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A cheese grater is a kitchen tool designed to sliver or shred cheese easily. There are a variety of different styles, but most employ a network of sharp holes that the cheese is pushed over. A cheese grater is almost always made from metal, and they are available inexpensively at kitchen supply stores.
The most basic form of cheese grater is a flat piece of metal with plastic or wooden handles. This can be rested on top of a bowl or held by one handle while the cheese is pressed against the sharp side. Most flat graters have several sizes of holes to achieve differently sized shreds. Flat graters are usually the least expensive variety, and are usually about $3-$5 US Dollars (USD.)
A bell grater is shaped like an old-fashioned cowbell, with four sides each featuring a different type of grating hole. These somewhat pyramid-shaped metal graters are held against a perpendicular surface to use, gathering the grated cheese underneath the tool. These graters are common and inexpensive, generally costing no more than $10 USD.
A new variety of cheese grater is the rotary grater. These cheese graters allow you to place a wedge of cheese inside the tool and crank a knob or handle to achieve the shredding. Rotary graters are a bit more expensive than bell or flat shaped graters, normal between $15-$25 USD.
The differently sized holes on a cheese grater are used for specific cheeses. Very hard cheeses, such as parmesan or pecorino work best when used with the smallest holes. Medium-textured cheese, such as Monterey jack or cheddar, should be shredded using the larger holes. Semi-soft or soft cheeses should generally not be used with a grater, as they will simply smash against it and clog the holes.
Graters are useful for any small grinding need, and are not only used for cheese. Citrus peel can easily be zested by pressing against the small holes of a cheese grater. Chocolate shavings are also easily made with the tool. Rotary graters can be used to grind small amounts of nuts or candies as well.
Cleaning a cheese grater should be done at once, because any remaining cheese may harden and stick to the holes. Wiping the unsharpened side of the grater with a soapy sponge or cloth will usually remove any remaining grated material. Most graters can be washed in the dishwasher, but read manufacturer’s instructions to get specific guidelines.
We've got a bell grater and it is a big chunky thing that seems quite difficult to clean after you use the smaller sized grater.
I find it's best to clean it with a wire brush, and kind of push the bristles through the holes or it'll never come clean.
I like to grate unusual things though, like chocolate. Sometimes I grate seasonal vegetables together to make a thick sort of soup without resorting to using a cream base.
I wouldn't recommend trying to grate onions though, I only tried that once.
Cheese graters always make me a bit nervous. I think it is because people always attack the cheese so eagerly, trying to get the job finished, and I'm always afraid they are going to push too hard.
It doesn't help that it is almost a cliche in books and things now to describe someone after a car accident or similar as looking like they had gone through a cheese grater.
Please be careful of your fingers, everyone!