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Marinated cheeses

Inspired by a traditional Czech pub snack, three easy cheeses to enjoy or to give as gifts.

By Adam Ried
November 29, 2009

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Last summer, friends introduced me to a spicy marinated cheese called nakladany hermelin, a snack common in Czech pubs. Packed in a jar with walnuts, bay leaves, juniper berries, and oil tinted red with paprika, the cheese makes an easy, attractive homemade holiday gift or nibble for your own gatherings. (Serve one or more of the cheeses with slices of baguette.) Though I have not found hermelin cheese in this country, Ihsan Gurdal, owner of South End Formaggio and Cambridge’s Formaggio Kitchen, suggested using Camembert as a substitute. If spice or strong cheese isn’t your thing, mozzarella or goat cheeses are also wonderful when marinated in flavored oil and seasonings.

The garlic and shallots in these recipes are cooked, which mitigates any food safety risk posed by combining fresh garlic and oil, but you should refrigerate the marinated cheese nonetheless until serving time -- and let recipients know to do the same. Once the cheese is all gone, the leftover oil is terrific used to dress roasted or steamed vegetables, hot pasta, or as a basis for a flavorful vinaigrette.

Czech-Style Spicy Marinated Cheese (Nakladany Hermelin)

Makes about ½ pound

Both brie and Camembert work fine in this pungent dish; the brie will be slightly milder.

¾ cup grape-seed or safflower oil, or more, if necessary

2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

Salt and black pepper

1½ teaspoons paprika

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper

8 ounces brie or a 250-gram wheel of Camembert, chilled then cut into slices about 2 inches long and ½ inch thick

12 juniper berries, bruised

1/3 cup (about 10) walnut halves, toasted and cooled

5 bay leaves

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, heat ¼ cup of the oil until warm. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until they start to soften, about 1½ minutes. Add the thyme and rosemary, and cook, stirring, about 1½ minutes longer. Off heat, add ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste, stir to mix, and cool to room temperature. Add the remaining oil, and stir to mix well. In a wide-mouth 1-pint Mason jar, place a couple tablespoons of the oil mixture, tilting jar to distribute.

In a shallow dish, mix ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, the paprika, cloves, and cayenne pepper. Working with 2 or 3 slices at a time, dredge the cheese in the spice mixture. Pack the jar, alternating cheese and seasonings (juniper, walnuts, and bay leaves, as well as shallots, garlic, and herbs spooned from the oil mixture). Slowly pour in the remaining oil mixture, adding extra oil if needed to cover the cheese. Tightly seal the jar and shake it to distribute the oil and seasonings. Refrigerate for at least 4 days and up to 4 weeks, shaking the jar every day or two.

Serve at room temperature.

Orange and Fennel Marinated Goat Cheese

Makes about ¾ pound

1/3 cup grape-seed or safflower oil

2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

2 tablespoons pastis, Ricard, or ouzo

Salt and black pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more, as necessary

1 10½-to-11-ounce log plain goat cheese, chilled and sliced into 3/8-inch rounds

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, heat the grape-seed or safflower oil until warm. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they start to soften, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper, thyme, and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, about 45 seconds. Off heat, stir in the orange zest, pastis or other liqueur,½ teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste, and cool to room temperature. Add 1/3 cup olive oil and mix well. In a wide-mouth 1-pint Mason jar, place a couple tablespoons of the oil mixture, tilting jar to distribute.

Pack the jar, alternating layers of cheese and seasonings spooned from the oil mixture, and sprinkling each layer of cheese lightly with salt and black pepper. Slowly pour in the remaining seasoned oil, adding extra olive oil if needed to cover the cheese. Tightly seal the jar and shake it to distribute the oil and seasonings. Refrigerate for at least 3 days and up to 4 weeks, shaking the jar once every day or two.

Serve at room temperature.

Lemon, Rosemary, and Garlic Marinated Goat Cheese

Makes about ¾ pound

For a milder marinated cheese, substitute small balls of fresh mozzarella for the goat cheese.

1/3 cup grape-seed or safflower oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, plus 1 3-inch sprig

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more, as necessary

1 10½-to-11-ounce log plain goat cheese, chilled and sliced into 3/8-inch rounds

In a small skillet over medium-low heat, heat the grape-seed or safflower oil until warm. Add the garlic and minced rosemary, and cook, stirring, until fragrant (but not browned), about 45 seconds. Off heat, add the lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, stir to mix, and cool to room temperature. Add 1/3 cup olive oil, and stir to mix well. In a wide-mouth 1-pint Mason jar, place a couple tablespoons of the oil mixture, tilting jar to distribute.

Pack the jar, alternating layers of cheese and seasonings spooned from the oil mixture, and sprinkling each layer of cheese lightly with salt and pepper. Stuff the rosemary sprig into the jar along the side. Slowly pour in the remaining seasoned oil, adding extra olive oil if needed to cover the cheese. Tightly seal the jar and shake it to distribute the oil and seasonings. Refrigerate for at least 3 days and up to 4 weeks, shaking the jar once every day or two.

Serve at room temperature.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

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