Sunday, 20 May 2012

Strong Cheese

The French are big in cheese and one of my absolute favourites is a relatively local cheese, Epoisses. This cheese was invented at the beginning of the 16th century by Cistercian monks at L'Abbaye de Citeaux. A good one (like the one in the photo) is runny and very, very smelly, it has quite a unique flavour, due to it being ripened in Marc de Bourgogne - the local fire water and it is truly delicious. Just a little bit of trivia - soldiers in the Naploeonic armies were strictly banned from carrying Epoisses in their bags due to the pungeant smell.

Epoisses is one of the two AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) cheeses that Burgundy produces, the other being Mâconnais. More cheese trivia for you - there are over 1000 known varieties of cheese in France but only 56 have AOC status.

Our other local AOC – Mâconnais, is a soft goats’ cheese, although I must admit I can’t tell the difference between the ones that have Mâconnais AOC recognition and the ones other local farms make, both are very delicately flavoured delicious cheeses to be eaten the day after production, for a very soft cheese, or kept for a couple of days for a firmer and tastier version. However, you can put the fresh cheeses into in a cheese cage and then let them dry and go mouldy. Depending on the season and depending on the temperature, this mould can be created in less than a week or about a month or so. The longer you leave them the mouldier, dryer and tastier they get. In the photo are two fresh cheeses, one that has been dried for about a week and the more mouldy one has been dried for a couple of weeks. You can eat the dry ones, cut into little bits, to go with your aperitif or you can turn them into fromage fort - a very powerfully flavoured spreadable cheese.

Cees made me a cheese cage a couple of years ago and I use it to dry goat’s cheeses to eat. The photo shows two cheeses just starting their drying in Cees' cheese cage. I also dry left-over bits and pieces in it and then make fromage fort (strong cheese). As with any food worth eating round here, there are as many recipes for fromage fort as there are grandmothers. This is my recipe:

Use any left-over cheese you have, Cheddar, Gouda, Camembert, Brie, Emmental, goats cheese, in fact anything you have to hand, dry for about a week. Many recipes include a leek bouillon, but I found it fussy to make and it didn’t add any real taste.

500g left-over dried cheese
50ml dry white wine
1 – 2 cloves garlic
Salt & black pepper

Remove any rinds from the hard cheeses and grate, leave rinds on the soft cheeses and chop into smallish pieces. Put the cheese, wine, and garlic into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper.

Refrigerate, do not cover. After about 24hrs check for dryness. If the cheese mixture is dry, add a little bit of wine and leave for another day, keep checking and adding wine as necessary and the cheese will be ready to eat after about a week. Adding the wine in small quantities ensures that the final consistency is not too runny and that all the liquid is incorporated into the cheese. The ultimate consistency should be a bit dryer than cottage cheese.

This will give you a very strongly flavoured spread, ideal for aperitifs on crackers. A tip on the ultimate flavour - the longer you dry the cheese and the longer you give it the fridge maturation treatment, the stronger the flavour. I have one neighbour who makes hers with non-dried cheeses and she serves it as soon as it has been made, but her cheese is strictly for wimps !

Bon appétit.

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