Creating something remarkable with unlimited ingredients is a happy accomplishment. But creating something remarkable with humble scraps that others would discard without regret – that to me is even more gratifying. I was born in this land of plenty, but as a child of immigrants I have a genetic appreciation for frugality. In modern America we can buy super-size quantities of food very cheaply, and we also waste 40 percent of it. But those of us raised in an old-school food culture know it’s much better to spend the same money on higher quality food – less of it – and use every last bit.
Case in point: What to do with a drawerful of cheese remnants from a summer of casual eating and entertaining? Some are dry, some maybe a wee bit moldy. Do I transport them to the trash in disgust? Heck no.
I unwrap the forgotten knobs of cheese, generously slice off and discard any moldy bits, cut off rinds, and throw the motley survivors into a food processor with a clove of garlic, a splash of white wine and some good grindings of black pepper. Blend it well, and I have “fromage fort” – literally “strong cheese” – an ingenious creation by the French to make a creamy, garlicky cheese spread out of reject bits. France is a nation that respects cheese, even the old and orphaned.
I first learned about fromage fort a number of years ago watching the delightful Jacques Pepin on PBS. I always loved how Jacques Pepin – all enthusiasm and smiles – was the antithesis of the demanding French chef stereotype. Charming and relaxed in his demonstration, Pepin explained that fromage fort by its nature is different every time.
Here’s what I had – some goat cheese, pecorino, cheddar. Dry vermouth makes a good substitution for white wine when you only need a bit and don’t want to open a bottle. Just add a splash of wine to start. It’s nice to have some soft cheeses along with harder ones – and you can always add a knob of cream cheese if you like. But you really can’t go wrong with cheese, wine and garlic.
If it’s still too chunky, add a splash more.
Looks good to me.
And tastes…mmmmm. Should have opened a bottle of wine after all.
Spread on bread or crackers, it’s a decadent treat. More special than plain old cheese but still simple and rustic.
For a lovely effect, broil until golden and bubbly. The tastes of the cheeses, wine and garlic become more subtle when cooked.
Something awesome for practically nothing – it’s kitchen magic, and you don’t have to be a French chef (or even a chinese grandma) to do it.
Years ago I saw Jacques Pepin make this easy spread on his PBS show. It’s an ingenious way to turn those bits of leftover cheese in your refrigerator drawer into something appealingly fresh.
- 1/2 pound assorted cheese (hard, soft, cream, etc)
- 1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
- 1 garlic clove
- Black pepper
- Salt (optional)
- Chopped herbs (optional)
- In a food processor bowl, add cheese, wine, garlic and a good grinding of black pepper. Process until mixture is creamy. If you have more hard cheeses, you may need to add a splash more wine.
- Add salt or more black pepper to taste. Add fresh herbs and pulse to mix.
- Spread on bread or crackers. Place under broiler until fromage fort gets browned and bubbly, if you like.
- You can trim mold off hard and semi-soft cheeses – just cut a generous slice off. Moldy soft cheeses should be discarded.
- Fromage fort will store well in the refrigerator for a week or two.
Here’s the link to a printable version.