IN YOUR market, somewhere between the imitation processed cheese food and the simulated treated cheese spread, you'll find the real stuff: tangy, brittle parmesan; biting, chalky chevre; firm Monterey jack; cheeses without chemical additives, preservatives, extenders, emulsifiers or smoothening agents, just natural cheese. Each has its own honest, nutritional value, distinct texture and ideal cutting implement.
For smooth but firm cheese, the basic slicing tool for home use in the single-handled cheese cutter with an etched blade. Made of stainless-steel and a rosewood handle it measures 13-1/2 inches overall, of which 8-1/4 inches is blade. At the point where the blade meets the handle, there is a sharp upward turn. The handle, therefore, rests a bit more than an inch above the blade. This will give you a better purchase, or angle, when you slice through an Edam or Gouda and will keep your knuckles off the cutting board as you slice down.
The attractive pattern which has been etched into the blade is not there as a decorative motif, it is a surface that will break the tension between the moist cheese and the blade. The cheese will part from the blade surface as you slice. This basic type of cheese knife is made by various manufacturers, one of the best if the Lauffer model is selling at about $20.
When it comes to working with hard cheeses such as parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano , the best cutting tool is the cheese gouger. The most versatile model has a long, heart-shaped stainless-steel blade 2-1/4 inches wide by 5 inches. It is secured through a metal collar into a 4-1/4-inch-long round wooden handle. The blade is extremely rigid and sharpened only halfway up from the point. The tip is set into the natural crevices of the cheese and twisted to gouge out a chunk. It retails for about $8.
The single most valuable cheese slicing tool, however, may be the Scandinavian cheese slicer and server. Made of stainless-steel with a stained wooden handle, it consists of a flat bell-shaped disk with a slit across the base which acts as a peeling device for removing a slice of the cheese. Be it fontina or jarisberg, this tool will pull a 2-1/2-inch-wide slice of cheese and hold it on the bell for serving.
If you will take a moment to compare the price of cheese in a block with cheese that has been sliced by the manufacturer and placed in individual plastic bags you will immediately see the economic worth of a tool like this. I save a bundle by purchasing cheese in a block or piece and use the slicer to cut off slices as needed. It is made by dozens of different companies, but the best brand in our tests was Sveico brand from Rowoco retailing at $5.
What do you do when you are confronted with a cheese that has a texture that won't respond to cutting with a table knife but crumbles when you use a heavy blade? You could try a double-wire cheese cutter. Made with a walnut handle, the business end consists of a stainless-steel rod about 5 inches long. Drawn from the tip of the rod, the handles are two very thin, stainless-steel wires. Drawn taunt, they make the perfect cutting device for mozzarella. This type of cheese cutter retails for about $8.
There are two other styles of cheese cutters that have somehow found their way out of the professional cheese manufacturing and distributing factories and into the cooking equipment retailers. My personal opinion is that they should go no farther. Both are beyond the need and the budget of the average household.
First is the double-handled cutter. It consists of a stainless-steel blade which is basically rectangular with a width of 1-3/4 inches and a length of 11-1/2 inches. Attached to both ends of this blade with nickle-silver rivets are beautiful, rosewood handles. You place the cutter above the cheese and lean down with your weight on the handles attached to the top of the blade (so you need not fear that you knuckles will meet the cutting surface before the blade does). This technique will overcome the resistance of large, firm cheeses such as gruyere and cheddar. Of course, you should be using this tool on full wheels of cheese and using it several times each day to justify the retail price of about $30.
The second is a cheese chopper. It is made of a rigid stainless-steel rectangular cutting blade that measures 5-7/8-by-5-1/8 and is attached at a narrow side to a rosewood handle. The tool is held over the cheese and pressed down like a guillotine. At $32, it is too highly limited in its use.