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How to Cut a Commercial Sized Parmesan Cheese Wheel

I've searched the net and didn't find what I seek: If you needed to pulverize a gigantic and very hard wheel of parmesan cheese into small pieces, how would you go about it? Please note if you've actually done what you're recommending.

Thanks for your help and imagination!

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  1. I've done it, using a Mezzaluna, which is a very large two handled curved knife.

    1. A 6" putty knife and flat screwdriver, or a santoku style knife used in a prying motion (so as not to break off the tip). Once the pieces are more manageable, use the blade to trim and make'em pretty. I have also used a metal cutting blade in my sawzall...Goes much faster

      21 Replies
      1. re: BiscuitBoy

        Thanks! To doublecheck, I'm talking like a 40 lb or larger wheel. Do you start from the middle and leave it whole? I've seen tastings where they basically seem to go at the middle with an ice pick which sort of sounds like what you're describing.

        1. re: gourmandadventurer

          Yup, the whole wheel. If you just dig material from the center and don't section it, there's no good way to wrap it if it's not entirely consumed within a few days. Plus it'd make weird divots and collect spooge. I cut one up for a friend before Christmas. Score the rind and cut him in half, then make your sections from there. Maybe doesn't look as picturesque as a wheel with a wedge cut out, but hey, life isn't a magazine spread. You're gonna have alot of crumbs leftover too...Nice with a glass of wine. Vacuum seal the bigger stuff if not used right away

            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              don't get too caught up with the idea of pretty wedges. When you buy Parmaggiano-Reggiano (the stuff with the stamp on the rind) in Europe, you usually get irregular, jaggedy-looking wedges wrapped in plastic wrap. But I actually prefer it - the irregular edges bite the grater/microplane much faster, making it faster and easier to grate..and it looks cool sitting on the table just because it's a little rustic-looking.

              1. re: sunshine842

                My goal isn't to get pretty wedges but to minimize crumbles.

                1. re: ChineseLyons

                  I'm wondering if breaking it rather than sawing it wouldn't achieve that - allowing the cheese to fracture along the naturally-occurring weak points, rather than forcing it to break along some pre-defined line.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    When you score the rind and insert the knives, a break occurs in the crystalline structure. That is the beauty...you don't so much force it but coax it.

            2. re: gourmandadventurer

              Maybe I'm feeling especially pedantic today, but all Parmesan wheels are exactly the same size.

              1. re: condiment

                I'd call that more informational than pedantic. Good to know! Thanks :)

                1. re: condiment

                  Actually, domestic parmesan (in the U.S.) is usually much smaller, hence the higher sodium content, and it's able to be legally sold as parmesan. One could discuss the merits of that governmental decision (and I assumed that gourmandadventurer was talking about a wheel of "Parmigiano-Reggiano," which indeed are uniform in size), but I thought it at least worth mentioning.

                  1. re: Mestralle

                    Domestic parmesan has a higher sodium content than Parmigiano-Reggiano? My experience is the opposite. Parmigianno-Reggiano imported from Italy (I guess saying that is redundant!) often resembles a salt lick. It has a much, much higher salt content--not always, but a lot of the time.

                    1. re: gfr1111

                      cheesemonger? Deluca? Maestro?

                      What say you?

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I really have no idea. I don't have the actual numbers for sodium content. In any case, I never buy domestic or Agentinian parmesans, as they are invariably inferior to the real thing. IMO, a good PR is among the ten or so best cheeses in the world, with a complexity of aroma and flavors unmatched by any of its imitators. To my taste buds, PR in no way resembles a salt lick. I can think of many other cheeses that taste saltier to me.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                          ditto this. But we also need to consider age in this equation. PR should be aged at least 24 months- and in this aging, Tyrosine crystals form- the crunchy bits in an aged cheese. Many people think these are salt crystals, and assume that it's a super salty cheese. They are informed by the texture, but have made an incorrect assumption.

                          The other side is that domestic parms are much younger, so steps must be taken to firm them up and boost flavor. The answer to both of those issues is to add more salt.

                          1. re: cheesemonger

                            There are two things that are stated to give the 'crunch' in old Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a number of other aged cheeses. One group says , as does cheesemonger above, it is tyrosine. Another group, equally passionately, says it is calcium lactate. Anybody know what it is, is it both, either, neither ?

                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                              It depends on the cheese. Tyrosine is a result of proteolysis. As a cheese ages, the milk protein is broken down and tyrosine, a component amino acid, is released. Calcium lactate crystals occur when lactic acid (released when starter culture bacteria "digest" the lactose in milk) combines with calcium. Both types of crystals get larger and more noticeable the longer a cheese ages. Calcium lactate crystals tend to appear as small white spots on the surface of a cheese, whereas tyrosine crystals are sometimes not visually detectable.

                              The crunch in Parmigiano Reggiano and aged gouda is from tyrosine, while the crystals in a long-aged cheddar are most likely calcium lactate. Knowledgeable buyers of artisanal cheddars relish the crunch. However, a chemical is added to mass produced cheddars to inhibit the formation of calcium lactate, as the average consumer considers the whitish spots to be a defect or, falsely, a sign of spoilage.

                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                (to reference the raw-milk cheese debate: boy, it's a good thing you don't have to know anything about chemistry or biology or any of that other crap to sell cheese) ROFL

                                interesting stuff, guys (girls?)-- I always enjoy and appreciate your input (and education)

                              2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                Any hard cheese that is aged usually contains these "crunchies". They're crystalizes amino acids.

                        2. re: gfr1111

                          All my sources say the opposite. Domestic is far higher in salt content than Parm-Reg. l have an issue with salt and in all foods it bothers me at levels far lower than most folks, cheese included. Parmigiano-Reggiano does not bother me saltwise at all, and am happy to eat chunks forever with a good amarone. Even good Pecorino Romano is far saltier.

                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            I would say the same, but, again, don't have the statistics to prove it. Of course, there are several imitations of PR. The salt content is likely to vary somewhat, depending on which one. Wikipedia, not always the most reliable source, says that authentic PR has on average two-thirds less salt than domestic parmesans.

                        3. re: Mestralle

                          I got curious about the difference when my husband balked at the price of Parmigianno-Reggiano: I'm a cheese nut; he grew up thinking cheese was synonymous with Velveeta, except for the rare appearance of pre-grated Kraft parm. He's since come around, so to speak (though he still doesn't like the bleus).

                          My understanding (which I'm sure is overly simplistic with plenty of exceptions) is that since it's usually in smaller wheels, more brine gets into the domestic wheels, resulting in higher sodium.

                    1. I usually used the cheese wire (a wire with handles) when it was my job to cut them apart at a cheese store. I've also used the Parmesan knife, but it can get messy and if you're not ready when it breaks apart, be careful not to let it drop. It takes some practice.

                        1. I cut into this beast yesterday with a house knife. You can see it produced A LOT of crumbs. I fully recommend the proper cheese knives for the best result.

                          http://www.ancofinecheese.com/cheeseb... Scroll down to the bottom for the list of knives and how they are used.

                          1. wire.... I think fish wire.........a friend who was a cheese importer had a tool which had two handles connected to fish wire . Worked perfectly. This is how they cut wedges for clients.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: celeryroot

                              But they had to have scored the rind first? There is no way could have gotten through the rind with the wire alone. We are talking about an 80lb wheel!

                            2. 1. score the rind
                              2) use parm knives to work the wheel apart along the score.
                              3) keep dividing.

                              these are my pics of halving the wheel. I have pics down to eighths.

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: cheesemonger

                                I need those knives! Do you know where I can get them? Only ones I've been able to locate are smaller, cheese plate/hostess sized. I need heavy duty ones!

                                1. re: ChineseLyons

                                  Bought two sets over the years, one in Reggio in Italy and the other at the fancy food show in NY from the Parmigiano-Reggiano booth at the fancy food show. Just searched the internet and while seeing the product, do not see a source for purchase, sorry.

                                  1. re: ChineseLyons

                                    Hubert.com has the set, be sure to get the Boska brand, they are the best quality. Here's a pic of the set: Here's the link: http://www.hubert.com/pres56088/Speci...

                                      1. re: cheesemonger

                                        Fan-effing-tastic! Thanks so much! Now I have to decide if I want them for myself personally even tho I'll never bring an 80lb wheel home or pass the site to my manager :)

                                        1. re: cheesemonger

                                          Also check the Boska USA website and give them a call (Mt. Kisco, NY). You may be able to purchase the knives directly from Boska for less than you would pay Hubert. Boska cheese tools are not cheap, but they are top quality.

                                          1. re: cheesemonger

                                            Just found this site that sells the Boska knives...even less expensive than Hubert.


                                        2. re: cheesemonger

                                          Hey! Are those pics from "the Crack heard 'round the world"?
                                          I recognize that black apron... it looks just like mine!

                                          1. re: cheesemonger

                                            Any reason I couldn't use a cheap utility knife to score the rind?

                                            1. re: kosherblog

                                              No reason why you couldn't. I did this time. I scored the rind with the heel of a knife then used two oyster/clam knives in place of a proper wedge. It took some muscle but I got it open and with minimal crumblege. See pic below :)

                                          2. Is there any kind of qualitative difference between making the first cut horizontally or vertically?

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Jay F

                                              It's a lot easier and more stable to make the first cut vertically, I think. I have cut the wheel horizontally before as a first cut, but only for presentation purposes (i.e. to make a big bowl).

                                              Also, surface area- a vertical cut exposes less surface area that a horizontal one, less surface area means less area to potentially get moldy.

                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                Absolutely easier to make first cut vertically. If you do not have scoring knife and only want to use one knife, use the almond or deep-cutting knife as per RicRios px. You can use a small chef's knife to score the top, but will make more rustic cuts and more crumbs. Wire works but strength is necessary, both in you and in the type or wire, piano tends to break a lot less.

                                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                  I suppose it's possible to wrestle a Parmigiano open without the traditional tools, but if someone has to do it more than once, getting the right tools is a sound investment. The scoring knife (with the hook on the end) is for me a must have and makes the job so much easier.

                                              2. I wish I had that problem............

                                                  1. re: ChineseLyons

                                                    Boska makes several products designed for individual large format cheeses. They also sell an Emmenthal cutter. I think these products are targeted primarily to the wholesaler/distributor market, where their high cost (the Parmesan Pro is $428 on Wasserstrom's website and I know the Emmenthal contraption is much more) can be justified by the large volume of cheese that these businesses cut.

                                                    Plus, it's so much more fun to pry a wheel open with the hand tools. :-)

                                                    1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                      am I correct in guessing, maestro, that breaking a wheel of well-aged, stamped P-R open releases the most amazing aroma, or is it too dry to have much smell?

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        The two and three year old ones do have a great yeasty parmigiano smell. In the older ones, IMHO, it fades, still wonderful, but not as much in yiour face

                                                          1. re: cheesemaestro


                                                            I was raised in the Midwest, so Kraft's Old English Cheese spread was exotic...I was so wowed when I got to Europe and found out what cheese was SUPPOSED to be, and think I was hooked forever when a fromager told me that good cheese smells "like the feet of an angel".

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              Actually, attributed to a zillion people, but one popular is Louis XV on eating Vacherin Mont D'or- 'This smells like the feet of God"

                                                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                I've found that out, since...but for a cheese n00b on her first trip to Paris, it was sheer poetry...and it still makes me giggle.

                                                                (the only one I've found so far that just plain smells like feet is Livarot...I can eat it, but thus far it's the only one I don't really enjoy all that much)

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    Or a really ripe Epoisses. Or when you're in England, Stinking Bishop.

                                                                    1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                                      The three makers of Epoisses are all thermalysed milk now. Jean Gaugry went to the dark side about three months ago, he was the last.

                                                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                        I'll have to see if I can find a lait cru here, since I'm at the source.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          Your best shot is at the Dijon covered market. He has a booth there.

                                                    2. Lawnmower with a fresh bag. Or not.

                                                      1. I am glad of the gift of a 3 pound steel cleaver
                                                        sharpened a bit on it's good business edge.

                                                        It moves with great ease through a cold chunk of cheese
                                                        and most recenlty took down a hunk of Romano,

                                                        Each cheeser among us I wlll hope have the feel
                                                        of raw wrinkled power of three pounds of steel

                                                        1. I am girdled with knives that have heft and are stainless
                                                          and well bedraped in aprons of thick cotton
                                                          So. cleaver in hand, and cotton surrounded,
                                                          I search for simplicity as I beg simply please,

                                                          To give art to that fart when clenching the cleaver
                                                          and descent to simplicity of just cutting the cheese..

                                                          1. I have the meat department cut I using their ban saw, which is a saw made to cut through bone. They cut it ink eighths. From there I use a wire.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: themamacurd

                                                              so you're having them cut cheese, which will be served raw, on a machine used to cut raw pork, chicken, turkey, and beef?

                                                              I know more than a little about those saws, and the possibility for cross-contamination there is *enormous*

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                The machine is sanitized before and after it touches my cheese. I've been doing it this way for eight years and have never had a problem.
                                                                And I don't serve cheese, I sell it.

                                                                1. re: themamacurd

                                                                  I made my living working on those saws...unless they take apart and steam clean the wheels (which have a rubber "tire" on them to drive the blade that absorbs ALL KINDS of funk), the guides and the entire inside of the machine (and I've never seen a shop that did), you're contaminating your parmesan with all sorts of lovely things. A clean blade and a clean machine are two completely different things.

                                                                  Selling it rather than serving it is definitely the wiser option.

                                                              2. re: themamacurd

                                                                My understanding is that when you cut with a band saw instead of where the cheese might naturally break, you take away the texture of the crystalline structure and all the nooks and crannies.

                                                                Of course I don't see where that comes into play when you are grating it down but there is a taste experience when you pop a piece into your mouth and roll it around your tongue.

                                                                I completely understand why it is necessary for retail purposes but I'd still rather buy PR that was hand split. Idiot or not, it just feels authentic :)

                                                                1. re: ChineseLyons


                                                                  it also doesn't crumb or weep oil all over your counter or table - and as I mentioned upthread, it's a lot easier to grate than the nice, neat, straight edges.

                                                                  give me a properly broken chunk over a photogenically perfect but messy (and as above, contaminated with who knows what) wedge any day.