Tool Shed: Not-so Grate for Cheese

More than a decade ago, my BFF (best foodie friend) Bonnie Stern gave me a gift that changed my life: a micro plane grater.

A micro plane in its natural habitat, a woodworking shop.

This was before there were Microplane® graters. Bonnie received a tip that sent her to the woodworking section of a local hardware store to find a fine-toothed plane that turned out to be a remarkable zester. She found someone who was packaging these planes for culinary use and began to carry them in the ktichenware shop at her cooking school in Toronto. While visiting the school one day, she gave me one of these newfangled zesters and told me it was going to change my life. I bought a few for friends. She was right. Our lives would never be the same. No more tough strands of zest from a traditional zester that had to be minced before the zest could be added to a cake batter. No longer would I have to figure out how to get the majority of zest off the box grater without cutting up my knuckles. I wrote about this revolutionary kitchen tool in trends-to-watch article for Food & Wine. Coincidentally, that same year Martha Stewart gave micro plane zesters for Christmas gifts.

My first micro plane grater still works like a charm.

As today’s wildly successful Microplane® manufacturer would want it, I use my grater for all sorts of things in the kitchen beyond zesting citrus, such as grating whole nutmeg and finely mincing garlic cloves into a paste. But a recent New York Times blurb about a new Microplane® grater for hard cheese moved me to write this post. About the only thing I don’t like to use a micro plane for is grating hard cheese.

Parmigiano Reggiano is the king of cheese for eating or grating.

I am obsessed with Parmigiano Reggiano, the king of grana cheeses. I shave strips of it onto salads, and use handfuls of it to finish pastas, risottos, and polenta. But I find the fluffy shreds produced by the micro plane unsatisfying in flavor and texture. Planed cheese doesn’t melt evenly, it clumps. What’s more, I find it too fine on the tongue to convey the distinctively intense and nutty umami-tinged flavor of this great grating cheese.

Instead, I prefer to grind my Parmigiano Reggiano. I use a technique similar to the one I was taught at the restaurant I worked at in Torino.

I prefer "grated" Parmigiano Reggiano when it's ground.

First, I shred the cheese using the medium shredding disk of a food processor, pressing down hard on the cheese in the feed tube to produce thick strands. Then I switch to the metal chopping blade and grind the cheese to fine granules. In this form, the cheese sprinkles better, melts evenly, and displays the full range of complex flavors characteristic of this king of cheeses.

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