I don't know about you, but it is a rare moment that I can sample cheese in the store without buying some. Fortunately, they'll cut a piece any size you want so I can get the satisfaction of taking that little gem home without buying more than my budget can handle. My practicality seems to stall at home, though, when I end up with a half dozen morsels of different cheeses going hard or unintentionally blue in the "cheese barn" as I call it.
First, however, I'm not ashamed to admit that I make a meal of cheese about once a week. I call it smorgasbord to create some excitement around the fact that it's also a good opportunity to clean out the fridge of this and that. On the other hand, this can be quite a healthy meal.
The cheeses take center stage, but day-old steamed vegetables, single romaine spears, carrot and celery sticks become appealing when arranged on a nice plate with a little cup of dressing for dipping. A few pickles and olives come out of hiding, sometimes chopped in with leftover meat or chicken and a spoonful of mayonnaise for a poor-man's pâté. Heels of whole-grain bread get cut into quarters and toasted, as do any withering whole wheat pitas or tortillas. Sometimes I brush them first with olive oil or melted ghee.
Back to the mystery cheese morsels... I never throw them out. No matter how small, they're like magic flavorizers! If it's super hard, I grate it on the grater's tiny shredder holes. If it's getting mold, I cut that bit off (and regrettably throw it away). If it's smelly, all the more flavorful! Then what? There are many wonderful options. One is macaroni and cheese, using whatever combination of cheeses you have. If none of those cheese bits is sharp or blue, add a dash of Worcestershire for a little more flavor. Fondue is another catchall for mystery cheeses and you wouldn't believe how simple it is. Use this basic recipe
as your starting point, knowing you can use any white wine or pale beer and all your cheese bits or shreds. And, remember, you don't have to dip bread cubes. Try raw or steamed vegetables, even rolled leaves of chard or kale.
I also use leftover cheese in spinach dip, which fits right in to smorgasbord night! In fact, I always have a bag of organic chopped spinach in the freezer just for this purpose. Thaw spinach in the microwave or in warm water. Squeeze all the moisture out and add sautéed onion and garlic. Stir in your grated or crumbled cheese bits and mayo and/or yogurt and/or sour cream, but not too much if you want to keep it healthy! A teaspoonful of sesame tahini is nice sometimes, and a dash of Tabasco or some horseradish. Add chopped roasted peppers or artichoke hearts, if you have them. Spread into a pie plate. If you have grated parmesan, give it a sprinkle, then microwave or bake until warm.
And then, for those always seeking an authentic European everyday experience, there's the incredibly addictive fromage fort (strong cheese). Basically, you throw into the food processor your leftover cheese bits-the more varieties the better-with a good number of fresh garlic cloves, a splash of dry white wine and dash of black pepper and process the heck out of it-about 30 seconds. I like it a little chunky and chewy glopped on a cracker or piece of matzoh. Others prefer it melted over a bagel or toast. Either way, if you cover it tightly, it will extend the life of all those precious pieces of mystery cheese another few weeks in the refrigerator.
I know I'm not the only one who falls for more cheese than I can realistically manage. What do you do with your mystery cheese?