Measuring cheese

Time saver: Phil rants about  measuring cheese. No really.

Helpful tip: if you genuinely came here hoping to find out how much cheese to use because someone’s failed to take the advice of yours truly and specified the quantity by volume rather than weight, this may help. As a rough guide, 1 cup of grated cheese is equal to around 125g (which is 0.27 lbs or 4.4 oz). That holds for mozarella and cheddar anyway, good luck with anything else.

So tonight I got back from a kayak rolling session at the pool (after four months off – BOOM still got it) and felt like a bit of a snack. I decided I’d try out my tuna melt parcels again, cooking off the recipe to make sure I’d gotten it right. And, well I mostly had – I’ve updated that recipe with a couple of minor changes, and I’ve got a few more photos to clarify a couple of steps – but then I got to the cheese.

It turns out that measuring cheese by grated volume is insane. As in, completely crazy, utterly wrong-headed and extremely unhelpful. It just doesn’t work. It’s so bad that not only did I immediately vow to never post a recipe with the cheese measured by volume again, I decided I should go back and fix up all of my old recipes as well. (This will happen as I go back and cook things again.)

I’m actually going to go further than that, and say that no one anywhere should ever specify cheese measured by volume in a recipe. Just don’t do it.

What’s so wrong about it? Well, consider that a recipe essentially has two parts, the list of ingredients (with measurements), and the method. To get the desired product, you measure out the ingredients, and combine them in the way specified. The problem with measuring cheese by volume is that it’s completely arbitrary – it’s impossible to do it accurately, or know quite how much cheese the creator of the recipe actually intends for you to use. If you can’t measure the ingredients correctly, then the chances of you ending up with the result you want are greatly diminished.

Here’s a concrete example, with a recipe for grated cheese:

Grated cheese on a plate

  • 1 c grated cheddar cheese
  1. Put grated cheese on a plate.

Here’s the thing: how much cheese do you now have on the plate? What I found out tonight is that there could be as little as 50g on there, or as much as 150g. While I was making the tuna melt parcels I wanted to measure out a ½ cup of grated cheese. I cut off a 50g chunk of cheddar (I weighed it), then grated it finely. At the end I was left with what looked like 1 cup of cheese – twice as much as the recipe said. So I pushed it down into the ½ cup measure and made it all fit. My full cup of cheese had just turned into a ½ cup. A few nights ago though, I was measuring grated mozarella (grated thickly)  for the New York style pizza and found that about 1 cup was around 125g. But I could have easily pressed in more and taken it to 150g or more. So, depending on how it’s grated, and how aggressively it’s made to fit into the measure, how much cheese ends up on the plate could vary a lot.

Besides that, it’s basically impossible to measure the right quantity as you go anyway. Assuming you’re grating cheese, how do you know when you’ve grated the right amount? Do you keep stopping and checking to see if you’re reached a cup yet, or do you grate a whole lot and then try and stuff it into the measure?

So what’s the solution? It’s simple: specify the amount of cheese by weight. You can write 100g grated cheese into your recipe just as easily as you can write 1 cup grated cheese. Doing it by weight actually ensures that people can measure the right amount, doing it by volume just leaves it to chance. Not only that, but it’s easy to cut off a slab of cheese, weigh it to get the right amount, and then grate it. Try doing that when you’re measuring by volume.

When you consider all of these points, you can’t help but acknowledge that it’s inappropriate to specify the amount of cheese in a recipe by volume. If you consider it a little further it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that people who do specify the amount of cheese by volume do so because they don’t actually know (or care) how much cheese should be used. They’re effectively saying it doesn’t matter, and it’s up to the cook’s discretion, except they don’t actually say that. They’re not only being lazy, they’re also being dishonest.

The next time you see a recipe with cheese specified by volume and not weight, ask yourself why. And then ask the author to fix it.