Cervelle de Canut

Cervelle de Canut
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cheese dip
Is it a brain? Non.

Hmm. Do you ever wonder what those French names mean when translated into English? We do. In this case, Cervelle de Canut means silk worker’s brain. Perhaps sometimes it’s better not to know. But, before you toss this recipe into the trash, please realize that it doesn’t include any brain at all. It’s just a French-style cheese dip. A Pâte de Fromage, if you will.

We found this recipe in Ivy Manning’s Crackers & Dips: More than 50 Handmade Snacks, during our cracker and dip extravaganza a couple of weeks ago. And, while this wasn’t our favorite of the dips, we can say that it was the most popular during the coffee and social hour. It was the first dip to be finished, so, if you’re looking for a dip that satisfies people, this might be just the one. Plus, if one person seems to be hogging all the dip, you can casually translate Cervelle de Canut and watch him wander away, perhaps with a slight shade of green showing in his face.

Makes 2 cups

Cervelle de Canut

Cervelle de Canut


  • 1 cup cottage cheese or fromage blanc
  • 1 cup homemade sour cream or crème fraîche
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh chives
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Abbreviated Instructions

Mix all ingredients in a medium-size serving bowl.

Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Serve with crackers or chips.


Ingredient discussion:

This dip is all about the ingredients. There’s really nothing besides chopping and mixing — we’ll point out a tip or two below — but not too much. Note that we call out homemade sour cream. Why? It’s actually a lot milder than commercial sour cream, not as sour, much more like crème fraîche, and far, far less expensive and easier to find. Don’t worry; making this at home basically involves mixing cream and buttermilk and letting it sit. We also suggest using cottage cheese instead of fromage blanc, mainly because of cost and ease of locating. We’re not sure about your supermarket, but fromage blanc isn’t anywhere near as common as cottage cheese. Finally, the herbs. Use fresh; this dip is all about freshness, so that’s key.

Procedure in detail:

cheese dip
We like recipes that are basically chop, mix, and serve. It makes us look as if we spent a lot of time since it’s made from scratch, when it really took only a few minutes.

Mix all ingredients. We wanted a nice, fairly smooth dip, so we grated the garlic and onion on a microplane grater. It’s a bit more trouble, but we knew we’d use the microplane on the lemon, so might as well. Doing this made our dip better, no chunks of onion or garlic to bite into. Everything else is straightforward; just measure it out (we estimated the cottage cheese and sour cream). Once you have everything in the container of your choice, mix, trying to mash some of the curds in the cottage cheese.

Meld. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two. Dishes like this always taste better after sitting. The flavors get a chance to meld together.

cheese dip
Not very brain-like, is it? Instead, it’s a basic cheese dip.

Serve. We served ours with crackers, but this dip would also work with corn chips or even potato chips.

While we liked this dip, and so did everyone else, we found it a bit one-dimensional, with mainly an oniony flavor. Yes, there are the thyme and lemon in there and those help, but the overall taste is more like an onion dip. Good, but it would be better with something more nuanced. What that could be, we don’t know right off hand, but suffice it to say, it could use something to give it a bit more oomph. So, four stars.

Worth the trouble?

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