, and tastes excellent with caramelized onions, but it isn't known for its melting capabilities. Garten has been open about foods she doesn't like, like cilantro, but Gruyère cheese isn't one of them. In fact, she uses the Alpine cheese in several of her recipes, like grilled cheese sandwiches, smashed hamburgers, and mac and cheese.

Substituting Parmesan for Gruyère in French onion soup will give you a good flavor, and it certainly cuts the prep time down, as you won't have to place the soup under the broiler until the cheese melts. However, you also won't get to experience that oh-so-satisfying cheese pull with every spoonful. If you want to shake up your recipe, but don't want to miss out on the essential meltiness, you have plenty of other options.

Step away from tradition with other types of cheese

While Ina Garten prefers Parmesan, there are several swaps you can make for the traditional Gruyère in French onion soup, like Swiss, Raclette, and Emmentaler. These are all considered Alpine cheeses that melt beautifully, making them fitting (and sometimes less expensive) options. The aforementioned Comté cheese is similar to nutty Gruyère, but is made in France. 

With its excellent melting abilities, some cheddar cheese would also be a good topper, but the flavor isn't so much nutty as it is tangy. Italian mozzarella is another winner when it comes to melting, but is much milder in flavor than the aforementioned Alpine cheeses. Provolone is similar in texture but stronger in flavor, and is another good budget option. 

If you like the idea of adding the flavor of Parmesan into the soup, but also want a good melting cheese for the top, consider dropping a Parmesan cheese rind into the pot with your onions while they cook down. The rind will impart its flavor, but remain solid, so you can fish it out of the soup base before you ladle it out. Then, top your bowl with your preferred melting cheese and give it a blast in the broiler until it's melted and browned on top.