Having just spent a month in a house with an espresso machine but no cheese grater I can say with some feeling that every house needs a cheese grater and an espresso machine. Especially the cheese grater.
There are, as everybody who follows the ads knows, many ways to grate cheese. The food processor people think their way is the best and so do the Mouli grinder people. There are horizontal graters and vertical graters, stand-up graters and hold-up graters. There are little mincers that grate, as well.
Food processors are fine for grating large amounts of fairly hard cheese such as cheddar or gruye`re, if you don't mind an end result that includes cheese strands the length of green beans, plus some ungrated hunks that roll around between the grater and the cover of the machine.
And you may not mind, since in many cases you'll be melting the cheese you grate this way. Grating hard cheeses such as parmesan is slightly more problematic with the food processor, since what you end up with, no matter how long you grind, seems to be hard little pellets of cheese, not the ethereal gratings that you were after.
Smaller grinders -- the little mincers put out by Cuisinart or Mouli, for example -- have the added problem of stalling out when you try to grate hard cheeses. The motor doesn't have the power to turn the blades through the hunks.
So the food processor will grate cheese, and do it fast and in quantity, but the end result is not ideal.
There are little horizonal graters available for doing parmesan. These graters come with a bowl underneath -- handy for collecting every last shred. But many people find the horizontal motion uncomfortable and inefficient. The human arm and hand seem mechanically more suited for going up and down.
The Mouli cheese grater is a little hand-held deal that grates other things besides cheese. If what you're doing is grating a small amount of hard cheese, it's ideal -- fast, efficient, easy to clean up. And it's safe; there's virtually no way for your knuckles and the grater to come in contact with one another.
You've seen the Mouli grater. It consists of two parts -- a drum-shaped grater that you turn plus an apparatus that lets you hold the cheese clamped against the grater. It's not a one-trick pony, either. The Mouli is also good at grating nuts, chocolate, small amounts of vegetables such as zucchini or carrots, hard fruits such as apples and, to a lesser extent, garlic or herbs.
Some versions come with three grating drums to produce different size gratings, but the machine is meant to handle small quantities of whatever it is you're grating. The Mouli graters also have a tendency after a certain amount of use to become wobbly, so that the fit between drum and holding mechanism is no longer secure. Then you end up with hunks of food escaping and getting hung up in the mechanism.
These are not major faults -- in general, these are terrific little machines. But there are even more good things to say about the old-fashioned American four-sided grater.
This grater goes against the grain of the machine-powered generation; you do have to move your hand up and down in order to get the work done. But I timed myself recently, and found that I could grate two cups of gruye`re in just about a minute, and without working too hard. Ditto for about half a cup of parmesan.
Cleanup time for either operation was about 10 seconds. The food processor did either of these operations faster, but when clean-up time was added in, the hand grater proved to be faster in total.
What you want to buy is the metal grater that stands up of its own accord, not the one made of a single sheet of metal that you must prop up. (The only advantage to the single-sided grater is that it's easier to clean because it has no tricky inside surfaces -- not usually a very big deal.)
The four-sided steel grater (buy stainless, not tinned steel) comes with coarse, medium and fine grating holes, plus a slicing blade that works moderately well on easy stuff like cucumbers, small potatoes or zucchini. Unless you're willing to do it nut by nut you can't grate nuts with this grater, but it's perfect for citrus zest -- either large or small amounts, and for carrots, potatoes, cucumber and other vegetables.
Releasing the last bit of citrus zest or parmesan from inside these graters -- where they tend to cling and hide -- can be a bit tricky. Susan Campbell, in "Cooks' Tools" (Bantam Books, 1981), suggests brushing the food out from the back, rather than from the front. For this, what you want is a fairly stiff brush -- a very stiff toothbrush is about right -- preferably with a fairly long handle so you can reach inside