A Simple Hack for Grating Parmigiano Faster & Finer
Written by Sarah Ubertaccio
I grew up on Parmesan cheese served out of the green plastic container (you know the one). Italians are absolutely horrified by this little green can. I didn’t fully understand this until I lived in Italy, specifically Bologna, a city that is just miles away from where Parmigiano-Reggiano is produced.
I’m guessing most of you here appreciate the fine nuances of Parmigiano Reggiano, so I don’t need to tell you why it’s simply the BEST! But what I will say is that I was shocked to later learn what’s actually in that little green canister–as well as dozens of other pre-grated cheeses.
Here’s my challenge to you: the next time you go to the grocery store, pick up a canister of pre-grated Parmesan or Pecorino. Read the ingredients. What do you see? It’ll most likely say something like this:
The first ingredient is indeed cheese, which I suppose is a good thing (ingredients are always listed from the largest to smallest quantity based on weight). Still, it’s “Parmesan cheese” which is not actually the real, true Parmigiano-Reggiano. You probably already knew that part. But then there are two other ingredients in there. Cellulose powder is added to prevent clumping, while potassium sorbate is added to protect the “flavor.”
So yes, you get the convenience of pre-grated cheese but you also get a side of preservatives. But that’s not all: store-bought pre-grated cheese doesn’t melt as well during the cooking process because it contains those pesky preservatives. (Think about it: when has your DiGiorno Pre-Grated Pecorino Romano ever actually melted on your pasta? It normally just sort of sits there, keeping its original crumb-like form.) This doesn’t bode well if you’re making a recipe like cacio e pepe, where you want that smooth, creamy sauce.
Some folks also argue that grating your own cheese is more economical than pre-grated. I don’t think this is always true. At the time of writing this, an 8-ounce canister of Kraft Parmesan is $7.54 on Amazon and even cheaper at stores like Target and Walmart. On the other hand, an 8-ounce wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano is $13.98. However, this is kind of like comparing apples to oranges. If we’re talking about real, pre-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, it can be a hair cheaper to grate your own.
But really, can you put a price on the King of Cheese? I personally like to grate my own because it’s fresher, healthier, and I can also snag a few chunks off the wedge. This has easily become my favorite snack since I flew Alitalia and they served a chunk of 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano as a complimentary bite while in flight.
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how to grate your cheese.
When it comes to grating a little cheese on top of pasta, risotto, or minestrone, I personally prefer to set out a small handheld cheese grater and a full wedge of cheese on the table. I like this for two reasons: 1) we only grate what we actually need and therefore keep our Parmigiano wedge nice and fresh and 2) it’s fun. My 1-year-old son loves when we grate cheese on top of this pasta and I can only imagine that this will get even more exciting as he gets older. (I also imagine that he will be asking for WAY more Parmigiano than he actually needs because this boy loves to eat, but that’s another story).
If you want to get really fancy, have a look at our Pugli Cheese Board and Piccolo Olive Wood Cheese Grater. Paired together these are really cute on the table, but of course, you could use a small ceramic plate that you love and your favorite cheese grater, too. If it’s just me and my husband, we often turn to a microplane because it’s really easy to grate with and we can throw it in the dishwasher afterward.
Grating a $#!t Ton of Cheese
You might be thinking, “Ok, but Sarah that’s not really a hack. I mean you just told me how to grate cheese the normal, old-fashioned nonna way.” I hear you, so let’s talk about the REAL hack.
When I’m grating a $#!t ton of cheese for a recipe, I roll up my sleeves and … whip out my food processor. I know, I know, it’s not romantic but hear me out.
First, I grab the grater attachment. We use a Breville Food Processor. It’s the only one I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure what other food processors come with but I think most good ones on the market these days have a grater attachment.
If the recipe gives the Parmigiano or Pecorino quantity in weight, I will usually cut off a chunk and weigh it out first before I grate it. I like recipes with measurements in weight for this reason. Example: 200 grams of whole Parmigiano is the same as 200 grams of grated Parmigiano, while 2 cups of whole Parmigiano is decidedly not the same as 2 cups of grated Parmigiano.
Anywho, I’ll pop my cheese wedge in the food processor (removing the rind, of course – save that baby for soup!) and run it through the fine-grater attachment. You could stop there if you wanted a medium-grated cheese, but the real genius is in turning your medium-grated cheese into fine, powdery snow.
Finely grated cheese is absolutely key when you are making a pasta filling or a creamy cheese sauce like cacio e pepe. The cheese needs to be as fine as possible so that it melts evenly. In the case of cheese filling for ravioli, you don’t want clumpy cheese in your filling. The finer the grate, the smoother the filling.
This is where part two of the food processor technique comes in. I’ll remove the grater attachment then put in the s-blade and pulse the cheese for 5-6 blitzes until it’s super fine. (You don’t want to take it too far though, or the heat from the blade will melt it into a paste.)
That’s it! I’m not claiming this to be life-changing because honestly, it’s just cheese? But it achieves that snowy Parmigiano mound a lot faster and easier than grating by hand.
Plus, in the words of my Italian friend Mario, you don’t have to go out and buy olio di gomito–”elbow grease.” (He thought that elbow grease was an actual product, not just a silly English saying. True story.). All you need is the real deal cheese and your trusty food processor.