Cheese is hardier than you think — here's how to put even the driest cheese to good use.

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Cheese lovers have all been there. You head to the fridge, hankering for a cheesy snack. And there, where you left your beautiful cheese, are instead some dried-out scraps. A bummer? Yes. But, hope is not yet lost for your cheese snack.

Cheese is essentially a jerky, the preserved fat and protein in milk. Expiration dates often aren't helpful for understanding how long cheese will last in your fridge because most cheeses won't go bad in the traditional sense. The lower the water content, the lower the chance your cheese will go bad. Fresh mozzarella and chevre can go bad, sure. But, with Brie, Gruyere, Taleggio, and Cheddar, the question is more whether or not they still are appetizing.

Brie-style cheese may start smelling of ammonia. You could see some mold growth. Your cheese will start looking a bit dry. As long as there's no red or black mold and your cheese still smells good, your cheese is fine. Ammonia will usually blow off if you leave it at room temperature for a few hours. Blue, green, white, or grey mold can be cut off. Even leftover rinds of cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano can be saved and used in stocks or soups.

With dried out cheese, it's sometimes possible to trim the dry outsides to reveal a softer interior. Even if the whole piece is dry, you could give it a quick blend in the food processor, then store it in a plastic baggie back in the fridge for topping rice, roasted veggies, beans, or a salad. Or, channel your inner Parisian by making fromage fort. Even the driest, most unappetizing bits of still-technically-edible cheese can be put to good use in this practical French dip.

Parmesan Rinds with a Blue Background
Credit: JannHuizenga / Getty Images

Translating to "strong cheese," fromage fort is a genius recipe for using up cheese scraps. If you wanted, you could go out and buy some scraps from the "try a tiny piece of cheese" bin at Whole Foods to make into fromage fort, but it's really best to bookmark the recipe and pull it out when you start to notice bits of cheese piling up in the fridge that you don't want to snack on, but also don't want to go to waste. The only cheese that you'll want to be careful with is blue cheese — too much of it will quickly overwhelm the flavors of the other cheeses. If you only have hard cheese scraps, throw in a tablespoon of butter for a better texture. You could also supplement a particularly dry batch with a tablespoon or two or cream cheese, mayonnaise, mascarpone, crème fraiche, sour cream, or neufchatel if you have it.

Fromage fort is highly customizable and makes a charming dip for bread and crackers. You can eat it right after making it, or let it sit in the fridge until it's ready, where the flavors will meld and deepen.

You could even dress it up a bit further. Throw in olives, artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, bacon bits, really whatever sounds good to you. It's both an incredibly forgiving and an incredibly practical recipe. It's barely a recipe even, just mix and serve. You could also spread it over slices of bread, then broil for richer, more toasty flavors. Or, broil the whole thing in a cast iron skillet and dip in your bread or crackers. It's a perfect appetizer or light dinner for two with a salad. Think of it as a summery take on fondue.

Fromage Fort

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound chopped or grated leftover cheese scraps, ideally a blend of soft and hard cheeses.
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup dry white wine, lager, cider, vegetable broth, or a mix of these.
  • Black pepper
  • Salt, to taste (optional)
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, or chives (optional)

Directions:

  1. Trim the cheese of any hard rinds or mold.
  2. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings. Process and taste again.
  3. Serve or store in the fridge until ready. It will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge or can be frozen for up to two months.

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