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A Genius Cheese Dip That’s As Easy As 1-2-3

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I cannot stress enough how quickly this elegant cheese dip from Heidi Swanson materializes in front of you—or how many situations you may find yourself grateful for it.

Heidi Swanson’s Parmesan Cheese Spread
Heidi Swanson’s Parmesan Cheese Spread

Your in-laws—or coworkers or dogsitters—are passing through the neighborhood. You spaced on appetizers for your dinner party. Or, whoops, the party is suddenly pacing an hour behind schedule (cheese dip). You have a hankering for a quick, salty snack with some substance, but all you’ve got in the cheese drawer is that stiff, ageless block of Parm. The key, my friends, is this cheese dip.

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If you’re thinking: But Parmesan doesn’t melt!—you’re right. Dry, well-aged Parmesan won’t readily change states in fondues and quesos like other, meltier cheeses do—if anything, you might see it layered in as a sharp accent flavor on something a little younger and more impressionable, like ricotta or Jack.

Nominated for Single Most Productive Use of a Microplane.
Nominated for Single Most Productive Use of a Microplane.

The trick is all in the Microplaning, which shears the hard, crumbly cheese into a mound of weightless feathers. You’ve done this a million times over pasta, but you might not have realized that by stirring in a little liquid (here, olive oil and a splash of wine), the soft curls of cheese settle comfortably into a very smooth spread. Voilà! Instant appetizer, care of the darkest recesses of your cheese drawer.

Don't mess around with faux Parmesan here. It has nothing to hide behind.
Don't mess around with faux Parmesan here. It has nothing to hide behind.

But Swanson would want you to know: “It's more of an idea than a recipe,” as she wrote to me. “And, adding stuff to it is where the fun/magic happens.” My easy go-tos are heavy-handed black pepper and a squirt of lemon juice, but she also suggests all sorts of herbs, spices, dried fruit, and other doodads that would be fun to toss in, depending on your mood and pantry stores.

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In fact, the day of our photo shoot, I shopped for nothing! I prepared nothing. I knew we had Parmesan, olive oil, and wine kicking around, and took my chances on there being something for me to dunk into it. Naturally, Sarah Jampel had sourced some eensy Thumbelina carrots, baby squash, and wiggly crackers for another much-better-planned photo, so I went ahead and borrowed some of those—but any bread/cracker/crudité-like vehicle will do. You have half a bag of carrots or celery in the back of the fridge, right? Back by the Parm? You're golden.

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Heidi Swanson’s Parmesan Cheese Spread

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Makes about 1 1/2 cups of spread
  • 2 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces / 150g) finely grated Parmesan cheese (on a Microplane)
  • scant 1/4 cup (50ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • add-in ideas: black pepper, lemon juice, chopped dried figs, chopped dates, finely lots of chopped chives, lemon zest, or red pepper flakes, dried herbs, chopped sun-dried tomatoes
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Photos by Emily Dryden

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to tiny vegetable forager Sarah Jampel for this one.