My sandwich recipe this week calls for shredded cheese, so of course I couldn’t help mentioning that, though the kind you can buy is certainly handy and also keeps longer, home grated cheese saves you lots of money without causing you a lot of work. So it’s good to have a cheese grater around.
They’ve been around for a long time. As this article points out, “Both François Boullier and Isaac Hunt are variously credited with inventing the cheese grater in the 1540s.”
The original idea was to make use of cheese that had started to harden by reducing it to manageable sized pieces, without taking the time to chop it up with a knife.
Graters have taken many forms over the years; in the linked article, you can see several from the author’s mother’s collection. The box grater seems to be most popular, and though I can see why — each panel has different sized holes, allowing you to grate as fine or coarse as you want, and the grated food all falls neatly inside the box — what I use is a simple grating surface with a handle.
I use it for a lot more than cheese. Potatoes, either raw for potato pancakes or partly baked for hash browns, can be shredded with a grater. So can carrots for salad — cabbage, because of its watery makeup, is a little more difficult. But zucchini and other summer squashes can be grated for baking, or to hide in tomato sauce (your kids won’t suspect a thing for years). Chocolate can be grated for baking, so you can save your chocolate chips for something else, like eating on a cracker with peanut butter . . . Breadcrumbs can be made quickly by rubbing a piece of bread, the drier the better, through a grater. You can even try using one to break up butter into those “pea-sized” pieces baking recipes are always talking about, though the butter will have to be very cold and the grater will be a pain to wash afterwards. (I picked this up from British chef Delia Smith’s site.)
Like most people, I’ve got a food processor with a grating plate, but somehow I don’t use it very much. Most grating jobs are so quick that it hardly seems worth it to assemble the machine. And then, as Wikipedia says, “Graters produce shreds that are thinner at the ends than the middle. This allows the grated material to melt or cook in a different manner than the shreds of mostly uniform thickness produced by the grating blade of a food processor.” Another case of the irregular, handmade stuff being better.
So, if you don’t have a grater, pick one up and see what it can help you do.