TO GRATE, says Webster's Dictionary, "is to pulverize by rubbing with something rough," and for many years the gastronomic grater was just that, a surface covered with a series of rough edges. The grater is operated by rubbing food, and eventually the tips of your fingers, over a sharply perforated surface.

This is one of the earliest pieces of kitchen equipment, and it can be found in virtually every cuisine. A sheet of metal, or in some societies, a sheet of clay is perforated from one side with dozens of little holes. The metal or clay is pushed up on the reverse side like a volcano. The torn edges of the holes protrude and create the rough surface for grating. This type of grater crumbles the food. It is a rather primitive system and murder to clean. The best example of this type of grater is a stainless-steel, heavy-duty grater and shredder that is shaped like a miniature shopping bag, its sides measure 4-by-3 inches, and it is 7 1/2" high with its welded handle. The handle is easy to grip, and the edges have been rolled over a wire frame for strength and safety. There are five different surfaces that range from a fine grater for a bit of nutmeg to slits for slicing apples. With all due respect to this tool for its versatility, I would rather cut my apple with a knife and do my grating and shredding with a rotary grater.

A rotary grater is the type of tool that does its job with a series of holes or slits with a raised cutting edge on one side. Once again the slicing value of this tool is never very good, but the shredding function can be excellent. The fineness or thickness of the final product is determined by the size and placement of the openings. Food processed by this type of shredding surface will retain more of its integrity and loose less moisture than if it is grated over ragged punctures.

For many years, the finest rotary hand-operated grater was made by Mouli in France. The design is extraordinarily efficient and uncomplicated. mThis grater which measures 7 1/2-by-2-by-3 inches is held by a pair of tinned-steel handles. The bottom one ends with a rectangular hopper for holding the ingredients to be processed. Beneath the hopper, there is a cylinder for holding, there is a cylinder for holding the separate tubular graters, each of which comes with its own handle. The upper handle is fitted with a plate for pressing down on the food in the hopper in order to hold it against the blade. You can use it with hard cheeses, nuts, or chocolate. It comes with a fine shredding cylinder, a coarse shredder and a slicing cylinder. cThis grater is extremely easy to clean n -- run it through hot water and dry.

Unfortunately the enormous popularity of this little hand tool has lead to extensive imitation within the industry. At least three American distributors have taken to selling a "knock-off" of this Mouli grater that is made in the Orient. The metal is thin and cheap and will bend under pressure. The hopper is so badly formed that space between the grinding cylinder and the hopper wall is large enough to allow a good portion of your ingredients to slip through unprocessed. If this type of grater and the box it comes in does not say Mouli, you are better off without it. The real Mouli sells for about $5 and so do the imitations.

The finest of the little rotary hand graters is manufactured by Zyliss in Switzerland. It is made of dishwasher safe, high quality ABS plastic.The cylinder grater slides into position underneath the hopper box and is held in place by a screw-on handle. The tolerance between the wall of the hopper and the stainless-steel grating surface is perfect, no food will get by this little baby. The pusher, grip and turning handle are the sturdiest and most convenient to use. It measures about 7 inches long and is well worth its retail price of $10.