Whether you’re shopping at the grocery or reading through a recipe, the words “shredded” and “grated” both pop up when describing cheese. This has long thrown me for a loop—what is the difference between shredded and grated, and when should one be used and not the other? Or do they just mean the same thing? If you’ve been wondering the same thing, keep reading.
While walking the dairy aisle at your local grocery, you’re most likely to see the word “shredded” printed on bags of cheese. These cheeses, like cheddar and mozzarella, have been shredded at the factory and coated in an anti-caking agent (like cornstarch) so that the shreds don’t clump in the package. Using already shredded cheese saves time and effort at home. The small pieces of cheese will distribute easier than slices or chunks of cheese, and you don’t have to go through the trouble of running it through a grater.
Most of the time, you’re going to encounter shredded cheese at the store. This is the preferred term that companies use on their packaging—unless you’re in the UK, where they tend to label it as grated cheese. Just to make it extra confusing.
Grated cheese is usually done at home with, you guessed it, a grater. It’s the same thing as shredded cheese except it requires a bit of elbow grease and it isn’t coated in any anti-caking agents. You’ll most often see grated cheese called for in recipes, sometimes specifically “freshly grated.”
The exception to this rule (of course there’s an exception!) is Parmesan and pecorino Romano cheese. The super finely grated, powdery stuff that is sometimes sold in a shaker can is labeled as grated cheese. Why? I really don’t know. And I don’t recommend buying it, since it tends to contain more miscellaneous ingredients than it does cheese.
When to Use Shredded vs. Grated Cheese
If a recipe calls for shredded or grated cheese, you’re fine using cheese that you grate yourself at home or store-bought shredded cheese.
That is, unless the recipe specifies freshly grated, then you should grate the cheese yourself. The general rule is that freshly grated cheese is better quality since there are no additional ingredients and it melts better. This is especially important in creamy and really cheesy dishes, like mac and cheese or queso dip. But if you’re short on time, tossing some bagged shredded cheese on your quesadilla or pizza is a-OK!