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When does collecting become hoarding? At what moment does ripeness slip-slide into decay? Funny, the things that go through my mind while editing the contents of the refrigerator, especially when I get to the designated cheese corner.

It’s heaped with rather too many odd-shaped little parcels—our entertaining and general all-around indulgent spree began at Thanksgiving—and I unwrap each one with a twinge of apprehension. The wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a staple all year round, is in great shape, so I rewrap it tightly in several fresh layers of wax paper and tuck it back where it belongs. The Cheddar, ditto. The Gruyère should be fine, too …. Actually, no. Jeez Louise, when did I buy that? It’s all dried out and cracked. After trimming, there’s not really very much left.

A slumped crottin of goat cheese—bone-white inside, it’s middle-aged and thus nuttier than fresh chèvre—looks like it was attacked by wolves. There is quarter of a wheel left of a lovely, buttery double-crème from Sweet Grass Dairy, in Thomasville, Georgia. It’s beginning to bulge alarmingly, and will turn overripe any minute. A gift from southern friends, I can’t possibly let it go to ruin.

Dear God, there’s more. Remnants of a tangy, characterful sheep’s-milk Brebis Blanche from Karen Weinburg and Paul Borghard’s 3-Corner Field Farm, way up in the Battenkill River Valley; I buy their cheese and lamb at the Union Square Greenmarket, and their skeins of yarn for sale make me (almost) want to learn how to knit. Oh! And part of a small drum of Langres. Made from cow’s milk, it is rich and big-flavored—one of my favorite smelly cheeses. It’s a special-occasion treat (fabulous with a Rhône red), but there’s not enough here to serve if we invite another couple over to toast the new year.

I could shovel all my bits and pieces back into the fridge and we could nibble on them piecemeal, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I make the cheese spread called fromage fort (French for “strong cheese”), which takes practically no time at all.

Fromage fort is not your run-of-the-mill commercial cheese spread, with a cream-cheese base and containing emulsifiers and stabilizers along with herbs or other seasonings. And it bears little resemblance to an office-party cheese ball or the stuff cold-packed into earthenware crocks*, either. Fromage fort has backbone, a deliciously barnyard quality that is irresistible. Serve it on crackers or slather it onto slices of baguette and run them under the broiler. Shave curls of it, cold from the refrigerator, over cooked cauliflower or broccoli and watch it become an instant sauce. It’s terrific on steak or burgers as well. And not only will you feel extravagant and economical all at the same time—that is to say, very French—you’ll be amazed at how much room you’ve made in the refrigerator.

Fromage Fort

This isn’t really a recipe but more of a guideline, because you can use leftover pieces of almost any cheeses. Three or four different ones are plenty, and more will take it over the top. I generally taste the cheeses before I toss them into the food processor: Although the spread is famous for its funk factor, it should be pungent, with a nip to it, rather than unpleasantly acrid, and I’m not shy about discarding a cheese that’s a real throat-closer. Take care that the mix isn’t too salty, and if your combination of cheeses has a higher proportion of hard or semifirm types to creamier ones, then consider cutting back on the wine and adding about a half stick of softened unsalted butter.

1 pound leftover cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, and/or goat cheese, at room temperature

½ cup dry white wine

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Trim any rinds, dried-out patches, or moldy bits from cheeses. Grate the harder cheeses and cut soft ones into smallish pieces.

2. Whiz up the cheeses, wine, and garlic in a food processor until smooth and creamy, about a minute or so. You can serve fromage fort immediately, or refrigerate it for a few hours, then let soften slightly at room temperature if you prefer a firmer consistency. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how long fromage fort keeps in the refrigerator because it disappears too quickly at our house.


* Not that this doesn’t have a place, mind you. I like it best in a communal crock on the bar at Sardi’s, alongside plenty of Town House crackers. These days, you have to pay for the pleasure of your own individual crock, which puts a damper on the camaraderie. Settling in to watch the racing at Aqueduct just isn’t the same.

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