I don’t think I have ever given too much thought to the origins or the reasons behind the tool we commonly call a ‘cheese grater’. It has always just been there… in one form or another. A recent curiosity in the obvious intrigued me….
Apparently the original cheese grater was the invention of Francois Boullier, a Parisian eccentric of the 1540’s. It was his solution to the cheese surplus at hand in his time.
Post-enlightenment thought had discouraged the consumption of meat and, as a result, many farmers changed their operation to dairy. Soon the market became saturated with cheese which sat in storage and hardened over time. Bouillier’s grater was targeted to convert the hard cheese into a marketable table condiment. In 1555, however, a drought struck continental Europe and it quickly diminished dairy stocks. As soon as it began, the cheese surplus ended and the price of cheese rose. It was soon considered a luxury and the grater became a tool of the elite. By the 1580’s the grater and grated cheese had all but disappeared from French culture and cuisine.
Jeffry Taylor, a proprietor of a cheese shop in Philadelphia, re-introduced the grater in the 1920’s. He had read about the original and was inspired to recreate a similar tool. It is recorded that he actually fashioned his prototype out of a metal shower drain by filing to sharpen the holes! It quickly became a local success and gained widespread popularity in the Great Depression when it was pitched as ‘an implement that increased the volume of cheese’…guess you could say modern marketing 101.