Dear Britons, why do you grate your cheese on a sandwich?
July 27, 2012 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Dear Britons, why do you grate your cheese on a sandwich?

My GF and i are currently travelling the UK and are constantly baffled by the fact that cheese on every bread roll, such as sandwiches and baguettes seems to be grated. Every other country in the world i've been (including the Netherlands, where i'm from) seems to serve slices.

Is there some kind of historical tradition, or another reason why cheese on sandwiches is grated in the UK?
posted by husky to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's just a preference. (We also grate our cheese in Ireland.) We (both) also put coleslaw on our sandwiches, which I don't think is done on the continent and is done in no region of the US I'm aware of.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:38 AM on July 27, 2012

Are they warm sandwiches, where you'd expect the cheese to be melted? Grated cheese melts faster (More surface area).

(notabriton, no anglo-saxon heritage.)
posted by FlyingMonkey at 9:39 AM on July 27, 2012

Less of a "I'm chewing on a big ol lump of fat" texture (and I *love* cheese).
posted by penguin pie at 9:42 AM on July 27, 2012

Grated imitation catering cheese is ridiculously cheap here and gets used on everything from chips and kebabs to pizzas and paninis. Suspect your experience is from eating from supermarket or cheap food joints. Any decent deli here making sandwiches with good cheese will slice it and most of us do at home too.
posted by veryape at 9:48 AM on July 27, 2012 [14 favorites]

I (non-English) put grated cheese on my sandwiches when I'm running low on cheese because it'll stretch farther (and heaven forbid, I have a cheese-less sandwich). Maybe it's a way of economizing?
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

[Very specific question, folks. Please answer it if you can and save the general sandwich chatter.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually make sandwiches at home with chunks and slices rather than grated cheese (as did my parents) but I've noticed that when I use grated cheese it seems to spread better and gives the impression there's more cheese than there really is. As British food tends to be sold more on price and size than quality, this might be the reason.

(If you visit the Newcastle upon Tyne try a cheese savoury stottie - it's a regional hybrid of grated cheese and coleslaw, in a huge bun)
posted by BinaryApe at 9:52 AM on July 27, 2012

Where are you buying these sandwiches? I live in London and I can't think of any sandwiches that come with grated cheese.

Pret a Manger sandwiches and baguettes all use slices. same with EAT.
M&S do this wesleydale sandwich that has the cheese kind of crumbled up - but I think thats cause its more of a crumbly feta and they want to mix it with the celery.

Also none of the Cafes that I eat at use grated cheese. They all use sliced cheese.
posted by mary8nne at 9:52 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

To hide the distinctly low quality of the cheese you are purchasing. This Briton doesn't grate his cheese.
posted by Hobo at 9:53 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

The only grated cheese sandwiches I've had in the UK have been more of a spread-- the cheese is grated and mixed with minced onion and mayo.

As an aside, coleslaw is a common addition to pulled pork sliders in the US.
posted by idest at 9:58 AM on July 27, 2012

"We" don't. Many commercial establishments do because it's easier to have a big bag of grated cheese and grab a fistful than it is to arrange slices, even if the cheese has been pre-sliced.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 9:58 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

It makes it go further, and allows you to cover the bread evenly with cheese. It also allows the cheese to develop more flavour as it sits, something sadly lacking from most North American deli cheese.

Grated mature cheddar mixed with diced onion, served on a split buttered crusty bread with a pint of bitter, is one of the true delights of English cuisine.
posted by scruss at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

@mary8nne we've been having nothing but grated cheese on our sandwiches in traditional tearooms. We've been mainly travelling around Yorkshire and southern Scotland but my GF had them in the Lake District as well.

So it might be a northern thing then?
posted by husky at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2012

At commercial places, it seems to allow the sandwich to be made faster. Slices of cheese don't get stuck together and tear.

It's odd that I never thought about this and I've been in this country for five years.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:12 AM on July 27, 2012

husky: "So it might be a northern thing then?"

I've never noticed grated cheese on sandwiches on the multiple occasions I've traveled to London, and as a budget-minded person, I ate a great deal of sandwiches there.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:20 AM on July 27, 2012

I live with Brits, including one raised in the North(TM). They used sliced cheese at home (and are very fond of their Norwegian-design cheese slicer).

But I have seen many grated cheese sandwiches in Britain - usually cheap sandwiches like M&S. I always assumed that it was an industrial/lets-make-these-sandwiches-fast thing.
posted by jb at 10:23 AM on July 27, 2012

Scotland = grated cheese

...I quite like it
posted by superfish at 10:28 AM on July 27, 2012

Agree with veryape and jb this is likely a commercial cheapo cheese thing - the cheese butties we served in the not at all fancy pub I worked in as a youth were made with good fresh local bread and cheese, sliced as you do. Only recall having grated stuff in lower-end places.
posted by Abiezer at 10:35 AM on July 27, 2012

I'm British and I never thought of grating cheese to put in a sandwich. I'd slice it.

My (also British) partner does grate cheese for sandwiches. I just asked him why and he says "It's a texture thing. I like the texture of grated cheese, but biting into a slice of cheese is all like GLUMP".

He is a Northerner.
posted by emilyw at 10:41 AM on July 27, 2012

My wife loves cheese and onion sandwiches. She often prefers to grate the cheese, because it mixes better with the sliced onion. The texture is also quite different, and she likes it that way.

While it's true that much low-end sandwich shop cheese is actually a bland cheese substitute supplied ready-grated, the same cheap, industrial non-cheese is also widely used for pre-packed slices. My experience of European supermarkets (outside the UK) is that they tend to have a much wider selection of sliced chees, and I would guess that this is true of the US as well.
posted by pipeski at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2012

This Brit slices his cheese. I can't say I have noticed the phenomenon you mention except in certain ready-made sandwich outlets. I presume it is quicker, easier and more economical to make such sandwiches using a load of grated cheese.
posted by Decani at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2012

I grate cheese on my sandwiches. I prefer the texture and it goes better with sliced spring onions.

In retail environments, I'd guess that you can make less cheese look like the same amount, or something. It's profit-driven, possibly.
posted by Solomon at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2012

Every sandwich I bought or was served in people's homes in Newcastle had grated cheese. Never saw it in London. On some sandwiches I did think it improved the texture/flavor to have it in little bits all mixed in, but in other sandwiches it was just a hot mess of weirdness.

I didn't ask because I didn't want to be rude, and also I don't speak Geordie so who knows if I would have understood the answer?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scotland here... I think it depends on the cheese.

Mozzarella = grated.
Cheddar = sliced.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 11:08 AM on July 27, 2012

Brit here.

If you're buying a commercial sandwich, grating it uses less cheese. It's also a cultural thing - perhaps a majority of us just do it. Everyone I know does, as far as I can recall.

Grating creates more surface so arguably you get more flavour, but it's all squished up in a sandwich so that perhaps doesn't apply.

Personally, sliced just feels wrong, so I think there's a happy combination of cheaper + cultural preference at work. But at home we buy nice cheese and use a lot of it so I think for many people price isn't the main driver.
posted by dowcrag at 11:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a Brit and it's sliced all the way for me. Sliced for cheese on toast too. SLICED IS THE ONLY WAY!
posted by 0bvious at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2012

It's not a blanket way of doing things, but it's widespread enough for me to know exactly what you mean.

Cheese, to me, tastes more intense when grated. I'm not sure why. Plus, when I'm making cheese on toast and I don't want to use too much cheese (not very good for you) using grated means I get to cover the same area with less cheese. So perhaps it's a cost-saving exercise.
posted by mippy at 12:45 PM on July 27, 2012

Also, I only use extra-mature cheddar for my cheddar needs - the kind with salty crystals inside is the best - so it's not necessarily to hide quality.
posted by mippy at 12:47 PM on July 27, 2012

Eat and Pret are 'premium' sandwich chains that sell themselves on the provenance of their ingredients, which is probably why you'll see sliced cheese there - it looks more like cheese.
posted by mippy at 12:48 PM on July 27, 2012

I'm glad you asked this question as I've gotten so many cheese sandwiches in Scotland, England and Ireland that had grated cheese in them and I've wondered why. My only problem with it is the cheese tends to fall out as you eat the sandwich!
posted by jdl at 1:03 PM on July 27, 2012

Grated cheese takes up more space so it looks like you're getting more filling, it also makes it easier to cover all the bread regardless of the size and shape. I don't think I've ever met anyone who grated the cheese for their sandwiches at home, unless they' were running short
posted by missmagenta at 1:03 PM on July 27, 2012

My mother is English, from a town near Brighton (i.e. in the South). At home growing up, we had grated cheese when cheese was the main feature -- i.e. cheese and tomato on sliced bread. I still grate nice old cheddar when I'm making certain cheese sandwiches. As others have noted, the texture adds to the yum-factor.
posted by girlpublisher at 2:30 PM on July 27, 2012

Thanks for all the answers! It seems there are quite some different theories :)

I might add that we always had cheddar and didn't eat in really cheap places, usually very traditional tea rooms.

I'll go for the theory that it might be a northern thing indeed, combined with a slight preference for a more "filling" texture on bread.

But i suppose the slightly lower price won't hurt too ;)
posted by husky at 4:20 PM on July 27, 2012

I'm an American, but I lived for a year in England and enjoyed many a cheese and pickle sandwich with grated cheddar. Two observations:

1) You say you're eating in "traditional tea rooms." Tea sandwiches are kind of a genre unto themselves. They're supposed to be light and easy to eat. As one of my friends (American, but Britophile) commented, "you're not supposed to have to chew it." That's an exaggeration, but if you think of very traditional tea sandwiches (paper-thin slices of cucumber, lots of butter, white sandwich loaf, crusts cut off) the textures are usually soft and don't require heavy mandibular action. The grated cheddar fits that model as it is soft and does not require incising through a solid slice of a firm-textured cheese.

2) In the case of the cheese and pickle* sandwich, and probably some other cheese-and combinations, grating the cheese helps the fillings hold together better. A slice of cheese may cause wet, saucy fillings to squirt out the side of the sandwich when it is bitten.

*Meaning this not this
posted by Orinda at 7:27 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I spent my teenage years working in a traditional tea room, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Cheese (cheddar) came in massive catering-sized plastic tubs ready-grated. Granted, this was almost 20 years ago, before toasties got tossed off menus in favour of paninis and no one had heard of cranberry sauce, let alone paired with brie. But I suspect that you will find that not a lot has changed with the bog standard cheese and pickle sandwich in most cafes since then.

I think it's mostly because grated cheese goes further. I've lived all over the UK and I've not noticed a north/south divide in cheese sandwich making.

Just because the tea rooms aren't cheap, doesn't mean you are getting top notch ingredients. Sorry.
posted by Helga-woo at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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