Fall gets busy. I know. It’s easy to forgo a nice little appetizer before a festive meal, or just throw some cheese and crackers on a plate (nothing wrong with that). But creating something special with just a little effort can really add to the experience. If you get asked (or volunteer) to bring a snack to an event, make it something truly unique. This makes a fantastically impressive appetizer, packed with punchy flavors perfect for fall, inspired by the calvados washed cheeses of Normandy. It takes a little time, but it is mostly hands off, and the payoff is worth it.
Calvados has that lovely orchardy kick with a hint of cider and I think it pairs amazingly well with tangy camembert and woodsy hazelnuts. You can sometimes find a hip flask sized bottle which is perfect for this, but I do think you will find lots of uses for a whole bottle – I use it in French Onion Soup and in a maple butter to top pork chops. I small dose in champagne with a thin slice of apple makes a fantastic cocktail. You can use a regular brandy if you must. I love the combination of toasty hazelnuts with the calvados and camembert, but you can use toasted walnuts or pecans. Camembert is the best cheese for this preparation, but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Buy one that is not yet too soft or ripe. Sliced apples make a perfect go-with and look pretty. You could even go with read and green apples in the season. A crusty bread would be lovely too – try a darker loaf like rich wheat or pumpernickel.
Calvados and Hazelnut Camembert
1 8 ounce round of camembert
1 cup calvados or brandy
3/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 teaspoon flaky salt
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Take the camembert from the fridge and place in a small deep bowl and leave to come to room temperature for at least an hour, but a few is okay.
Put the hazelnuts in a dry skillet and toast for a few minutes over medium heat just to warm them through. Transfer to a tea towel, then fold over the towel and rub the hazelnuts around to loosen the skins. Don’t worry about getting every piece of skin, just the majority of it. Place the nuts in a small food processor with the salt and process until finely chopped – do not let them become pasty or oily. Put the chopped hazelnuts in a shallow bowl.
Warm the calvados in a small sauce pan, then pour it over the camembert in the bowl. Leave to marinate for at least an hour, but up to 2. Roll the cheese in the nuts – start by rolling the sides, then press one side and flip over to the other. Gently press the nuts to adhere.
Mix the lemon juice with water in a small bowl. Slice the apples and toss in the acidulated water to prevent browning. Pat the apples dry before serving.
Serve the cheese at room temperature. If needed, you can refrigerate the cheese for a few hours, just take it out of the fridge at least an hour before serving.