You know that thing that happens when you have friends over? No, I don’t mean the Santa Baby sing-along or red-wine-on-the-white-sofa thing or the ow-my-head-hurts thing the next day, though all of those are grand too. What I mean is, what we usually do is stop by a cheese store or counter and pick up a bunch of wedges of this and that and put them out with wine and bread and at the end of the night, there’s always one sorry little glass left of wine left and a few nubs of cheese. Maybe they end up in the trash. They shouldn’t. And they won’t anymore because let me introduce you to (drumroll, Oprah voice, please)… fromage fort!
Translated as “strong cheese,” it’s a delightfully economical blend of whatever odds and ends of cheese you have around, some wine, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs, if you’re feeling it. Softer cheeses make it creamier. Harder cheeses can benefit from a pat of butter. You can use it right away or “age” it a little more, up to a week is safest. For a treat, you can run your slice of bread spread with the fromage fort under the broiler. If it’s on the softer side, dip things like grissini or other seedy breadsticks in it. But beyond that, there are no rules. There are few recipes, just outlines. But the main thing, the salient bit, is that you just wing it.
Fromage fort is forgiving. It accepts all kinds — your tired old gruyere scraps, your poor white wine choices, your huddled masses of brie, yearning to breathe free (I’m so sorry, America.), and blends them together into something infinitely greater than its parts. Plus, there’s always a little snowflake specialness to it, as no two batches will ever be exactly alike. In a year of carefully arranged, slightly obsessive, many component-ed, over-the-top and personal Mount Everests of recipes, this is the most fitting way to usher the year out.
One year ago: Parsnip Latkes with Horseradish and Dill, Cinnamon Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs and Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze
Two years ago: Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies and Milk Punch (or, my nomination for the ideal cocktail embodiment of the dreaded “wintry mix”)
Three years ago: Creamed Mushrooms on Butter-Chive Toast, Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce, Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes, How to Host Brunch (and Still Sleep In), Spinach and Cheese Strata, Pear Bread and Parmesan Cheese Crackers
Four years ago: Mushroom and Barley Pie, The Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell, Cranberry Pecan Frangipane Tart, Mustard Roasted Potatoes, Walnut Tartlets, Cauliflower Gratin, All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough, Pumpkin Cupcakes, Cabbage Apple and Walnut Salad and Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Five years ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, My Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies, Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, A Slice-and-Bake Cookie Pallette and Robert Linxe’s Chocolate Truffles
Six years ago: Wild Mushroom Pirogis, Blondies, Infinitely Adaptable, Fettucine with Porcini, German Pancakes, Winter Panzanella, Chicken Skewers with Dukkah Crust and Pecan Squares
As I mention above, there are no rules as to how you put this together. Maybe you want more wine, or less. Maybe you want a heavy hand with salt and pepper, or you want the natural flavors of the cheese to shine through. If you’re using a lot of hard cheeses, a pat or two of butter will help smooth things out. Personally, I go easy on the garlic (one tiny clove) because it really blooms as the cheese sits, and I don’t want it to take over, but maybe you would like that. The only thing I think it important to keep in mind is that even a small amount of blue cheese tends to dominate. I used 25% of the weight in blue, and the result was essentially a blue cheese spread. Fortunately, we love them. But if that’s not your thing, limit it to just a small spoonful or a few crumbles.
If you’re curious, my formula this time was one part each of blue, brie, goat cheese and gruyere, a handful of chives and a full cup of wine.
1 pound mix leftover cheese, harder cheeses grated, softer ones cut into chunks
A couple pats of butter, if using mostly firm cheese varieties
1 small clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
1/2 to 1 cup leftover white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary or chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Blend cheese, butter (if using) and garlic in food processer until combined. Drizzle in wine with the motor running until you get your desired consistency — some like it completely smooth, others prefer chunks. Add herbs, pulsing the machine until just combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fromage fort can be used right away, or kept in the fridge until needed. In the fridge, it will thicken and age a little; the flavors will mingle and deepen.