Though it might not be the most illustrious of kitchen appliances, a good grater is essential. From carrots to potatoes, onions to citrus fruit zest, the grater performs a specific task that would otherwise takes hours (and I know, having attempted something akin to grating with a knife).
But, of course, 99 per cent of the time, you'll be grating cheese. Whether for pasta, baked potatoes, a fancy salad with parmesan shavings or simply straight into your mouth, grated cheese is the greatest condiment there is.
You'll want something up to the task. Sharp (you're more likely to injure yourself on a blunt device, and blunt graters tend to end up with more cheese stuck on the inside); comfortable to hold; preferably with stainless steel blades; and durable – many a handle has been lost to overzealous grating in my household.
While there are myriad types of graters out there, the two most common are box and handheld. A further useful style is a flat grater attached to a container underneath, which holds the grated food. We'll call them container graters.
The style you choose is largely down to personal preference. Box graters are versatile. Often, they have four sides with differing functions, which I like to call: the cheddar, the parmesan, and the two you hardly ever use (for zesting and slicing).
A handheld will usually just have one grating size, though you can grate directly onto your food, like a waiter at an Italian restaurant.
Container graters often have removable graters, so you can easily change size (and leave plenty of pre-grated cheese in the fridge for emergencies).
In terms of maintenance, a stainless steel grater should maintain its sharpness for years. Unless it's dishwasher friendly, your best bet is to wash and dry by hand, so the blades don't dull.
Personally, I have about four graters – a box grater, a microplane, a zester and a handheld with thicker blades, for larger parmesan shavings. This is completely unnecessary; one (two at a push) will do.
Here are the best cheese graters I tested, across a range of styles, starting with my favourite.
1. Joseph Joseph duo box grater
Why we like it: Cheap, simple, compact.
In the simplicity-to-versatility stakes, this grater scored very highly indeed. Essentially, it's a plastic Tupperware box with a grater that is stored inside. You simply remove it, perch it on top, and grate into the box (it's not actually a box grater, it's more a grater with an attached box), which turns into a container.
There are two blade types, a thin parmesan one, and a thicker side for cheddar or carrots (or whatever else you want). It grates perfectly via stainless steel blades, with everything falling into the container and very little cheese getting stuck on the underside of the grater. It can store around a kilo of cheese, which is more than enough.
Dishwasher safe, compact, easy to use, and doubling up as a storage or a measuring device, there's little not to like about this grater.
2. Chef Remi stainless steel box grater
Why we like it: Comfortable, sturdy – and sharp
Proof that the good things in life don't need to cost much. In reality, there's little that distinguishes box graters – a classic device that needs little innovation. But there are some things here which I appreciated, and lifted it above other box graters I've used. For example, the removable rubber base prevents the grater from sliding around on your chopping board. The contoured handle is also super comfortable, which can help if you're grating large quantities.
The stainless steel grater has the four classic settings: coarse, medium, fine and slicing; or: cheddar, parmesan, zest and, er, slice. I found it to work equally well with both hard foods and softer cheddars. Each section was extremely sharp, slicing through anything in no time. It was very effective, especially the slicer, which I have found to be lacking on other devices; this one produced long, thin, intact slithers of cheese.
3. Microplane premium grater and zester
Why we like it: Extremely sharp
For sheer sharpness, I haven't used a better grater than the Microplane (which originally made wood rasps, still does, and I bet you could get through a block of wood in no time with their cheese grater).
The Microplane does lose out on versatility – it only contains one blade length, and there's no container. But, for grating directly onto your food, it's the best I've come across, and stays sharp for years.
There are two useful rubber points at the bottom, which prevent it from sliding should you wish to grate onto a chopping board. For me, it works better for hard cheeses like parmesan and zest. With the softer cheddar, a little cheese will stick to the underside.
4. Kitchen Craft grater and graduated acrylic collector
It's rather chunky and takes up a fair bit of space, but with four separate blade settings, it's a versatile grater. The four blades mimic the classic box grater, but instead there are slats which you place on top of a collector, which doubles up as a measuring and storage device. While a fair bit of cheese did stick to the bottom of the grater, it wasn't the worst offender, and the slicer was placed at the perfect angle to get perfect parmesan and cheddar shavings.
5. Oxo good grips complete grate and slice
Overall a good grater, though you can get similar for cheaper. There are four graters which slot individually into the container, which again can be used as a measuring device and for storage. There are a couple of extra appliances which I didn't quite find necessary, including one which looked a bit like a medieval torture device (though I guess any grater sort of does).
No qualms about grate-ability here: quick, smooth, easy.
6. Ikea 365+ Värdefull
It looks like a classic box grater, but there are two differences. Firstly, there's a container inside which catches the grated food. And the blade grates both ways, which in theory is more efficient.
It's pretty good, but in practice I found that more cheese than usual would end up falling outside the grater rather than the preferable inside. The two-sided grating didn't actually add that much speed to an already rather quick job. And the container had a little crevasse where a not insignificant amount of cheese ended up, and which my not-so-nimble fingers weren't able to remove.