A Perfect Day for Fondue

With snow falling outside, what I really want right now is a cheese fondue.

For more than 25 years, I had an annual ritual of making a cheese fondue using a recipe from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. I laid out a tablecloth on my living room floor, with the fondue, a basket of cut-up chunks of bread, wine and candles and watched a movie while the weather raged outside.  After a few years, I got healthy and added a platter of pieces of vegetables such as mushrooms, red pepper, fennel, broccoli and because it goes so well with gruyere, black forest ham, so I had a complete meal.

Though many people in North America may think of fondue as a trend, it is, in fact, a normal part of the Swiss menu. When I spent 3 months in Switzerland in 1991, I would take the train from the small village into Zurich on many weekends to have fondue, in a restaurant filled with Swiss.  I was told one time by a Swiss man that it was mean to be shared, but I was not about to forgo eating fondue just because I was alone. So I ate the whole thing anyway. Although looking back, maybe he was suggesting that I share it with him? 

The earliest known recipe for the current fondue was mentioned in a cookbook published in Zurich, Switzerland in 1699 and was called “Kass mit wein zu kochen” or “to cook cheese with wine.” The first known recipe when it was actually called fondue was published in 1875 and presented as a Swiss national dish. 

It was not, as we may think, a rustic, peasant mountain meal but a meal for townspeople in the low-lying French-speaking Valais canton of Switzerland. At the time, Gruyere was an expensive export item. Now it is eaten throughout Switzerland and is perfect for an apres-ski meal, or just any winter meal with a group of people.

In 1930, the Swiss Cheese Union declared it the national dish of Switzerland as a way to increase cheese consumption.  And it was introduced to America at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. 

To the Swiss, fondue means cheese, typically two kinds – not chocolate or broth.  It is served with cubed bread and usually accompanied with cornichons, pearl onions and small boiled potatoes. 

Classic Swiss Cheese Fondue Recipe: (as remembered from Gourmet Magazine)

Ingredients:

.5 garlic clove

1.5 lb of grated Gruyere or mixture of 1 lb grated Gruyere and .5 lb Emmentaler

1 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon corn starch

¼ cup KirschSt

Ground pepper

Nutmeg

1 crusty French loaf, cut into 1 inch chunks.

Steps:

Add the 1 tablespoon of corn starch to the kirsch and a dash of grated nutmeg and ground pepper in a cup or small bowl.

Rub the inside of fondue pot or cooking pot (I used a le Creuset pot and then poured the final product into my fondue pot) with half a garlic clove, until the clove disappears.

Add wine and bring almost to a boil. 

Over medium heat, add the cheese in by the handful, stirring the whole time.

When cheese is fully melted, and hot (be careful to not let it boil), slowly pour in  the cornstarch-kirsch mixture, stirring constantly.

Stir until it is creamy and smooth, and thickened slightly. 

If needed, transfer to fondue pot over its heater, and serve with the chunks of bread.

Remember to eat it to the bottom and scrape up the bottom when you finish!