I measure my success in traveling and exploring a new city by how long it takes me to find the local cheese shop. They’re often tucked away on a side street, or down a covered stone alley, almost like the owners don’t want to be the center of attention or an attractant for hordes of tourists. I find myself fascinated by these fromageries and käseladens, because the cheese shop gives a unique insight into the local culture. In Switzerland, the cow themed cheese plates and knives are tucked alongside wedges of mountain cheeses like Sbrinz and Gruyere and bricks of milk chocolate. In Spain, cured chorizo hangs from the ceiling above the wheels of Manchego and Idiazabal. The utensils they sell suggest whether the area serves the cheese melted or sliced, if the cheese acts as a first course or dessert, and if cheese consumption begins at breakfast or lunch.
More often than not, I pay multiple visits to the cheese shop. My record for the most number of trips is the three trips I took in one day while touring Aix-en-Provence. I found it by chance the first time, and quickly bought a small piece of fresh goat cheese with walnuts. An hour later, I brought my friend in, where we had samples of blue cheese on walnut raisin bread, then bought nearly a pound of Roquefort. Just a few hours after that, we visited yet again to convince another member of our group to buy more Roquefort (it was probably to our advantage that they changed shifts in between the second and third visits). That night, we ate Roquefort with fresh baguettes in a hotel that was decorated as if the goal was to combine Caesar’s Palace with shag carpets and cow statues. The cheese was a welcome distraction.
Roquefort is a pungent blue cheese, aged just long enough to develop the oxidized crystals that add a touch of sweetness to balance the strength and odor. When folded into a choux paste and baked into little French cheese pastries known as gougères (also known as the savory version of éclairs or profiteroles), the resulting appetizer is an elegant addition to a cheese board. To complement the Roquefort, I added some burgundy wine extract to the gougères, which adds a touch of rich flavor without the alcohol. Think of these treats as the entire wine and cheese party because they combine bread, cheese, and wine into one bite. If, unlike me, you’re over twenty-one, you can substitute a portion of the water for burgundy wine.
Sweet accompaniments work best alongside these gougères, such as fresh grapes or summer stone fruits. For a rich contrast to the light and airy pastries, I put together some maple pecans made with smoked salt to complete the appetizer tray. Gougères are perfect for potlucks, tasting parties, and special dinners. If you’re a freezer hoarder like myself, stick these in the freezer for up to three months and then re-crisp them in the oven in times of culinary emergency. Enjoy these whichever way you like, but please, whatever you do, don’t call them cheese puffs.
Burgundy Roquefort Gougères
Makes about 45 Gougeres
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup water
½ teaspoon table salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 oz. Roquefort, crumbled
4 teaspoons burgundy wine powder
Sea salt, for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 375F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter and water to a boil. Take the pan off heat, then stir in the salt and the flour. Stir until combined, then return to the burner and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until a smooth dough ball forms and a shiny film with droplets of water is covering the bottom of the pan.
- Transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute to cool slightly. Add the Roquefort and the burgundy wine powder and beat until the cheese is thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed until well combined. Once all the eggs are added, beat on medium-high for another 30-60 seconds until smooth and shiny.
- Scoop 1 tablespoon sized portions of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spaced 1 ½ inches apart. If there are any points or craggy areas, smooth them with your finger dipped in water. Sprinkle the gougèreswith sea salt, then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and puffed. Do your best not to open the oven door during the baking period. Let the baked gougères cool on wire racks, and shape and bake the remaining gougères.
Note: If you do not have Burgundy wine powder, you may substitute ½ cup of the water for ½ cup burgundy wine. The gougères can be frozen in a well-sealed plastic bag for up to three months and then re-crisped at 350F for 10 minutes.