In my first cookbook, How to Eat Well and Stay Single, I wrote about this communal dish that was popular in the 70s. I think everyone had a special fondue pot, with a burner in the stand and a set of long fondue forks.
I hadn’t had the dish in years until a family celebration last year, when my eldest Ontario-dwelling daughter pulled out a fondue pot and we all dug into the delicious melted cheese sauce with gusto. I wonder if she’d found my long lost pot?
Back in the day I wrote:
The classic cheese fondue is from the French speaking part of Switzerland and comes in several varieties, depending on the area and the cheese you use. I can’t believe that the phlegmatic Swiss invented the custom that the first one who drops a piece of bread in the pot has to pay a forfeit. Their forfeiture could be that they have to do the washing up (a chore which I still hate)! Don’t tell them the secret, which is to have a piece of crust on each piece of bread and spear through the crust.
I also added that there are two sorts of fondue pot: one for food that is to be deep fried in oil and the other for heavy sauce fondues, such as this one. The former (typically a meat fondue) is a thin walled pot, often enamelled aluminium or steel. But if you ever think you might like to try a cheese fondue, then you will need a pot that is thick walled, and is often made from enamelled cast iron or ovenware. With the latter, there is much less chance of the cheese burning. You can probably substitute any heavy bottomed saucepan and you could even use regular forks for the bread chunks. Worth giving a try until you are ready to invest in a true fondue pot. In the part of France which borders Switzerland and in Swiss German, fondue pots are called caquelon. The burner is rechaud, literally stove. Often the set of pot, burner and forks are sold as one item. Le Creuset make a fabulous (and very expensive) version.
I was amused to read in one Swiss recipe book that the cheese fondue mixture should be kept warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot that it burns. When the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted (not burnt) cheese at the bottom, called la religieuse (French for ‘nun’). It has the texture of a cracker and is delicious when lifted out and eaten.
It was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930s and was popularized in North America in the 1960s. After WWII, the Swiss aggressively promoted cheese fondue as a way to increase sales of regional cheeses, with slogans like La fondue crée la bonne humeur (fondue creates a good mood) and in Swiss German this snappy example from 1981: Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Luune (fondue is good and creates a good mood). It featured at the Swiss Pavilion’s Alpine restaurant at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and caught on internationally, in spite of their soppy campaigns.
Honestly, I thought fondue parties had been left behind in the Seventies along with bell bottom jeans and avocado bathroom suites, but it seems they’re back in the UK as well. Two department stores report that sales of fondue sets are up hugely. Chef Armin Loetscher who owns the St. Moritz, London’s oldest Swiss restaurant, said last year: “We have eight different types on our menu and it’s never been more popular. We serve at least 100 a day.”
Like many other popular dishes, fondue has peasant roots. The word fondue comes from a French root that simply means ‘melted.’ In Switzerland, the types of cheese used haven’t changed much over hundreds of years. The standard Neuchâteloise recipe calls for Emmenthal and Gruyere, and the other favorite variant, the moitié-moitié (half and half) mixture, is half Emmenthal and half Vacherin. Regional variations have been created, mostly as a marketing ploy by the SK, but I name mine after the classic dish I had on an Alpine skiing holiday long, long ago and never forgot.
Fondue Neuchâteloise (Swiss cheese fondue)
- 8 oz Emmenthaler cheese
- 8 oz Gruyère cheese
- 2 TBSP cornstarch
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- 2 cups dry white wine, such as Riesling
- 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
- 3 TBSP kirsch (cherry liqueur)
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 2 crusty baguettes, cut into bite-sized cubes, each with some crust
Preparation and cooking
- Cut the clove of garlic in half and rub vigorously around the inside of the fondue pot, crushing the juice out as you go. Remove and discard the bits. TIP: Wash your hands immediately in cold water and rub with a little lemon juice to remove the risk of garlic lingering on your fingers for hours.
- Pour 1 ½ cups white wine into the pot and heat on medium for about 5 mins, until the wine begins to bubble.
- While the wine is heating, grate the Emmenthaler and Gruyère into a bowl. Shake the cornstarch on top and mix together thoroughly.
- When the wine bubbles, add lemon juice, followed by a generous handful of cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts, then continue adding more cheese stirring all the time. No need to wait for each handful to melt before adding more.
- When all the cheese has been added, add the kirsch and a generous pinch each of white pepper and nutmeg. Continue to cook over a medium heat for a max 10 mins, stirring most of the time, until the ingredients are well blended. Do not overcook or the cheese will get stringy. The fondue is ready to go on the little burner at the table.
- Meanwhile, cut the bread into bite size chunks, making sure there is a crust on each piece.
- At the table, set out small plates and a long fondue forks. To eat, each person simply skewers a piece of bread on the fork and swirls it around in the pot until it is coated with cheese. At the end, remove the delicious browned cheese crust and share.
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Categories: Simply food