One does not really cut cheese, and that is why a sharp knife is seldom needed. If you think about it, with almost any cheese you are wedging, a dull butter knife will do the trick. That is why we can use Vermont slates for cheese trays. Slates, however, will not work for bread boards because bread needs to be sliced, and slate will dull any knife, regardless of quality.
There are three basic ways to cut cheese:
A huge assortment of cheese knives exists in all shapes, colors, designs and materials such as metal, plastic, wood, porcelain, bone, ceramic and more. As I first mentioned, there is no need for sharpness when cutting cheese. In fact, for safety sake, a very dull, smooth and full-rounded tip could not cut you if you wanted it to. This is particularly helpful when children are involved.
Many knives have round holes drilled into their sides. These can be helpful because they stop knives from sticking to the cheese after it has been cut. They also have a nice Swiss cheese appearance, in my opinion.
As with any quality knife made with rivets in the handle, you should always hand wash. Machine washing, with its expansion and contraction due to the use of extremely hot water followed by a cooling process, will eventually loosen handles and deem knives useless.
Cheese wires can be a great tool for cutting and, in many cases, work better than knives. Particularly in the case of cheeses that are very soft or very hard, one will find them not only neater and cleaner, but easier to work with.
At the Cheese Shop, we use commercial wires for cutting and they are used hundreds of times per day. In fact, the bigger and the harder the cheese, the more the need for a wire exists. We can break down an eighty-pound wheel Reggiano, or even a two-hundred-pound wheel of Swiss Emmentaler, with a short 18-inch wire fitted with two handles. There are modern plastic-handled wire cutters available today, but we often find that the old-fashioned homemade ones work best. A combination of wooden dowels, stainless steel washers and piano wire will do the trick. We can make them in assorted lengths to accommodate that large wheel of Swiss, or maybe that tiny three-pound blue cheese. We can even slice frozen cheesecakes and desserts with a good wire.
Be careful when buying small retail wire slicers. They usually come with a small board and a handled wire that you pull over and down in to the cheese. They look clever but do not last long. The wires on these boards break easily and replacements can be almost non-existent, so be sure to ask about replacement wires at time of purchase. If they do not have an answer for you, avoid that purchase.
Cheese Planes or Slicers
One of the most popular cutting tools is the cheese plane or slicer. These are what we use to sample cheese in the Cheese Shop. They work extremely well, and if not placed in the dishwasher will last for many years. I have a few that are over thirty years old and still in great working condition. They never need sharpening.
There are a couple of tricks you might find useful. The first one is to bend your slicer to the proper angle. They always come flat when new, but a quick bend at the cutting line will make slicing much easier. Note the difference in the photo of the two cheese planes. The correct one has the higher degree of angle.
The second trick is that you need a large enough piece of cheese for it to work properly, and you need to cut across the width, not the length of the cheese. Use the slicer to trim back the rind often so you can keep slicing the center. Sometimes removing the rind will help. Please notice the photo showing proper direction in relation to the piece of cheese.
Congratulations to Award-Winning Harbison
We were happy to hear that a long-time favorite we sell has placed third in The Best of Show awards in this year’s National Cheese Association’s Official Tasting.
Harbison is certainly at the top of the list of the many cheeses that I can describe as truly extra special. It is perfect and festive for that special occasion. It is the cheese to pair with that vintage bottle of wine you have been storing in your cellar.
Harbison is a soft-ripening cheese with a bloomy rind. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and available all year long. Its roots come from Vacherin, a cheese made in Switzerland and France that is only available certain times of the year. Harbison also comes with a unique package surrounded by Spruce bark. This bark not only adds to the flavor but it helps the cheese to keep its shape. When served at room temperature it will get very soft and run like honey. The best serving suggestion is to leave the cheese in the bark, peel back the top skin and scoop it out like a perfect fondue. That is what festive is to me.
By the way, you do not cut this cheese, you spoon it out when ready.