When it comes to kitchen equipment, there are some instances where you must accept no substitutes. Like for a sharp chef's knife, or a heavy-bottomed Cast iron pan. Or a Microplane rasp grater.
The rasp grater is a long, skinny tool that works well for grating hard cheeses, as well as zesting citrus and other firm foods. Microplane's versions are dishwasher-safe on the top rack and come with a plastic protective cover. If you have a run-of-the-mill grater at home, you might be asking yourself: why would I spend more on a fancy name-brand version when I can use the one I got for free in my 50-piece kitchen set? The answer is because at a certain point -- either when you've cracked a flimsy version, your grater becomes dull, or when you've put so much brute strength into shredding something that you toss your grater in the garbage out of exasperation -- you'll break down and buy a Microplane anyway, so you might as well get one now and spare yourself the headache.
The benefit of the Microplane is its unparalleled sharpness and strength. It was actually a heavy-duty shaping tool for woodworkers, and didn't become a culinary essential until a housewife discovered her woodworker husband's rasp produced the world's fluffiest orange zest, at which point it transformed into a kitchen tool overnight. It's made with surgical-grade stainless steel, produced using a process that uses chemicals to create razor-sharp cutting surfaces that don't dull over time.
With just a small amount of pressure, the rasp grater will transform even the hardest aged Parmesan into fine, lacy wisps that are dreamy on top of any Italian pasta dish. It also makes zesting citrus effortless; keep the rasp still and, holding the fruit, draw it across the grater with about as much pressure as you might apply if you were playing a violin. The zest will build up in the back channel; to collect it all, simply tap the rod gently into a bowl. Use the rasp, which works in both directions, to grate ginger instead of mincing it, or as a substitute for a garlic press, which you don't need. It's also wonderful for grinding large, hard spices such as nutmeg, creating chocolate shavings, rescuing slightly singed cookies, or making butter more spreadable in a rush.
Microplane makes a variety of different sizes -- including box graters, fine spice graters and coarse cheese shredders -- but if you only have room for one grater, make it the rasp, because it's versatile enough for most applications.
If you take good care of it, your rasp should last you just about forever. Do soak and wash it after each use, though. Store it with the cover when you're not using it.