1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 cup dry white wine
300 g Emmenthaler, cubed
300 g Gruyere, cubed
½ lemon – juiced
1 Tbs cornstarch
¼ cup Kirschwasser
pinch of nutmeg
1 loaf crusty French baguette, cubed
All that fancy title means is Classic Swiss Melted Cheese. I don’t know why American’s seem to think that anything in French must mean something fancy. This is the basic real deal fondue. If you’ve only had the stuff from packages then this will be a revelation. It is really good. As in really, really good. And yeah, these ingredients are not at all cheap.
The origin of fondue is probably just what the farmer’s had left over before the current year’s crops came in. A little cheese, bread, wine and liquor was about all they had, so they figured out how to make it really good stuff. Fondue probably comes from the same French word that foundry does. The French fondre means to melt. The Jura Mountains between France and Switzerland are the probable point of origin, but who knows.
All kinds of cutesy customs and sayings seem to have gotten tangled up with this stuff. I don’t much pay attention to anything other than the eating of the stuff. A couple that come to mind: the thin crust of cheese that tends to be left at the bottom is called la religieuse, which is French for the Nun. Actually pretty good and worth eating. Another cutesy is the custom that if you drop the dipper from your fork into the pot you kiss the nearest person of the opposite sex to your left.
We like good, crusty, homemade French baguettes chopped into cubes. You can make it stale by just leaving it out for a while beforehand, or you can heat it up in the oven. I don’t like it overcooked so that it becomes too dry. What I do is just set the oven to 200°F and let the bread warm gently for about 20 minutes.
Nice things to dip: cooked and peeled shrimp, quartered mushrooms, pieces of apple. There are fans of cubed veggies. Get most of your dippers ready just ahead of time, be sure to wash apples and anything else that will brown with a lemon juice wash.
There are a million and one variations on the ingredients. I advise sticking to this basic mix at first, then search the net and do whatever variations seem good.
I recommend using a non-stick pot for the preliminaries. Rub the garlic all over the inside of your stovetop pot, then add the wine and bring it to a simmer. Add the cheese and the lemon and stir constantly or it will lump. Just about any dry white wine will work. Herself is a big fan of Liebfraumilch, so I tend to use it, even though it is a semi-sweet rather than the normal dry – works nicely.
In a small cup or dish dissolve the cornstarch in the Kirschwasser and add it to the cheese. Add pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep on stirring until everything is nice and smooth. Transfer the fondue into the table pot, serve and enjoy.
Yeah, you do want Kirschwasser. It is a cherry brandy, and should be pretty cheap at your local boozateria. It adds just a little hint of flavor that you don’t want to miss. Get a small bottle. Good for cooking, but I wouldn’t drink it solo.
A discussion on pots. The cheapest kind use sterno or some other burning medium to keep the cheese hot. The next step up is an electric pot and there are a few variations on that. There is the self-contained type where a thermostat just plugs into the pot, usually non-stick lined. These work pretty well, but they will tend to cycle up and down, so that the cheese will boil – not desirable – and then the element cycles off – and things form a skin on the off cycle – also not desirable – then the heat cycles back on and back up to boiling. Then there is the variation where the pot sits on an electric burner, but the cycle tends to be pretty much as before. Next is the electric burner where the actual burner heat is varied by the dial, rather than just changing a setpoint and turning the burner off and on around that setpoint – this does work some better. My favorite variation has a ceramic liner, which is removed and the pot filled with water and the liner put back in. Since there is a water bath the burner cycling off and on has very little effect on the cheese – it tends to stay a steadier temperature – a good thing.