Like fancy pub cheese, minus having to go out in public

By Stacey Ballis
Updated October 01, 2018
Credit: Photo by Stacey Ballis

I don’t know about you, but as summer gives way to fall, my entertaining ramps up to nearly breakneck pace. There is something about the feeling that there are just a few weeks left for porch rosé, or easy grilled suppers that send me into a hostessing frenzy. Little spontaneous gatherings for wine and nibbles, or small dinner parties, sometimes two or three nights a week. I think I’m stockpiling my social life for the long blustery Chicago winter when we all pretty much hunker down at home unless someone gets married or has a birthday with a zero at the end.

The only thing that tends to happen with all of this friendly activity is that I end up with a fridge full of the ends of appetizers and snacks. Mostly this makes for some interesting lunches for me, and some regrets at the last inch of salty, crunchy snacks gone stale in the bottoms of bags in the pantry. But the one thing that never bothers me is the accumulation of a pile of small chunks of cheeses. You know, those little scraps that are too big to throw away, but not big enough to grace your next cheese platter? Sure, you can pile a couple on a plate with a sliced apple and some ham and call it lunch, but I prefer to go a much more interesting recycling route.

Fromage fort is an ingenious French recipe designed to use up not only those cheese course remnants, but also that last little bit of wine that didn’t get finished at dinner. And who would know better what to do with leftover cheeses than the French? A fancy version of a pub cheese, it is essentially all those blobs of cheesy joy, blitzed up with some wine and garlic. Presto change-o, you suddenly have a delicious cheese spread to serve at your next get together.

The rules are simple, more of a ratio than a recipe. For every eight ounces of mixed-up cheese bits, measure out ¼ cup wine (or vermouth or sherry or cider or beer or whatever you have around that is open), a clove of garlic, and a few grinds of black pepper. Pulse in a food processor until you get the consistency you like, I make mine fairly smooth, but that is just personal taste. Pretty much any combination of cheeses works great, the garlic and wine smooth them all out and make them friends.

My current batch is a combination of Spanish manchego, a French bloomed rind goat cheese, Bulgarian double cream feta, and shredded Wisconsin cheddar leftover from another recipe. It's four countries melded into one harmonious beautiful cheesy spread. This batch also has some chives in it, since I had some chopped in the fridge that were starting to dry out. It almost never needs salt when I make it, but if my cheeses are particularly mild, I sometimes add a bit of Dijon, or even some red pepper flakes if I’m feeling perky. And since it never is really the same twice, I never get bored with it. It is great on a bagel or crackers, and sometimes I smear it on small slices of baguette and throw it under the broiler for a fancy sort of cheese toastie appetizer. It can perk up a burger or serve as a mayo alternative on your next sandwich.

However you rock it, fromage fort is a great recipe to keep in your back pocket when your cheese drawer overfloweth. It’s almost an excuse to have friends over, just to have the cheese scraps.