I always wondered about this seemingly static rule:

Never add cheese (especially, but not limited to parmigiano reggiano) to a dish with fish.

Italians would never, ever add parmigiano reggiano to a pasta with fish. But they have many other fixed views on food (e.g. sweet and savoury is a no-no, which is allowed at least in Austria and Japan).

I obliged until now, but I wonder where this rule comes from. To be honest, I would never add cheese to frutti di mare, but I'm open to trying other combinations. Is there some evidence that the two ingredients don't mix well? I hear there are some exceptions: Tuna with parmigiano reggiano is okay, but I only tried that as a salad and it was good. Also, I once saw a recipe of fish with mascarpone.

Did you ever have a professional cook serving you fish with cheese?

Please, I'm not interested in your personal opinion, but I'm trying to understand the rule and the exceptions.


Status update: Thanks for the brainstorming so far. I'm collecting the intermediate results:

  • Most importantly: It seems to be a regional thing (w/ Italy at its heart)
  • @Walter, @TFD and @Joe all agree on tuna as the prime counter example.
  • However, they disagree on the reason: We have @TFD's opinion, that tuna is strong and thus is not outplayed by strong cheese and @Walter's italo-centric opinion, that tuna is a particularly 'unfishy' fish.
  • @Carmi mentions umami as one/the possible reason.
  • @Todd has entered the discussion and disputes the highest voted answer: The umami claim by @Carmi. I'm delighted, because I'm still cautions about umami.

  • If you provide further examples, please include a detailed descriptions and a reason why you think the particular combination is a "allowed".

I would be extremely interested in opinions that favour the motion/rule. Is there anybody willing to take a stance and (maybe even) explain the origin?

And what about seafood with cheese? Is it unthinkable?

  • 2
    I also wonder where this rule comes from. Could you give us some idea of where you heard it from? It's certainly the first time I've ever heard of it.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 13:51
  • well, I grew up with it. Now I'm living in Italy where I'm even more exposed to it.
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 19:21
  • 2
    "No cheese with fish" is one of the unwritten Italian rules; being Italian, I can report it is true.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 20:33
  • 9
    No, please, we don't need this question to become a compendium of examples (AKA recipes) that happen to include fish and cheese - any recipe search can do that. If this is a regional convention then it would make for far more interesting reading to hear about its origins, the reasons (if any) why it came to be, and what exceptions are known or implied - as several of the answerers have been doing, to various degrees.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 21:32
  • modified my post in order to avoid the growth of recipe collection, thx @Aeronut
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 11:28

13 Answers 13


Disagree with the umami analysis from @Carmi, even if it was a good attempt. You have some basic facts wrong though.

  • Cooked tomato sauce is high in umami, and is often combined with mushrooms, however, a sauce with mushrooms would not take parmigiano (also extremely high in umami)
  • Mozarella is high in umami, like most fresh young cheeses. So is tuna.
  • Caesar salad has both anchovies and parmigiano (both high in umami).

But you are sort of on the right track. Baked fish in Italy is not strong in flavor. It's delicate and calls for the following: fresh lemon. That's it. Maybe some fresh parsley. Usually cooked with no herbs and served with no sauce. The fish should be extremely fresh and appreciated for it's delicate flavor. Something like parmigiano would easily overpower the taste of the fresh fish and by putting it on fish you are telling the cook "this is fish gone bad and I need to cover the taste with something". Or if it was served that way, maybe better to avoid it because what is the cook trying to hide? While there I never encountered a fish dish served with cheese.

Being a curious foodie and having lived in Italy for 5 years, I can also add the following:

  • There are a LOT of rules that might seem strange to an outsider. No cappuccino after 10am. You don't mix salty and sweet in the same dish, or even during the same course. Beer with pizza, not wine. You would never drink coffee before or during desert, it's served after.
  • While I was there I did a lot of thinking about the basis of some of these rules and concluded it's usually either 1) health, 2) taste, or 3) regional cultural rules.
  • I asked the fish and cheese question a few times. The answer was always "That's gross, you just don't put cheese on fish". My guess is this one falls under 2 and 3.

The health angle from @Walter I think has a lot of validity in general. Italians often complain of their liver hurting after eating especially 'heavy' meals. Heavy meaning something very specific in Italian: difficult to digest. So a fresh salad with too much raw garlic could be considered heavy because garlic sometimes causes indigestion. A huge chunk of parmigiano is not considered heavy because parmigiano is very digestable. My guess is some of the rules come out of the particulars of the Italian digestive system. Much like you will not find many Asians joining me when I chug my glass of milk.

  • 5
    I think this is the correct answer. I am italian and while I confirm this rule is widely accepted, it is mostly enforced on delicate fish flavours. Even tomato sauce is not overly used on delicate fish. On tuna, yes. But pasta with shrimp or frutti di mare will have no or very little tomato sauce.
    – Frazz
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 7:54
  • 4
    On a side note sweet and salty (or sour) dishes still do exist (mostarda di Cremona, cipolline in agrodolce, pork or boar with apple sauce) but are residues of medieval cuisine. Sweet was historically mixed with other spices and used everywhere, up until the Renaissance period. After that, the structure of the course has been revised and sweet has been relegated to the fruit and dessert phase (not just in Italy, but in most western cuisine). Most people now don't have a taste for sweet and spicy dishes... they just feel too different and strange to most.
    – Frazz
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 7:56

I think that historically, at least in Italy, it is due to the fact that the majority of the regions facing the sea weren't big cheese producers on the first place, hence the fact that cheese wasn't present in their recipes. This might eventually have become a custom, without any particular reason, besides the original lack of the ingredient on the first place.

If you think about it, if you were a fisherman you probably didn't have much time for keeping a herd of cows for milk and dairy products, and buying it wasn't probably all that feasible (and it was expensive, too). This probably led to the search for substitutes such as breadcrumbs, which are sometimes referred to as "poor men's Parmesan".

Italians are generally very tied to their traditions, so the fact that Italians tell you that fish and cheese is a big no-no probably doesn't have a very good reason to exist, apart from the fact that so it was told by their parents, and their parents' parents and so on.

New recipes with fish and cheese do exist, as old ones that were forgotten are rediscovered (I counted about 10 recipes out of 50 with Parmesan and some other sort of fish in my "Artusi" cookbook), it might just take a while to get accustomed.

I remember my aunt telling me how disgusted she was in the early '60s of seeing "tortellini with cream" in a London's restaurant. Now they are widespread, and nobody is complaining anymore, even though at the time it was considered a "heresy". It happened with that. It is happening with fish and cheese. It will change, eventually.

  • 6
    There was some evidence I saw years ago that the "no cheese with fish" rule originated among Italian Americans that observed a convention and promoted it as a rule, and the historical accident that led to this was reverse-imported back to Italy in an era of trying to define "correct" Italian cuisine. I forgot where I read this account, but it seemed more convincing than any arguments based on natural flavor affinities.
    – JasonTrue
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 18:43

Fish and cheese is fine. There are plenty of recipes that use these two ingredients together e.g. fish taco (cotija cheese and fried snapper in a tortilla), tuna pie (tuna casserole topped with rich cheese sauce baked in a pie crust)

The problem is that many fish have very delicate flavours, and since they are often served hot the cheese tends to melt and then have an overbearing flavour and smell

Strong flavoured oily fish (salmon, tuna) would more likely match with cheese, especially with strong cheeses such as parmesan

Having said that, I suspect any baked or poached fish fillet tastes great with a blue cheese sauce

from Caribbean Recipes

  • great answer already @TFD. I do not understand all aspects though and hope you can clarify. You're saying that: 1. delicate (weakly characteristic?) fish is outplayed by strong cheese, 2. Strongly flavoured (do you mean intrinsically very tasty/characteristic?) fish matches well with strong cheese and 3. you assume most fish taste good with blue cheese sauce. Do you consider blue cheese a strong or weak cheese? Can you rate the examples given under your own categories? thanks!
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 19:59
  • 1. Yes. 2. Strong/oily fish goes well with any strong or mild cheese. Weak fish generally not such a great candidate for cheese. 3. Blue cheese is not a normal cheese flavour, and pairs well regardless of fish type. Of course less people like blue cheese than cheese in general. Examples are very subjective as fish names and species vary widely around the word. Our local snapper is delicate, but oily enough to pair out a tasty cheese. Our local salmon and yellow fin tuna are also very strong
    – TFD
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 22:40

It's not a personal thing, it's a regional Italian thing. And it's even something like keeping kosher where you don't mix meat and dairy. (although, I'm not sure if fish counts as 'meat' under those rules).

Just the other day I was watching David Rocco's Dulce Vita on Cooking Channel, and he specifically showed someone's recipe that had shrimp and parmesean in it; he even commented on the no mixing fish and cheese 'rule', but mentioned that there were lots of exceptions to the 'rule'.

Personally, my mom's Italian-American, and although she was always concious of the no fish and cheese thing when visiting Italy to not offend people, growing up, we'd have tuna boats topped with cheddar cheese; a touch of parmesean or percorina romano (even more strongly flavored than parmesean) on a shrimp risotto, etc.

  • 2
    FYI, fish does not count as 'meat' under those rules.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 13:52
  • +1 for the reference to a professional (David Rocco), although I don't know him and also the story of your mum.
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 19:35
  • 2
    For keeping kosher, fish only counts as meat for Jews from Sephardi backgrounds. (Generally, the current or formerly Islamic countries, such as Spain, northern Africa, and the Middle East). Fish doesn't count as meat in Ashkenazi Jewish culture (Eastern Europe).
    – Martha F.
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 2:30

It's an umami thing. Both the very "fishy" fishes and the very "cheesy" cheeses, both of which are favoured in Italy, are very umami in flavour. Parmesan and anchovies are two very typical sources of umami in many dishes. It's possible that combining the two would make something that is just too umami, and you get that MSG overdone flavour.

Generally, a good cook will try to balance flavours, perhaps to let one stand out over the others, but not to overdo it, which a combination of fish and cheese would do.

That's probably why tuna and mozzarela is fine, as they are relatively not very umami.

  • 1
    Interesting! And this provides another example that supports strong-fish-with-weak-cheese is okay: pizza napoletana contains anchovies and mozzarella.
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 6:52
  • 4
    I did a little more research: Umami taste is also very dominant in mushrooms or ripe tomatoes. Isn't that a contradiction? Tomatoes and parmesan is the classical combination?! I'm confused.
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 11:13
  • 1
    Well, as I'm unfamiliar with the concept, I think it's fair to ask for further references. If I had as much reputation as @Aaronut, I wouldn't bother. However, I think there is a subtle difference between umami and salt: Salt is something I grew up with tasting, adding and evaluating. It's also in my kitchen cabinet. Umami is not (it's not a Japanese kitchen :] ). Oh and if it is some kind of metric: Umami is unknown to my spell checker! :P
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 15:49
  • 2
    @Sebastian: I actually tried to write a description of umami that is concise enough for a comment and yet also explains why no European language has a word for it. I can't do it though, and I think it's an interesting enough topic to have its own question. If you ask it as an independent question, I'll be happy to answer it, as will many of the others here.
    – Carmi
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 16:23
  • 1
    @Carmi, @Aaronut's description above is concise and pretty much the standard definition. From the Wikipedia entry on Savoriness "Umami, popularly referred to as savoriness, is one of the five basic tastes..." So we do have a word for it, it just wasn't recognized as one of the basic tastes in Europe until recently. Commented May 4, 2011 at 7:42

I have never found in food science texts that dairy and fish do not go together for health or other reasons. On the other hand, the rule is a pretty strong on in Italian cuisine. You can find popular exceptions to it, for example there are countless salads served in Italian cafès (in Italy, I mean) that feature tuna fish (always from a can) and mozzarella. An Italian like me might tell you that canned tuna fish is the least fishy of fishes in the Italian worldview: people who don't eat any other fish will eat tuna from a can. In the same vein, mozzarella is barely cheese - no sharp, cheesy taste at all.

But to sum it up, I think that it is simply a widespread habit that then you can codify into a rule to use when generating new Italian dishes.

Another Italian no-no is fish and meat combinations, with few expections - vitello tonnato comes to mind.

  • +1 for considering health aspects @Walter, I didn't even think about that! Secondly thanks for providing some regional expert opinion.
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 19:32
  • your answer makes most sense to me until now. Mozzarella is not very cheesy, but I never saw a fish dish accompanied by mozzarella. Can you name one? But I'm curious: tuna is not very fishy?
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 20:09
  • The /tuna not very fishy thing/ is just a shot in the dark :) Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 21:35

It is definitely a regional rule. Growing up in NE Brazil, I often had a typical fish dish called Peixe a Delicia - fish cooked in a cheese sauce with plantains.

Edit: I think the fish most commonly used is snapper or halibut, and mostly mozzarella cheese.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Thanks for this example, could you please add: Is this typical fish of strong flavour (compared to tuna)? What about the cheese? Is it strong as pecorino or more like mozzarella? Nice picture!
    – Sebastian
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 19:39

In the original question, and in some of the answers I read statements about a no fish and cheese rule in the Italian cuisine.

As an Italian who has traveled a lot in Italy (and abroad), I find that the situation is somewhat more multi-faceted. Probably because there is not a unique Italian cuisine, but many regional Italian cuisines from different regions of Italy (I would count at least a dozen of different cultural areas for the Italian cuisine).

In Sicily, for example, there are extremely popular recipes marrying cheese and fish. The first two examples coming to my mind are Sarde alla beccafico (Sicilian stuffed sardines) and swordfish rolls filled with pecorino cheese.

Also in Veneto (the region where Venice is) we can find another well known recipe, "Baccalà alla vicentina" (stockfish cooked as in Vicenza) where Vicenza is another town of Veneto.

And what about seafood and cheese? A well established recipe in many sea sites in Italy is scallops au gratin, where scallops are covered by parmesan cheese.

Notice that I am speaking about recipes which are traditional in some regions and not about creations of modern chefs.

  • Very nice addition to the discussion, grazie! I will check for recipes of your counter-examples. Now just let me know how you tipped over a 9 year old question? 😅
    – Sebastian
    Commented Nov 25, 2020 at 23:00
  • 1
    @Sebastian Just by chance. I was on a page on Physics SE and I noticed, among the hot network questions, a question about "Is there a reason to not grate cheese ahead of time?" which captured my attention. In that page, looking at the "related questions" I noticed this one and reading the answers I realized that they were giving a too partial view of the situation. That's all. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 0:01

"Please, I'm not interested in your personal opinion, but I'm trying to understand the rule and the exceptions."

The "rule" probably came into existence because of a lot of peoples' personal opinions that the combination doesn't yield something that tastes good :)

  • 2
    It might not even be a 'tastes good' thing ... it might be frugal thing (don't waste good cheese on something that tastes good without it (or is already potentially salty); or don't mask the flavor of a great fish)
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 11:35

Can fish and cheese inhabit the mouth together successfully -- it all depends. An example: Pierre Franey's Shrimp Greek Style with Rigatoni. The briny feta adds earthy salt, sharpening the taste buds and contrasting with the lush shrimp.

  • 2
    Shrimp is not fish.
    – Sneftel
    Commented May 4, 2020 at 20:34

A rule without a reason? The only things that should ever preclude two food items from being eaten together is taste (does it taste bad?) or danger (will it make you sick?). My mother was born in Italy, came from a long line of amazing cooks, and we grew up putting cheese on all types of pasta dishes, including speghetti with clam sauce and fruiti de mare. What about seafood fettuccini alfredo or lobster mac n cheese? This is hogwash and whoever created this ridiculous rule should apologize to the entire food industry!


Parmesan is way to strong to be put on fish dishes. Its taste is too strong and overwhelms the flavour of the fish.


As a pro chef, fresh seafood is one of the most delicate, subtle and wonderful flavors we can eat. To combine that with a hormonal, fermented barnyard animals discharge is heresy of the highest order. Now i’m not talking about smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel which I really like.

I’m talking about pristine fresh fish unprocessed and simply prepared.

Kinda makes sense doesn’t it?

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