Essential Tools

The Unexpected Story of the First Microplane

How our trustiest kitchen tool came to be.

June 12, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Anyone who has a Microplane knows how easy these beloved kitchen companions make grating, zesting, curling, and so much more. Their super-sharp, made-in-the-USA steel blades have graced kitchen counters everywhere (our Test Kitchen included) since 1994. But get this—they were originally designed for woodworking. In the words of Food52 co-founder Merrill Stubbs:

"Who would have imagined that a simple carpenter's tool—a wood rasp—would become one of the modern cook's most indispensable companions? Before Microplane, our grated ginger was stringy, our citrus zest coarse and unappealing, our parmesan sprinkles leaden instead of fluffy, and our fingertips perpetually under attack."

I sat down with Microplane Director of Sales and Marketing Lisa Egger for the story about the tool that changed kitchens everywhere.

Emily Kochman: What inspired the shift from woodshop to kitchen?

Lisa Egger: In 1994 a Canadian homemaker grabbed one of our rasps from her husband’s tool box, frustrated by how quickly her grater dulled. She was amazed by how cleanly and efficiently it zested citrus for her orange cake. Designed for minimal-effort lumber cutting and precise wood shaving, its extremely sharp teeth zested without removing any pith. This eureka moment marked the transition.

EK: Microplane tools are created by a very specific chemical process called photo etching. How is this different from other processes and why is it important?

LE: Most graters on the market use a stamped-metal process, in which the teeth are manufactured to be the same thickness as the rest of the blade. But stamped blades are pretty dull to begin with and then dull on top of that. Photo etching, on the other hand, defines and sharpens the edge of each tooth on the grater, so the result is a long-lasting, ultra-sharp stainless steel blade.

EK: The rise of the Microplane was pretty remarkable—and involved a popular New York Times article written by our very own co-founder Amanda Hesser. It wasn’t long before the likes of Martha Stewart and Julia Child were using a Microplane on TV. Any personal favorite appearances?

LE: Our team is excited about every moment, honestly! The exposure we’ve had is amazing. We love seeing our products on shows like MasterChef, Chopped, and Iron Chef.

EK: Your tools work for everything from dusting cinnamon to curling butter to totally transforming ginger. What’s your favorite Microplane tool and use for it?

LE: Tough question! I’ll narrow it down to my top three:

I use the classic zester about three times a week. It’s a great housewarming or wedding gift. Microplanes can elevate and change your cooking style. It’s important to buy sharp tools. We often hear that using a Microplane zester for the first time is a life-changing moment.

The ginger tool might be my favorite. I love using fresh ginger in everything now. I’ve used other ginger graters, and this one’s superior in every way. The juice doesn’t separate from the ginger! You can also use it to slice baby carrots over salad—they look stunning.

My hand-held ribbon grater is bi-directional and creates pretty (and meltable) cheese curls. It’s efficient, grating the cheese as you push and pull over the blade. I use it to add veggies to salads and apples or zucchini to pancake batter.

EK: Certain ingredients, like garlic, are trickier to clean off a Microplane blade than others. Do you have any tips for easy cleaning and care?

LE: You can usually give the tool a soft tap over a bowl, cutting board, or pan to loosen up residuals. And one customer recently suggested using the handle of your spoon or fork to clean the crevices. To clean, we suggest immediately running under hot water. Once in a while I’ll use a scrub brush under hot water, running it up the zesting blade to the handle—that seems to dislodge anything in the teeth. We don’t recommend soaking, as water can make its way into the handle.

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5 Comments

T. M. June 15, 2019
Serious question... Where is the mysterious home baker actually from? In one place, this article, she’s placed in Canada and in another place she is said to be from Arkansas. I’m just wondering... also, I love ALL my microplane tools and when I need to grate small pieces of cheese I switch to a smaller tool. Using the right tool for the job is usually how one gets the job done right. Thanks for making such a great collection of products.
 
Author Comment
Emily K. June 17, 2019
Hi! The folks from Microplane let us know she's based in Canada :). And I couldn't agree more—using the right tool for the right job is essential. So glad you're enjoying them!
 
Smaug June 17, 2019
Don't really see how a smaller tool is any less likely to grate your fingers off.
 
Smaug June 12, 2019
Well, not that surprising. A mandoline, for example, is but an adaptation of a plane- an apparently humble woodworking tool that actually requires a great deal of precise manufacturing and adjustment to work well. I'm not as sold on microplanes in cooking as some- I bought a fancy microplane box grater and almost never use it- it's too sharp to grate down a piece of cheese very far without removing skin, and I usually seem to be working with small pieces; it is good for parmesan rinds, though the result is awfully fluffy, and I use the ribbon grater occasionally for an oddball cheese-based crust I use for quiches. They have advantages for zesting- they produce a nice fine product that disperses well in things, but that's not always what you want- sometimes you want larger pieces, and using an old fashioned zester and chopping with a knife is actually faster- the microplane needs to be curved for stiffness, but that's pretty incompatible with the shapes of fruits. I find them very useful in woodworking, especially for things like shaping guitar necks. There are drum shaped versions that can be used on a drill- they stand up surprisingly well to grating fairly hard woods; I wonder if some such application could be used in cooking, maybe a power grater of some sort. Then again, maybe someone already did.
 
Author Comment
Emily K. June 17, 2019
Such an interesting idea (and feedback)—thanks for sharing!