I love cheese. Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk. Hard, semi-hard, semi-soft, soft. Wrapped in walnut leaves, rolled in ash, speckled blue with mold. The stinkier, the better, as far as I am concerned. Yes, cheese is high in fat but it’s also full of calcium and quality protein. I’m not going to go on and on about the health benefits of cheese because let’s face it, I eat it because it tastes oh so good but I also figure that 65 million French can’t be wrong.
As a rule, I always keep at least one hard cheese (they last forever) and a log of goat cheese in my refrigerator. But on any given day, you’re likely to find many more pieces in various stages of consumption. For example, as I peer into my cheese drawer this morning I find:
* a log of goat cheese
* a mini Bucheron (another goat)
* a small chunk of Valdeon
* a square of Paneer
* a cube of Queso Blanco
* a nub of Parmigiano-Reggiano
* a wheel of hay-wrapped Pecorino Toscano
The absolute easiest thing to put out for last-minute guests is a wedge or two of cheese. Surround with crackers, some savory jelly, a sliced apple–and you’re in business. Pour the wine, dim the lights and crank up the music, it’s a party.
If you are anything like me–both in your adoration of cheese and your desire to be prepared–you’ll often find yourself left with five or more little remnants of cheese (or nubs, as I so unappealingly refer to them). I would not recommend that you put those out for guests. Sure, a wedge with a missing bite or two is a subliminal message for your friends to “dig in” but when you’re getting close to the rind on all three sides, we’re talking solely personal consumption. Unless of course you’re thinking, Fromage Fort.
Every cheese lover should own a copy of Steve Jenkins’, Cheese Primer. It is the unequivocal guide to all things cheese. How and where cheese is made; choosing it; properly storing; and a breakdown by country of the greatest cheeses in the world. It was in this tome that I discovered a “recipe” for fromage fort. I use the term “recipe” loosely as there are no exact ingredients in fromage fort, just some rough ratios. You see, the thing about fromage fort is that it makes use of all the tag ends of Brie, Gorgonzola, Cheddar, chevre, and whatever else you may have lying about. With the addition of some wine, garlic and a couple of grinds from the pepper mill, you’ve got yourself a tasty spread for crusty bread. You can use this topping immediately or store in the refrigerator for dare I say, weeks.
After 20+ years of whipping up fromage fort, I do it pretty much by taste, look and feel. When I pulled out my copy of the Cheese Primer, the wine splattered pages reminded me of the one hazard in making this delicious spread…food processor explosion. That first whir of the Cuisinart blade against the hard cheese inevitably causes some wine to spray (“seep” being too mellow a word) from under the lid, in a take no prisoners manner. So, while holding the processor steady, give the cheese a quick whirl to loosen things up before adding the wine. For some necessary protection after the wine is added, wrap a towel around the lid and mix away. The resulting spread needs to be smooth so hold tight!
By the way, I should mention that translated literally, “Fromage Fort” means, “Strong Cheese” and strong-tasting, it most certainly is. It seems that whatever the cheese combination, the resulting spread has a powerful taste and even aroma. Clearly, that works for me and the majority of my guests but consider yourself warned: fromage fort is not for the faint of heart.
Adapted from Steve Jenkins’ Cheese Primer although I am sure that every grand-mere has her own recipe.
1 pound of leftover cheese (3 kinds is enough, 6 or 7 will be even better)
2-4 peeled garlic cloves (Personal preference here. I am not a huge fan of raw garlic so I tend towards 2 small cloves.)
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus more if necessary to achieve a smooth, spreadable consistency
1 tsp+ of freshly ground black pepper
Place garlic in the bowl of a food processor and coarsely chop. Add cheese (any mold, rind or very dried out parts, removed) and process for a few seconds. Add the wine, brace yourself, and process until the mixture becomes soft and creamy. Add pepper and process until combined. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and serve with crusty bread or crackers. Store leftover fromage fort covered tightly in the refrigerator.