I’m not sure what the food fashion police have to say about fondue this winter. Is it reborn and hip again? Fondue is one of those dishes which always seems to be in the midst of a comeback. Of course it was all the rage back in the ‘70’s. From New England’s snowy peaks to Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers, a party was not a party without a gently bubbling pot of cheese and/or chocolate fondue.
When my sister tied the knot, she received four, maybe five fondue pots. Or at least a few more than she thought she needed or would ever need. The extra pots were consigned to the purgatory of my parents’ attic. Years later when I set up my first apartment, fondue was already passé but I magnanimously adopted one. I was moving to Vermont and fondue seemed like a natural. I think I might have served it on one or two cold winter nights but I can’t swear to it.
But fondue is not a fad in Switzerland. It doesn’t come and go on the whim of some fancy food fashionista. It’s been a favorite on Swiss tables since the late 1600’s. That’s when a hungry alpine cow-herder made supper of some stale bread and a bit of melted cheese on a cold and blustery winter night.
One of the first things l learned when I moved to Switzerland was that the Swiss take their fondue very seriously. As you would expect in a country where “everything which is not required, is forbidden,” certain rules apply when eating fondue.
1. Never eat fondue in the summer. Relaxing around a pot of piping hot cheese is a lovely way to spend a winter evening but steamy business in the middle of summer. Every year the Swiss celebrate the first cold, rainy days of autumn with a fondue.
2. Only drink white wine, preferably Fendant from the Valais region of Switzerland. For children or anyone who does not drink wine, hot tea is okay but never beer, water, juice or heaven forbid Coca-Cola. The practical explanation or urban myth for this rule is that these drinks will cause the cheese to come together into a hard, cold ball in the pit of your stomach. Every Swiss person knows someone who knows someone who knows someone whose uncle died from drinking a cold beer after a fondue.
3. It’s okay to skip dessert, but if you do indulge, fruit with a splash of kirsch is the traditional after-fondue sweet. While the idea of an all-fondue evening might sound intriguing, chocolate fondue is decidedly un-Swiss. Chocolate fondue was invented in New York about fifty years ago, albeit by a Swiss-born chef. Obviously, too much time in Manhattan led him astray. Ice cream is strictly frowned upon; see rule number 2.
Tourists, especially American tourists, are notorious for breaking these rules. Not many cafés serve fondue during the summer. If by chance, you venture by one that does; you’re sure to find a jolly group of tourists enjoying a fondue in the hot sunshine. More likely than not, they’ll be washing it down with a beer or icy cold Coke. Strangely enough, in spite of this terrible lapse, the sidewalks in front of these establishments are not littered with tourists writhing in pain and near death.
Now is the perfect time to venture into the attic and retrieve that old fondue pot. A lazy evening with friends around a pot of bubbling cheese and a bottle of wine is an excellent way to end a long day on the slopes.
Traditional Cheese Fondue
Fondue is the perfect après-ski meal. A mix of cheeses is best; Gruyere and Emmental are most common and easiest to find. If you can track some down, try adding Fribourg Vacherine or a combination of Tilsit and Appenzell. Enjoy!
1 clove garlic, halved
1 1/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 pounds cheese
Try: 1/2 Gruyere and 1/2 Emmental,
1/2 Gruyere and 1/2 Fribourg Vacherin or
1/2 Gruyere, 1/4 Tilsit and 1/4 Appenzell
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ounce Kirsch
Freshly ground pepper
Crusty country bread cut or torn into bite sized pieces
Special equipment: a fondue pot, stand for the pot, alcohol burner and long handled fondue forks
Grate the cheeses, sprinkle with cornstarch and toss to combine.
Rub the fondue pot with the garlic. Drop both halves in the bottom of the pot, add the wine and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cheese in handfuls and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Stir in the kirsch and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.
Set the fondue pot on its stand over a low flame. Pierce a piece of bread with a fondue fork and swirl it through the cheese.
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When was the last time you had a fondue? Let’s get a conversation going.
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