Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Tools of the Trade
This past Friday I was in Fredericksburg and found what I had been missing, a really big cheese knife. I bought myself a 14 inch Lamson Sharp two handle cheese knife. This thing is like a machete, when I washed it for the first time and again on the second time, I sliced that sponge like butter. This knife is sharp and wonderful for cutting into big wheels of hard aged cheese like Gouda or Montasio. This knife isn’t necessary for the average cheese enthusiast but is a must have for any serious cheesemonger. There are a few tools on the market that will help the home cheese lover enjoy their cheese more.
If you love cheese, you should have a cheese plane. These are often called Norwegian cheese planes because they were invented in Norway and patented in 1925 by Thor Bjorklund who was a carpenter. He designed the cheese plane based on a carpenter’s plane to give thin and uniform slices of cheese. Cheese planes are excellent for hard cheeses and are great at removing mold from the surface of cheese. If a cheese is moldy, just shave it off and it is good as new. The cheese plane can also be used to slice vegetable like cucumbers.
Cheese wires are great for cutting softer cheese like mozzarella or a Colby style cheese. They can also be great for younger cheddars but the wires can break and will need to be replaced. You can also use a classic hard boiled egg slicer to cut uniform pieces of mozzarella with one slice. There are some nice cheese boards that have this style of cutter built in which is great for party convenience. If I am hosting a party, I do not like to cube the cheese ahead of time as the cheese will dry out. I like my guests to hack away at chunks of cheese and the cheese wire and board all in one makes this very easy.
There are also cheese knives which have a ticker handle and the blade is thinner at the top and gradually widens towards the tip. This can look like a cleaver as it is often square and is wonderful for cutting cheddars. This knife can also have holes in the blade as this prevents the cheese from sticking to the knife. Stainless steel is the best choice for a cheese knife as it is easier for the cheese to be removed from the knife without sticking. This knife is great for cutting cake, butter, hard boiled eggs, and anything that would stick to the knife.
This knife also comes in another style that does not look like a cleaver. The blade has large cut out sections to prevent sticking and crumbling and is serrated. These are sometimes called tomato knife. This knife is great for cutting soft to semi firm cheeses and is one of my favorite knives. I got a set on eBay that says cheese down the blade in cut out letters. These often have a forked tip to pick up and serve the slice of cheese.
There is also a fine knife for soft cheese that has a rather dull blade and is very slim. This knife is wonderful for blue cheese as well as soft cheeses. Soft cheese can also be cut with a spreader. You can use the edge of the spreader to get a bit of cheese and then spread it on a cracker. I am not much for spreading and squishing cheese on to delivery systems as this makes the rind distribution uneven. A spreader is great for chevre and soft cheeses when you cut open the top and dive into the delicious goo. Butter knives work just as good as cheese spreaders.
There is also the Girolle cheese shaver which was first used in Switzerland for Tete de Moin or Monk’s Head cheese. This is a firm full fat cheese when cut with the Girolle forms rosettes. This cheese is never supposed to be cut, you should slice off the top rind and shave away. An entire wheel of Tete de Moin would be placed onto the spindle then slide on the handle and crank away. Wheels of this cheese average about 1 ½ - 2 pounds. Shaving the cheese this way brings out the aroma and flavor of the cheese. This cheese has been made for the past 800 years but the Girolle was not invented until 1982. Tete de Moin has become more popular sine the invention of the Girolle. They used to have to shave this cheese the hard way. If you love gadgets, this is a cheese tool for you but I hear Alton Brown’s voice in my head bemoaning uni-taskers. You could also use a box grater or microplane which is also useful for grating Parmigiano Reggiano and other hard aged cheeses.
This brings us to cheese boards and how best to serve the cheese now that you have the cutlery. Cheese boards should be durable and easy to clean. Marble cheese boards are heavenly during the heat of the summer as the marble will help the cheese stay cool. There are some great cheese boards out there that also provide a home for your cheese knives. Bamboo is great for cheese boards as they absorb less moisture, are harder than maple and very durable. Knife marks are not easily visible on bamboo boards. Bamboo is a renewable resource and environmentally friendly.
There are some nice slate boards on the market that provide a stunning visual display and the ability to write the name of the cheese on the board in chalk. There seems to be some debate about weather these are appropriate surfaces for cutting cheese. Artisanal’s website says there are not useable as cutting boards but this information was nowhere else to be found. Slate scratches easily and is made from compacted shale and clay which is basically mud. I am not able to recommend or discourage slate cheese boards.
It isn’t necessary to buy a bunch of new kitchen toys to enjoy cheese but some will make it a bit easier. You can use a decent chef’s knife to cut hard cheese and a pairing knife for softer cheese and a standard wooden cutting board to serve them on. The most important thing is to enjoy your cheese at room temperature. There is a great picture of cheese knives at http://www.andrewsmcmeel.com/knives/knives.html. See if you can pick out from the photo which is what kind of knife.