Fondues and don’ts (guest post by Alexa van Sickle)

A timely post to celebrate the cold season, the awesome Winter Olympics and all things Alpine. Over to Lex, a self-proclaimed “fondue aficionado” whose skills I can vouch for firsthand; I lived with her for a couple of years and before long my veins ran with melted cheese.

(NB: this guest post malarkey is a bit of all right – yay for someone else doing the words and slightly shaky smartphone photography! I dare say I will be “delegating” more blog posts in future…)

Strangely, I had to move away from Austria to the UK to become a fondue aficionado.  I was living in Shepherds Bush and working in Wimbledon in 2006 when I purchased my first set at the Centre Court shopping centre, and ferried it home on the District Line.

I’ve since had to replace many of the forks that came with the original set, as they have a habit of getting lost in the kitchen in the same manner that socks get lost between the washing machine and my bedroom – but the set I bought is still very much in use.

This is a standard Swiss cheese recipe, using four cheeses. But using only Gruyere and Emmental works pretty well too if you can’t find the other two, more obscure varieties. There are many ways to jazz it up; using different cheeses, including tapenade, using beer, or champagne, spices, etc. I found this recipe years ago on Kirchenweb.at, (‘Churchweb’) an Austrian website that bills itself as a forum for ‘religious matters, cooking recipes, infos and fun’.

Nerdy bits: ‘Fondue’ from the French verb fondre – to melt – is associated with Switzerland, but also to the French Savoyarde Alps. The earliest printed recipes come from regions that were independent of both France and Switzerland, so it’s not clear who owns the rights. Despite its association with hardy Alpine life, fondue was more common in lowlands and in towns; peasants would not have been able to afford rich cheese such as Gruyere. Later, the wonderful-sounding Swiss Cheese Union promoted fondue as the Swiss national dish as a way of increasing cheese consumption. (No complaints here.)

RECIPE

200g Appenzeller
200g Emmentaler
200g Gruyere
200g Freiburg Vacherin
350 ml dry white wine

(Equal parts Gruyere and Emmentaler works too if you can’t find the other two).

1 garlic clove
4 tbls ‘Maizena’/ cornflour/or normal flour
1 small glass Kirsch (cherry brandy)
1 tbls Lemon juice
pepper
nutmeg
White bread diced (Should be about a day old; fresh bread is harder to digest)

METHOD:

Rub the fondue pot with the garlic clove

Grate the cheese and soak it in the white wine for at least 2 hours

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Put the cornflour and Kirsch in a glass and mix. This mixture functions as an emulsifier so that the cheese and wine melt together properly.

Put the cheese and wine into the pot, and stir as it melts over heat. Include the lemon juice, the kirsch/cornstarch mixture, and season. Also, some grated nutmeg.

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The challenge is getting the texture right; you want the cheese to be runny, but to stay on the bread.

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When you are melting the cheese on the cooker, sometimes it can seem too thick or too runny. You can use the kirsch and the wine to make it less thick, and the cornflour to make it less thin – but try to wait until it is all melted before you do this.

Once it’s all melted, it’s pretty much done; transfer from hob to the set, and light the thing underneath.  When  about two- thirds of the cheese is gone, crack an egg into the fondue pot and stir. I like to have a pack of the ready-made fondue cheese just for a top- up if you run out of cheese before you run out of appetite, but the real stuff is far superior.

At the end of the fondue, a thin crust of toasted –not burnt – cheese forms at the bottom of the pot. This is called the religieuse (‘nun’) and can be eaten like a cracker.

To drink: dry white wine to serve, something not heavy. Traditionally, people have schnapps or tea for digestion – although some spoilsport pointed me to an actual medical study of fondue, that found no correlation between certain drinks and optimal fondue digestion.

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According to the Swiss tradition, if a man loses his bread in the fondue, he must spring for a round of Schnapps. If a woman drops her bread, she must kiss all the men at the table. (Perhaps this is why fondue was so popular in the wife-swapping ‘70s.)

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