By Paul Partica, Cheese Shop of Centerbrook
“I hear fondue is coming back,” people say of late. In my home, it never left. We make fondue every New Year’s Day, a tradition started many years ago. And we make it often during the cold weather season. That said, fondue is indeed making a comeback.
Originating from Switzerland, Fondue gets its name from the French word “fonder,” which means “to melt.” Although the original fondue was made from cheese, many related dishes now share the name.
Have you ever heard of bread dipped in olive oil with spices because one could not afford butter? Much the same way that some of today’s great Italian cuisine is derived from yesteryear’s peasant food, fondue was also once considered peasant fare. It proved a practical way to repurpose leftover dried cheese and opened wine. Day-old cubed bread for dipping completed this great culinary concoction.
Fondue is easy to prepare. And once all is prepared and all are seated, the only reason to get up is to open another bottle of wine.
Safety first. Be mindful of a hot fondue pot, which can be especially dangerous when making an oil-based fondue such as beef. You will want to use a table with plenty of room to keep the live heat in the center of the table and out of harm’s way. Ensure you have plenty of room to spread out all the side dishes needed, along with plates for individual use. Also note that most new electric fondue pots come with a breakaway electric cord to help avoid a passerby taking the pot with them.
I use both fuel and electric models and have good results with both, provided the pots are of good quality to begin with. Swiss-style earthenware pots are still the biggest sellers. It is always a good idea to place a large cutting board under the pot to protect the table from burns or spills.
Fondue is often served with wine, but many prefer beer, Kirsch or other liquors. I tend to drink dry white wine since it pairs well with the white wine I use in the dish. The old saying, “Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink,” is admittedly not one I always adhere to. I won’t waste my Grand Cru in cooking food, but I will in a fondue because wine represents almost 50% of its ingredients.
Although many variations of fondue exist today, I still prefer the original Swiss Recipe given to me by the President of the Switzerland Cheese Association, some fifty years ago. It basically calls for a blend of Swiss cheeses, Emmenthal and Gruyere, dry white wine and some crusty bread. You can also add a little Appenzeller cheese for more flavor.
So, give the following recipe a try. It’s tried and true, and hearty enough to serve as a meal for two.
Basic Fondue Recipe
1 pound cheese (net after rind is removed, shredded or cubed) (1/2 pound Emmenthal and 1/2 pound Gruyere*)
2 tablespoons arrowroot (corn starch or flour will also work)
Nutmeg and pepper to taste
All of Part 1 can be prepared in advance. As a note, we prepare Part 1 kits in the store for customers when ordered in advance, along with the recipe for part 2. This service has become quite popular, as customers like the ease of creating a perfect fondue with some of the work eliminated.
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Kirsch (optional as this can be too strong for some)
1 garlic clove
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 loaves French bread, cut into bite sized cubes
* To avoid a bland tasting fondue, purchase a well-aged Emmenthal and Gruyere.
Rub the fondue pot with the cut garlic clove, then discard the garlic. With Part 1 prepared, coat all the cheese with arrowroot to stop the cheese from sticking together.
Heat the wine in the fondue pot until hot, but not to boiling point. Stir in the squeeze of lemon juice, which adds acidity, to help the cheese and wine incorporate. Add the cheese to the wine, a handful at a time, until fully melted and of smooth consistency.
Tradition has it that when dipping your fork into the pot and losing your bread, the man must buy the next round. Should a lady lose her bread, she must kiss the guy to her right. You can always start your own tradition.
Always cut the bread with some remaining crust on each piece so you have something for the fork to hold on to.
Fondue needs to be consistently stirred to stop the cheese from browning at the bottom of the pot. If you catch it just right, the bottom of the pot will form a crust that can be peeled with a fondue fork. In my home this gourmet treasure is often fought over.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with other items besides bread. Apples, mushrooms, ham, shrimp, and assorted vegetables also work well. We also enjoy a side salad. There is no rush to this meal and everyone can eat at their own pace.