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Jan 6, 2009 11:46 AM

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

      22 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 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. re: Mestralle

                            Wheels are required to be between 66 and 88# (about), but they definitely do vary. Also,salt content should be consistent, If it varies in a singe make, then that is not the best producer. If the wheel size in a make is consistent throughout, you would have to float then in different brine concentrations (which is impractical), or leave them in for very different periods lengths of time. Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are very different cheeses. Cheeses called "Parmesan" do not have any uniform rules across the nation. Parmigiano-Reggiano does in certain places in America and all of Europe.

                      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.