Sad Lost Pencils And This Time I’m Not Gon’ Cry

Bits O Cheese

Years ago when I was a round nugget of a child running around in terry-cloth shorts I had a book I read to myself many times over. It involved some Amphibian or Owl With Shoes who lived inside a mushroom or hollow tree. I can’t remember much of the story but the one thing that stuck in my brain was that on many occasions this anthropomorphic critter would find himself without food or drink and would simply chop an onion or think about sad things in order to create his own version of tear tea.  I remember being disgusted by the thought of sipping one’s own saline tears but that didn’t freak me out as much as the things he’d think about to coax the tears out of his eyes and into the kettle. Torn books, uneaten mashed potatoes, no internet (ok I added that) and stubby chewed-up pencils that were no longer needed and left to roll behind the oven, never to be seen again.  As a kid I could see those pencils laying there waiting to be found, just looking up at the ceiling thinking “I’m still good! Please! Anyone, I Can Still Make Notes And Drawings For You, I Promise You! Please? I’ll be good!” and wouldn’t you know I would begin sobbing every single time I got to that damn part of the story! Here’s where it gets bad — and you might want to stop reading here — the lead character would fill his pot up, wipe his eye, smile and exclaim something like “Tea’s Ready!” and flutter away.

What the hell? Did you really get my 5-year old emotions in a tizzy so you could have tea and then just walk away smiling? What about me? What about those pencils? They are still there, tiny and little, craving the warmth of a human hand!  That hasn’t changed just because your thirst has been sated!  You goshdarn son of a bitch dirty bird!

As you can see, I am still deeply affected by this story and really had no idea I’d be writing this with a tear down my cheek and my heart beating like crazy. I’m good though, thanks. Let me take a quick break.

(matt taking a break)

Ok, I’m back. So, how does this have to do with my blog entry? Well you see, this story would always pop into my head when I’d reach into my cheese drawer. And what a cheese drawer it is. I’m a cheese freak with almost always a full drawer of assorted cheeses. I’d take a slice or chunk, grab a baguette, grate some over pasta, and use my various bits of cheese until they’re down to nothing and then I’d delicately wrap up my spent pieces back in wax paper and return them to the fridge where before long I had a collection of rinds and chunks too small to be of much cooking use. And then I begin to think of those pencils and that Owl or Mosquito or whatever it was and I close the door quickly, telling myself that at least my cheese bits are safe and cold and taken care of. Because no matter what I could not throw them away!

Fortunately a few years ago I was sharing this story with a friend who not only recommended I seek professional help regarding my issues with lost pencils but also told me about Fromage Fort. Can I tell you how Fromage Fort has changed my life? Pieces of random cheeses are mixed with wine, garlic, sometimes butter and perhaps some herbs, resulting in an intensely flavored (the “fort part!)  cheese spread that’s terrific with toast points, bread or vegetables. I like to safeguard my pencils, er, I mean, cheese remnants and make this for parties and luckily no one has caught on that it’s made from leftovers. Until now, that is.

But hey — at least I nurture and love my leftovers and unused pieces with great affection, taking care of them until the salty, savory end.

Unlike some self-centered owls I know.


Fromage Fort

You can use almost any cheese you have on hand but be gentle if it includes any from the blue family (Cabrales, Roquefort, Gorgonzola) as they tend to overpower the mix. And for the love of god do not use Velveeta. And if you’re like me throw a bit of caution to the wind and cut off any mold that has grown on your hard cheeses but never use any soft cheeses that have gone moldy. That’s not a good thing but I am not a scientist or health professional so tread carefully and don’t blame me for nuthin’- that’s my disclaimer.

1/2 pound of cheese pieces (without the rinds)
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 to 1/2 cup of white wine (depending on the desired texture. Crumbly or spreadable? You decide!)
freshly ground black pepper

In a processor add the cheese bits, garlic and white wine and process until fully blended. Depending on your cheeses and their moisture level you may need more or less white wine. I tend to eyeball it until it resembles a cheese spread. Feel free to add herbs and I’ve even seen some recipes that include butter because clearly this spread isn’t rich enough, right? Once fully mixed place into small ramekins or a bowl. Enjoy!


  1. says

    Fabulous story to go along with a delicious-looking recipe. Give me some crisp multigrain/seedy/nubbly crackers, a glass of wine and a pot of this cheese, and I’m set.

  2. says

    Mmm, this looks awesome. Although I rarely have leftover cheese. But those rinds that can’t go in the dip sure are tasty thrown into a soup or stock.

  3. says

    i discovered this recently as well, and am much happier for it. thanks for posting this – you beat me to it!



  4. says

    This sounds delicious!

    Leah – You can use your cheese rinds to flavor soups. Add a rind or two when the soup is simmering. It will infuse the soup with the cheese flavor. This works especially well with Parmesan.

  5. Suzie says

    After making the fromage fort, and you’re left with really just hard rinds, that are just scent encrusted leather, not anything to eat really, put them in your stock pot. That’s where I throw all the bones of chickens, pigs, ducks and any other beloved leftovers, that sit safely in the freezer, like the pencils, waiting to give their last best to the pot. Other pots to give your rinds to: the bean pot (especially the ribolita or cassoulet pot), and the ragu alla bolognese pot!

    Cheese rinds are beloved. I understand.

  6. says

    I save my cheese rinds for dunking in soup stock…but now, thanks to you, I have a much more fun way to use up those old pieces!!!!Thanks for the recipe and the sweet, sweet story of you, the Owl and forgotten pencils. I think you might have one of the biggest hearts in the world. xoxox, Brooke

  7. amy says

    not only did you beat Heather to the posting, but also Gourmet magazine… fromage fort is featured in their “Gourmet Weekly” email. Thanks for sharing a recipe that brings new life to cheese nibs & congrats the new home – it looks great!

  8. says

    Your opening two sentences are among the best I’ve ever read in the blogosphere….

    Major ups to you, from one former round terrycloth-clad nugget to another

  9. says

    Long time reader, first time commenter…

    Having a rather full cheese drawer, we just whipped this up with some chunks of brie, pecorino, roquefort, st augur, vintage tasty and a quite nice New Zealand sauvignon blanc and let me just say … OMFG! so utterly, utterly marvellous! I could eat this again and again and again (and I daresay I will).

    The perfect thing for a very, very hot summer afternoon (it’s about 100 out right now) with a nice crusty loaf and a glass of the lovely NZ sauvignon blanc.

    I will cry very-sad-lost-pencil-stub tears now that we have exhausted leftover bits from the drawer, fortunately it will not be too long before it is replenished and we can make another batch.

  10. RL says

    While running on a track today, I kept passing a pencil nub. I finally picked it up, realizing that it was an sign saying, “Make fromage fort!” Thanks for the lovely story!

  11. says

    That book was Owl at Home! It was, and probably still is, my very favorite book. I like the story called “Strange Bumps” where he thinks his feet under the covers are some sort of independent creatures.

    Incidentally, your blog is rapidly becoming one of my favorites and I always try your recipes! I might have to start keeping my cheese ends…

  12. says

    Oh my gosh! Why have I never heard of this before? This is awesome. You know, I think you can truly recycle anything. Thanks for the post.

  13. says

    We just got a box of cheese from Dean & Deluca for a belated xmas gift – Yeah!
    Now I have no choice but to use your recipe so I can dig into the new cheeses!
    Whenever I want to whine about my sudden hazelnut allergy (imagine a life w/o nutella) I repeat the mantra: at least it wasn’t dairy.


  14. Tessa says

    nope: the story is from Owl at Home and it is titled “tear water tea” – my fave childhhod story and the very first I read aloud…. Love your blog!

  15. Christina says

    Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel. Tearwater Tea is likely my most oft-referenced story, usually concerning a bowl of cold mashed potatoes or a pencil that is too short to write with. *Sniff* He sat in his armchair wearing his bathrobe and slippers. My mother’s rendition of this story is one of my favorite childhood memories.

    Tearwater tea might actually be a good meal idea as I stare into my refrigerator, making it through day 16 of holding back on the grocery shopping due to the wonderful economy’s effect on this recently graduated (yet jobless) student with her Master’s degree. I think there might be a small chunk of white cheddar in the fridge, and I can get some cheap ass dry white wine. I’ve still got garlic (although it’s prolly not in the best shape, but neither am I [financially speaking]). I’ve really appreciated the abundance of frugally-themed food blogging that’s cropped up recently. This seems to be a delicious way to eat my way through tomorrow, thank you.

    By the way, I also highly recommend Uncle Elephant by the same publishers- the second to last chapter is a real heartbreaker. Old, creaky Uncle Elephant and his young nephew wake up to trumpet the dawn together. It’s quite lovely.

  16. says

    I have wanted to make this forever. What seems like an age ago this recipe was printed off, slid into a plastic page protecter and has been patiently waiting for me to make it. Well today I did! May I just say this?…WOW!!! What a revelation! I knew this would be good, but sweet baby Jesus! I was dancing around the kitchen proclaiming what a good kitchen witch I am, and all the while my husband stood in the doorway with a smile on his face and a cracker spread with my very own fromage fort in his hand. Life is good.
    Thanks, Matt!!!

  17. says

    My husband too, loves to keep the old bits of cheese. He doesn’t want to eat them per say, but can’t bring himself to throw them away. What a great way to use all of what you have. It’s nice to know those bits will be going to a good yummy cause!

  18. says

    Matt, you are truly fabulous and amazing, and one of my favourite food bloggers!

    I laughed until I cried when reading the story about you and the pencil nubs, while reading it to my boyfriend over the phone, and his response was, “He sounds just like you!”

    Thank you for spreading the joy and the cheese.
    Big hug!

    xo K


  1. […] or a fruit coulis. I haven't found this in the USA; does it exist under a different name there? …Fromage Fort | MattBites.comMatt goes off on a sad tangent but comes to back with cheesy happiness. … After making the fromage […]

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