In the early 1940s, to prevent his favorite processed cheese product from sticking to the blade, Harold Joseph Fairchild developed a knife with a blade made of thermoplastic material. Today, the cheese knife is a must-have tool for the connoisseur and the everyday cheese fan alike. Cheese knives come in many different shapes, forms and sizes, each suited for specific types of cheese.
Serving soft cheeses such as fresh mozzarella or brie is best done with a cheese wire, but a knife with a thin, straight blade or a blade with holes will also do the trick. These features prevent cheese from sticking to (and being crushed under) the weight of the blade. Cheese wire tools use a foodgrade, stainless-steel piano wire; they are available as a cutting board fitted with a wire attachment as well as a handheld version. Unless you’re using a commercialgrade cheese wire, don’t cut hard cheeses, since this can damage the tool. Another option for soft cheeses is a spreader, which is a knife with a rounded blade designed for soft, spreadable cheeses.
When it comes to serving semi-hard cheeses such as Gouda and provolone, a cheese plane is a favorite tool of cheesemongers. This handheld slicer often is made of durable stainless steel and is fitted with two prongs at the end of the plane to make cheese retrieval easier. If slices aren’t desired, a flat cheese knife with a short and flat blade can cut cheese into cubes.
Hard cheeses such as asiago and pecorino can be more difficult to cut. While a cheese plane can slice hard cheeses, a cleaver or spade design knife is best for making wedges and chunks. Often referred to as a cheddar cleaver, this mini meat cleaver is ideal for cutting and slicing hard cheeses. For more crumbly cheeses such as Parmesan, use a chisel knife or Parmesan knife. While both of these knives have short blades, the chisel’s blade is flat on the end, while the Parmesan’s blade is pointed. The chisel design is better for cutting cheeses into generous chunks, while the Parmesan knife is best for breaking it into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Care and storage
While most cheese knives are dishwasher-safe, this cleaning method can shorten their lifespan and dull blades. A better idea: Wash knives by hand with a mild detergent, lukewarm water and a non-abrasive sponge or cloth. To avoid corrosion, hand-dry knives thoroughly before storing. Keep knives in a storage case to protect them and reduce your risk of injury when reaching into a drawer.
To dispose of a knife, wrap it in newspaper or bubble wrap and tape it shut. Most metal knives can be taken to a recycling center. Contact your local center for details.
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