lyonnaise garlic and herb cheese
For two out of my four years at Boston University, I was lucky enough to live in the Maison Française (French House). Unfortunately, we didn’t speak as much French as we were supposed to. Fortunately, though, my backyard was a walking bridge across Storrow Drive and to the Charles; my room was cramped but fitted with a swanky fireplace with white molding that was boarded up with marble tile; and like proper Francophiles, almost all of my housemates liked to eat good food (well, most of them, anyways). I found it impossible to do work in our living room where study sessions turned to chatter sessions and silent reading meant pretending to read while watching something on our great flat screen. As a diligent little worker-bee, I tried my room, the library, the student union, the College of Arts and Sciences and cafés. So most days, I swallowed my pride, and made the convenient trek directly across the street to Towers, an underclass dorm that made me feel oh-so young. Fitted with two study rooms, though, it was my second home on regular days and my only home come exam periods.
When I entered my study room of choice, I was always greeted by the same faces, pale and gaunt with fatigue and longing for a break. These were some of BU’s most dedicated — a group of which, if I could go back, I wish I wasn’t a part. I missed out on a lot of life in that hall, studying for things that now don’t seem all that important. The souls behind those faces were silent friends. They weren’t the ones you spend time with on weekends but the kind who nod when you pass just due to recognition. They’d often flash an expression that called out, “I know your pain.” I mean, during finals period, I would spend hours upon countless hours with them.
My diet during exams was always like that of an athlete. In essence, I was fueling my body for a race and ensuring I had the energy to survive the long haul. Greek yogurt with a variety of healthful toppings or eggs and whole grain toast for early morning breakfasts. Legume-filled lunches. Lean proteins with piles of veggies for dinner. And there was a lot of healthy snacking. Crunchy carrots and celery sticks kept me awake and focused. Flax-filled multigrain chips provided fuel and didn’t cause the crashes induced by my peers’ potato chips. Apples and bananas with almond butter curbed after dinner cravings. Dark chocolate kept me sane.
While I snacked my way to success, though, I couldn’t help but notice the extravagant inter-meal bites that one of those “silent friends” brought with her. First, it was the seemingly homemade cookies. Then came the big guns, like Nutella. And then came the Boursin, which made me say, “damn, girl knows how to study!” Granted, she was spreading the garlic-y cheese on cold, probably stale, Pepperidge Farm bagels– sacrilege, I know — but it was Boursin! Everytime I saw her using her flimsy plastic knife to break off a creamy hunk, my usually delicious, quick n’ dirty crudité looked a little inadequate. Wouldn’t my French essay sound a little more eloquent if I ate something more, well, French? One day, she chose the empty seat beside me to slay her statistics studying. Sweet fumes of fines herbes overwhelmed the scent-less Kind Bar I was consuming.
When I saw this recipe from Dorie Greenspan for Lyonnaise Cheese Spread or Cervelle de Canut (“the silkweaver’s brains” — appealing, I know), for good or for bad, I was brought back to those moments in the study room; Dorie mentions that the spread was the likely inspiration for supermarket Boursin. Armed with creamy, slightly tangy fromage blanc, some of my favorite herbs, shallots and my best friend garlic, I was ready to make everyone’s favorite party cheese and enjoy it myself without pencil in hand.
Well, what I got wasn’t Boursin. It was Boursin-flavored fromage blanc. As I know well, fromage blanc is tangier, looser and more pronounced than Boursin. It has its own personality aside from the bitey garlic and herbs. It’s not rich, and it’s quite reminiscent of yogurt cheese. It may have been different than the real thing, but each dipped veggie and slathered slice of baguette was a bright bite of stress-free happiness.
Lyonnaise Garlic and Herb Cheese (aka Boursin’s mama)
adapted from Around my French Table, by Dorie Greenspan
The cheese can be used as a dip or a spread. It can be stuffed into piquillo peppers or tomatoes. Also, try it as a dressing by adding a little milk or cream. Or, you can shape it into quenelles to serve on a cheese plate.
Ricotta (part-skim is fine) can be substituted for fromage blanc (in fact, I think it would be much more Boursin-like with really well-drained ricotta). Be sure to drain it for two hours (or up to overnight) before using.
Be prepared: No matter how you serve it, you’ll want it to be cold so plan ahead.
2 cups fromage blanc or ricotta
1/2 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove (or a little more if you’d like), minced (I used 2 cloves and grated them on a microplane)
About 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
About 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (I used 1 1/2 tbsp)
About 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon (I used 2 tsps fresh basil)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste (I used black)
Put fromage blanc in a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix everything together lightly with a rubber spatula. (You don’t want to beat the cheese and risk thinning it.) Taste and adjust seasonings as you wish, adding a little more garlic, herbs, and/or vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Taste the cheese and season again if needed before serving.
I hope you can actually call that a recipe…