In culinary terms, grating is the process of transforming solid, firm food items into small pieces by rubbing the item against a grater. A grater is a hand held metal device that contains numerous raised slots of varying sizes that cut ingredients into small pieces. While applying a bit of pressure, food is scraped along the sharp serrated edges of the grating instrument. This very useful kitchen utensil was invented by François Boullier in the 1540s and is still an essential cooking tool to this day.
There are a dizzying amount of choices of graters available. The basic grater is a flat piece of metal with notches cut in its face and it is the size of the notch that determines the size of the grated threads. Several types of graters feature different sizes of grating slots, and can therefore aid in the preparation of a variety of foods. The standard 4-sided box-grater is commonly used to grate a variety of ingredients like cheese and lemon or orange peel (also known as zesting), and in tropical areas, graters are used to grate coconut meat.
Choose a grate size (the size of the hole in the grater) that works best with the ingredient you will be grating. Smaller grates work well for harder cheeses like Parmesan, and Romano; coarser grates work best with slightly softer cheeses like Cheddar and Jack, vegetables or even chocolate. To reduce the amount of food that sticks to the grater, give the grater a quick spray of oil just prior to grating. Softer cheeses should also be chilled prior to grating to make the process easier.
A food processor fitted with a grating attachment may also be used to grate foods and may be preferred for food items that are difficult to grate on a manual grater or if you need to grate a large quantity of ingredients.