How to Measure Cheese for Recipes

by Kemp Minifie, Gourmet
Gourmet Live's latest issue, "The Big Cheese," reminds me of how sublime cheese is to eat, and how wondrous it can be when cooked with other foods, but also what a pain in the neck cheese poses when you try to measure it for a recipe. That's because cheeses vary so much. Some have edible rinds, some don't, some are firm and suitable for grating, while others are soft.

The best way to measure cheese is by weight, which is the way it's usually sold, but that isn't a big help to you if the chunk you've bought is heavier than what you need for the recipe, and you don't have a scale at home. Well written recipes take into account each type of cheese and give you another measure, usually a volume one, such as cups of grated or crumbled cheese, for instance, but that isn't nearly as exact as the weight. (By the way, you'll make your time in the kitchen so much easier--and your recipes will turn out better--if you invest in a scale that can switch from ounces to grams; it's an invaluable tool.)

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Parmesan is a real conundrum. If you buy it already grated, it's powdery, and a cup measure will hold more, by weight, than a cup of parmesan grated into shreds. But it gets more complicated. If you grate it yourself, the tool you use can make a big difference. A box grater with small tear-shaped holes produces thicker, heavier shreds, while a microplane creates incredibly light wisps of Parmesan, which when packed into a cup--for a more accurate volume measure--lose their delicacy.

Or take Gruyere, the cheese pictured above. You buy a hunk of it by weight, but it comes with the rind, which you don't include in a recipe. With a home scale, it's simple. Just cut off the amount you need, and grate it. But without a scale, you've got to measure the coarsely grated cheese in cups. That means packing it into whatever size cup called for. Whether the cheese is cold or room temperature can affect the amount of cheese you actually get into the cup.

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Confusing, isn't it? I'm hoping I've convinced you to buy a scale. If not, just remember that volume measures (cups) of cheese aren't nearly as precise as the weight. If you're grating the cheese, your best bet is to pack the shreds into the cup measure, and then taste the mixture you've added it to, if that's possible, adding more cheese if it needs it.

I'm curious, though. How many of you do have a kitchen scale at home?

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