French

Jacques Pépin’s Genius, Very-Last-Minute Appetizer—Two Ways

November 23, 2016

Consider this blessedly simple recipe your instant holiday contingency plan: your on-call snack, your hungry people parachute, the thing you can always provide, even when you have nothing in the fridge, and nothing in mind.

Because this is how, following the lead of living legend Jacques Pépin, you can turn the leftover odds and ends in your cheese drawer into a sultry hors d’oeuvre. Two, actually.

The first: a funky-delicious soft cheese spread for crackers and crudités. And the second: that same cheese spread, served on toasts hot and bubbly from the broiler. In either case, it’s called fromage fort, which translates literally to “strong cheese.” It’s never exactly the same twice, but it’s always very good, and very fast.

“Now we do everything in the food processor in two minutes,” Jacques Pépin told me over the phone, including fromage fort. But when Pépin was a child in France, without food processors and refrigeration, it took his father a week or more to make. Any soon-to-be past their prime cheese bits were packed in an earthenware jar, covered with broth and white wine, and left in the cool cellar to marinate, until the cheeses were soft enough to mash with a fork.

Today the process is almost embarrassingly simple—put cheese in a food processor with wine, a few garlic cloves, and black pepper; blend. But you do need to cue up your common sense. If there are any rinds that look waxen or suspect (or taste too funky for you), scrape them off. And while a whole wheel of molten Camembert could whip right in, no problem, any harder, aged cheeses like Parmesan should be chopped or grated first. You’ll know.

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If nothing else, as Pépin points out, “If there’s enough garlic and wine, everything is fine,”

His wife Gloria likes to make a big batch, keeping a couple crocks in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer, defrosting them the day before she needs them, for an hors d’oeuvre or otherwise. And beyond the two instant appetizers you see here, Pépin considers fromage fort a seasoning.

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Top Comment:
“He grabbed a baguette and told us to slice it and spread some cheese on each slice and put them under the salamander (a broiler-like device found in professional kitchens). It was so much better when the cheese melted into the bread. Totally sublime! One of many incredibly simple, delicious recipes from a world-class master chef!”
— Elissa M.
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“You could use the cheese in cream puff dough to make gougères, or in béchamel to make a cheese soufflé,” he told me. I found myself wanting to thin it into a spicy dressing for slaw, or melt it onto pizza with bacon and olives. Fromage fort is the fromage that keeps on giving.

In a beautiful circularity, the holiday season’s gratins and stratas and half-finished cheese plates will continue leaving you with a bounty of odd-shaped cheese nubs—and now you’ll know just where to put them.

Photos by James Ransom

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12 Comments

Elissa M. December 24, 2016
Jacques Pepin told us to make this with some of the leftover cheese from a chacuterie board we shared when he taught our class last month. One of our classmates took on the task and the next day, we told him that we made it, although we still thought it was overpowering. He grabbed a baguette and told us to slice it and spread some cheese on each slice and put them under the salamander (a broiler-like device found in professional kitchens). It was so much better when the cheese melted into the bread. Totally sublime! One of many incredibly simple, delicious recipes from a world-class master chef!
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx November 26, 2016
I buy this mixture of cheeses, wine, etc. at my favorite cheese shop. So good but expensive! Time to try my own.
 
catalinalacruz November 23, 2016
Left-over pieces of cheese? I wish I knew what that was. :)
 
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Kristen M. November 23, 2016
Ha! It's bound to happen sometime.
 
LisaD November 23, 2016
I'd kind of like to try the slow version with the cheese marinating in wine for a week and then mashed by hand. As soon as I get back from TG travel, I'm going to try it that way!
 
Sarah J. November 23, 2016
Let us know how it goes!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. November 23, 2016
Me too, LisaD!
 
arcane54 November 23, 2016
Mind meld! I'm about to make batch of the strong stuff myself! I love that it's different every time, too. Be sure to balance out the sharpness of the various cheeses so the big-flavored cheeses don't overpower the more subtle cheeses -- that Gorgonzola can really take over!
 
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Kristen M. November 23, 2016
:) the strong stuff! Great point.
 
icharmeat January 16, 2017
It is true. an ounce+ of pretty ripe dolce gorgonzola and some blue castello that wasn't even near consideration for disposal turned my fort into something that was reminiscent of vomit mouth- that taste you have for some time after barfing. I don't think that wine and garlic can fix it (but it is in the fridge anyway- just in case a helpful post shows up). fwiw, there was probably 5 oz of smoked cheddar in there and I wondered at the time if it would play nicely with the other cheeses but the taste suggests that the blue component was too much. Maybe the combo of smoke and blue cheese is bad. Not something that I really want to investigate.
 
Shelley M. November 23, 2016
Reminds me of a simple recipe for garlic toast that I haul out for a quick appetizer. A mix of softened butter, minced garlic, mayo and grated romana cheese. Stick under the broiler till golden and bubbling.
 
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Kristen M. November 23, 2016
Wow, that sounds good. I'm always on the quest for the perfect garlic bread, and that sounds like a contender.