At any given time, there are between two – and fourteen – nubbins of cheese in my refrigerator. Those odds and ends are the result of me getting too excited when I’m at the fromagerie, usually going with the intention of buying just one or two wedges. But after scanning the shelves, and seeing a few cheeses that also look worthy of my shopping basket, ones that I am sure need to be tasted, the friendly women who I buy cheese from wrap them all up neatly in paper for me to take home. The bill is always more than I expect, but it’s the one bill that I’m happy to régler (pay up).
As fond as I am of cheese, as are my fellow Parisians, they’re not quite as fond of loading things up with garlic as much as other folks. You rarely see anything heavily dosed with garlic (forty cloves, or otherwise) in Paris restaurants, nor have I ever been served anything with more than the barest hint of garlic in someone’s home. (I’m not sure why because there is so much garlic at the markets. So someone must be buying it.)
Yet I’m doing my part to promote l’ail (garlic), and surprise guests by grating some into salad dressings or whipping up a batch of powerful aïoli, garlic mayonnaise from Provence, from time-to-time. I have no trouble finding plenty of uses for all the lovely garlic that’s available, but a solution for those scrappy cheese bits and pieces was elusive – until I learned about fromage fort.
So when I’ve got too many cheese bits on hand, it’s now fromage fort to the rescue. The name means “strong cheese” and I’m not sure where it originated, but I have a hunch it’s a relative of cancoillotte, a gooey cheese, sometimes seasoned with garlic, and cervelle de canut, a cheese spread from Lyon dosed heavily with herbs and garlic. Or, if they’re not related in any way, fromage forte is a tasty by-product of French frugality.
For this batch, I used a combination of blue cheese, Cantal, aged Gouda, some rinds of semi-hard goat cheese, and a bit of cream cheese to smooth things out. The blue cheese I had was a little too fort and that’s what raised my guests’ eyebrows, not the garlic. (Me too.) So be careful with the blue cheese as it can quickly overwhelm.
One cheese FAQ that comes up is, “Can I eat the rind?” The answer that I got from an affineur (cheese ripener) here in France, is that you can eat rinds if they won’t adversely affect the flavor of the cheese. That said, big wheels of cheese, like Comté, Gruyère, and Gouda, are often rolled around cheese caves, and it might not be such a great idea to eat them. Softer cheese, that have been ripened on shelves, have rinds that are generally eaten unless there is a substantial amount of mold. (Although I’ve seen French people eat their way around rinds of brie and camembert cheeses, which I do enjoy, so it really is a matter of personal preference.) If you’re not sure, if something looks unappetizing, it is probably going to taste that way. So shave off any rinds that look suspect, then whirl the tasty parts away in your food processor.