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I cut block cheese (mostly cheddar or muenster) into slices or cubes using an ordinary non-serrated stainless steel knife. I used to use a T-shaped slicer that had a wire and an adjustable roller (for slice thickness), but when it fell apart I realized that an ordinary knife worked about as well.

But I keep seeing lots of novelty cheese-cutting gadgets and specialty cheese knives, and I don't understand what gives them an advantage over a regular knife.

Could it be the type of cheese? Are different cheese-cutting implements better suited to different cheeses?

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4 Answers

There's a lot of different cheese cutting implements ... so it's probably better to discuss advantages / disadvantages by type.

  • Wire mounted to a cutting board : Useful for really soft cheeses like chèvre and brie, but I'm not really a fan as you have to clean out the little groove, and it takes up a lot of room for something with only a few uses (it also works for cutting logs of refrigerated cookie dough). If you're cutting a log of chèvre, you get a similar cut by looping it with dental floss and pulling, and it'll deform the log less. Also works well with medium firm cheeses.

  • Wire mounted on a handle with a roller : Works on semi-soft to medium firmness cheeses (or cheese food); anything that'll hold its shape in a block (even Velveta), but not what you'd consider a 'hard' cheese. There's less drag than a knife, and you can get consistent thickness slices (some are adjustable, some you just change the angle of the handle relative to the block to get a thinner slice) ... but they have the problem that the roller can get gunked up, and if the block's wider than the cutter, you'll have to take a knife to the block first.

  • Cheese Plane : (looks kinda spatula-ish, with a slicing slot in it). Works best for medium firm cheeses; easy to clean, you get consistent thickness slices (although, only one thickness), and it can be a little faster than using a knife if you're trying for really thin slices. (if you need thicker slices, you'd have to double or triple up, removing any speed advantage). It actually can be used on something wider than the slot if the cheese isn't too firm. And, in a pinch, it can also double as a vegetable peeler, as I've learned from a friend.

When we start getting to "cheese knife", there's a few different things that the term might be referring to:

  • a spreading knife : rounded tip, used for serving soft cheeses, but can still cut firmer stuff.
  • knives with a fork on the front; may also have holes through the blade so the cheese will release rather than dragging; used for serving medium firm cheeses.
  • a spade : short, wide, pointed tip (actually looks like the spade on a deck of cards) : used for prying off chunks of hard cheeses.

I've seen other ones that look more like chisels; I've never used them. I'd assume they'd be best for medium-firm cheeses that aren't in too large of a block.

Personally, I typically use this cheap 'micro-serated' paring knife that I think I got two in a pack at a dollar store about 15 years ago. It's horrible for cutting just about everything else, but it's amazing for most cheeses; it might be that the teeth aren't really aligned well anymore, but it keeps the cheese from dragging along the blade, so I can get really clean slices quite quickly; it works okay for everything but really hard cheeses (good point, but not wide enough to get a flake off, really soft cheeses (see the dental floss comment above), or really crumbly cheeses.

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Joe, do you mind attaching a photo of your favorite knife (or even a hyperlink to imugr?) –  Jeff Axelrod Mar 19 '13 at 16:21
    
@JeffAxelrod : the serations are similar to the SNITTA steak knives from IKEA, maybe a seration every mm or so: ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/96342700 –  Joe Mar 20 '13 at 13:07
    
Oh okay, thanks--so it is pretty much like the old Ginsu or any cheap laser-cut knife. I've got some I use when I don't feel like hand washing a knife just to cut something small. I'll give it a shot with cheese and see what happens. –  Jeff Axelrod Mar 20 '13 at 16:03
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Soft cheese often sticks to the blade of a knife, causing the cheese the squish. Crumbly cheeses stick and then crumble. A wire cheese cutter prevents sticking and gives better results. If you want cubes instead of just slices, you can get a wire cutter that looks sort of like a small version of the paper cutters you see in schools and offices.

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The harder the cheese, the less it matters. The cheese gadgets offer less resistence than a knife (as the blade sticks to the cheese as it's passing through). A wire cutter has no "blade" it's all "Edge", so it's great for soft cheeses. If you look at special "cheese knives", you'll notice that the blade usually has holes in it. Again, this is to reduce the drag.

For cheddar, i don't think you'd see a huge differece. For munster, you may, since it's softer.

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Cooks Illustrated recommends Fante's Handled Cheese Wire for cutting chese as well as cheesecake and chocolate mousse cake:

Fante's Handled Cheese Wire

A cheese wire is an invaluable tool for cutting through large wheels of semihard cheddar or smaller rounds of soft cheeses like Camembert. Lately we’ve found a new use: cutting smooth slices of creamy cheesecake and chocolate mousse cake. The Handled Cheese Wire ($2.99) from Fante’s eliminates the need to run your knife through hot water before every slice (a method that’s also far from foolproof). You simply hold the handles and pull the wire taut, then press down through the cake. This dual-purpose tool is worth its bargain price.

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