I suppose there must be people in the world who buy a piece of cheese, eat it up, then buy another, eat it up, and so on. That would surely be a practical, economical approach to cheese consumption. It is not ours. I'm certain we are not alone in this. Lured by the siren song of the gouda, the enchantment of the chevre, cheddar's sharp summons, we find ourselves frequently over-cheesed. And so the cheese drawer fills up with little bits of not-so-appealing fragments of fromage in tatters of cellophane, and mold starts to set in, and we despair. I hate to throw out food.
In this case, there's a very delicious way around that: get out the FP and whip up a batch of fromage fort, "strong cheese." I came to this preparation thanks to Jacques Pépin, who made it on the series that came out around the time his memoir, The Apprentice, was published. In the old-time, authentic version of this dish, the odds and ends of cheese were submerged in vegetable stock (the water from poaching leeks, which I guess the old-time Lyonnaise did a lot of) and white wine, and left to molder away a good little while. I'd have to think that another round of fermentation occured, resulting in du fromage bien fort, indeed.
With this version we don't get quite that funky. You can let this mellow in the fridge for a couple of days, or use it right away. For the cheese, it is truly a potluck approach--hard or soft, blue or goat, washed rind, whatever you have that needs to be used up. An assortment is nice. Of course, the stronger the cheese you start with, the stronger your end result will be. For the batch I made this week, it was mostly fairly mild cheeses--some cheddar, gouda, gruyère, fresh chevre, even a few curds. If your cheese has gone moldy on the outside, just trim that off.
A food processor makes short work of this. If you don't have one, I suppose you could grate the cheese and work it well with a spatula to beat the wine or cider in. That sounds tiring, though, and this really is a lazy man's method of taking stuff that's a couple days away from the garbage can and turning it into un délice.
Keeping it local, I used some of our hard cider where the original calls for white wine. All the cheese was from Minne'sconsin. I had a little more than twelve ounces of cheese, to which I added a half cup of cider, which was almost too much. It seemed a bit runny just after I blended it, but it set up fine in the fridge. The amount of liquid required will vary somewhat--I had a decent portion of the quite soft chevre, for instance, which contributed to the softer texture. Add less liquid to start; you can always add more.
To serve it, either just spread it on toasts, crackers, or slices of baguette; or, for something insanely delicious, put on your broiler and brown those baguette slices on both sides, spread with some of the cheese, and put them back under the broiler to brown. If I ran a wine bar, these grilled fromage fort toasts would be on the menu at all times. You wouldn't be able to keep enough sauvignon blanc in the joint to keep up.
A couple of those bubbling brown babies alongside a frisée aux lardons salad (I grew the lettuce, smoked the bacon, baked the bread, made the vinegar in the dressing, laid the egg...oh, wait, what the hell am I saying...) makes for a fantastic summer supper.
White wines from Bordeaux, which are mostly sauvignon blanc with perhaps a bit of semillon mixed in, are a great value. Crisp, clean, grapefruity, sometimes carrying hints of tropical fruits, many are available for less than $10 a bottle--and some even come with screw caps, for your picnicking pleasure!
Fromage Fortto fill two ramekins with perhaps a bit leftover
8 ounces cheese bits and ends, trimmed of mold and rind
1 large clove garlic, chopped
a few good grinds black pepper
1/4 to 1/3 cup hard apple cider or dry white wine
First, fit your food processor with the grater attachment, and grate all the harder cheeses--this is an optional step, but I prefer the texture when I first grate the cheese, then blend. Omit any softer cheeses like chevre or brie at this point.
Now combine all the ingredients--holding back a bit of liquid--in the processor bowl. Blend for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is quite smooth. Pack into ramekins or a lidded crock. Use right away, or refrigerate. The taste and aroma will become stronger the longer you keep it--in The Cuisine of the Rose Mireille Johnston says to cache it away for 15 days. I'm not sure I'm that brave....
Here is Jacque's recipe, from the Food & Wine site.
Joyeux fromage, everyone.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw