It just so happens that one of my favorite foods has its own holiday. April 11th is National Fondue Day. How good is that? I have enjoyed making and eating fondue for over fifty years. Now it has its own national holiday.
Fondue is a lot of fun. Your food is not delivered to you on a plate. You assemble it as you go, and you eat at your own pace. For my family it serves as more than a holiday tradition, but a treat we enjoy all year long.
Did you know that fondue was originally considered a peasant food? It was a way to re-purpose old bread, dried-out cheese and wine that might have been opened too long. I find it amazing how many old peasant foods are now considered gourmet. A classic example is serving olive oil in a small dish laced with fine herbs, instead of butter. This started because butter was less affordable for many.
The original fondue gets its name form the French word “fonder,” which means to melt. Today, the term is used widely for anything that can be dipped into a sauce or oil of any kind. For me, it means a blend of Swiss cheeses, white wine and crusty bread.
I have used the following recipe for almost 50 years. I hope it will work for you.
Cheese Fondue Recipe
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Kirsch (optional as this can be too strong for some)
1 pound cheese, shredded or cubed * (1/2 pound Emmenthaler and 1/2 pound Gruyere)
2 tablespoons arrowroot (corn starch or flour will also work)
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
Squeeze of lemon juice
Nutmeg and pepper to taste
2 loaves French bread, cut into bite sized cubes
* To avoid a bland-tasting fondue, purchase a well-aged Emmenthaler and Gruyere. Some like to add a quarter-pound of Appenzeller cheese to the mix. Appenzeller is a very flavorful Swiss cheese that is aged in a vat of white wine and spices.
Rub the fondue pot with the cut ends of the garlic clove, then discard. Then mix the shredded or cubed cheese, black pepper and arrowroot powder in a plastic bag. Try to coat all of the cheese with arrowroot to stop the cheese from sticking together.
Heat the wine in the fondue pot until hot, but not to a boil. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice, which adds acidity to help the cheese and the wine merge. Add the cheese to the wine, a handful at a time, until melted and smooth. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to keep the cheese from burning on the bottom. Top with a little nutmeg and additional pepper to taste.
Tradition has it that if a man drops his bread while dipping his fork into the pot, he has to buy the next round. Should a lady lose her bread, she has to kiss the guy to her right. You can always start your own tradition.
Please be careful with the hot pot, especially with children. Keep the pot in the center of the table. Today’s electric pots have breakaway cords to help eliminate accidents. I suggest placing a large cutting board under the pot to protect your table from pot burns or spills.
Make sure you have plenty of room for all of the additional plates and glasses required. Fondue is often served with white wine, but many prefer beer, Kirsch or other liquors. I like a white wine that pairs with the wine used for making the fondue. It is always best to remember the old adage, “Don’t cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink”.
Choose the correct fondue pot for the job. Your pot should be either earthenware, glazed clay or enameled cast iron. Do not use metal pots; save those for beef fondue.
Troubleshooting Your Fondue
Fondue is too thick – Add a little wine to the mixture
Fondue is too runny – Add more cheese or a little more arrowroot
Fondue separates – Always stir the fondue while cooking and at meal time, to keep it smooth and creamy. Add additional heat if necessary
Bread falls in to the fondue – Always cut the bread to leave some remaining crust on each piece, to give the fork something to hold on to.
Bottom burning – In addition to stirring often, be sure to watch for boiling fondue. If this occurs, lower the heat. If you waited too long, you might have to transfer the fondue to another pot, clean the pot, then return the fondue mixture to the new pot. But if you catch it just right, the bottom of the pot forms a crust which, when peeled with a fondue fork, becomes a gourmet treasure. It is often fought over in my home.
Have fun – Try bringing other foods into the mix. For a change, I enjoy dipping apple slices, mushrooms, cooked shrimp and assorted vegetables, to name a few.
I used to think that fondue was only a winter dish, served near a warm fireplace. But since we started preparing fondue kits for customers, our summer days have also become busy. People love fondue all year long.