If I could sit on my cheese drawer to close it I would. Over the holidays it became so crammed that I established overflow areas throughout the fridge for all the leftover bits and pieces – which are now discovered only by chance like coins in the couch cushions.
I wish I could blame this build-up on holiday entertaining, but the truth is these little gems accumulate every of couple months and need to be used. I know that I could melt them into a soup or grate them into a salad, but that would mean peeling veggies or washing lettuce leaves and still only using one measly cheese scrap at a time. I need to do away with these in one blow, and for the laziest, yet chicest solution, I turn to the French and a recipe they call fromage fort.
Fromage fort, in essence, is just a fancy cheese ball with a great PR team. The French take all their odds and ends (goat cheese, brie, blue, gruyère etc.) and combine them with wine and seasoning to create a piquant spread. The robust flavour (implicit in the name) comes from the variety of cheeses used.
This French tradition will change your cheese drawer for the better. You will still hoard cheese fragments but henceforth with smug purpose knowing you will always be able to "whip something up" no matter how unexpected the guests or how bare the pantry.
There is no real recipe to this spread as it will be different each time you make it, but here is a guideline to get you started. It makes just over a cup of spread.
225 g cheese bits
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional – your cheeses may be creamy enough)
Generous grind fresh ground pepper
1/4 to 1/3 cup dry white wine
Salt (to taste)
Remove rinds and mouldy bits from your cheese. Grate firm cheeses and roughly cube anything else.
Throw everything but the wine and salt into the food processor and buzz until just combined. Add the wine a little at a time until the spread reaches the desired consistency. Taste and add salt only if needed (most cheese are already quite savoury).
Blue cheese (or any strong cheese) will quickly become dominant; I used one-quarter Stilton in one version and the fromage fort maintained a good bite. If you are serving this heated (on baguette, for example), the flavour will be mellower than when served cold.
You can also add vegetable broth, beer or even cream as your liquid (FYI, red wine will turn this a greyish, unappetizing colour). Add lemon juice for acidity.
Serve at room temperature with veggies and crackers, or spread on toasted baguette and throw under the broiler until the cheese is browning (two to three minutes). Fromage fort also makes a great gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. (I like it on dark rye with crispy, sliced radishes on the side.)
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.
Editor's note: The original version of the fromage fort recipe in this article mistakenly called for 500 g of cheese bits. This version has been corrected.