Recipe: Cheese Fondue
As far as I am concerned there is no season that is not Fondue season, but for most people it is a meal for cold winter days.
I certainly always feel like it when the night falls early and the weather turns cold.
What to drink with Fondue? crisp, bold but not too aromatic white wine. NO OAK.
In Switzerland we traditionally drink crisp white Chasselas, black tea (no milk), and kirsch with cheese fondue.
To vary we might go for Doral, Heida, or petite Arvine, but much complexity can be lost with all the cheese. I still feel Chasselas is the best, as much of its complexity is in the mouthfeel not the nose (and the nose is all cheesed up)
In Savoie they drink Jacquere for the same reason, as well as Altesse.
For people accustomed to more acitidy in their white wine, Chasselas can feel "not enough" with Fondue. The Savoie wines will work better for you.
PS: the idea that you cannot drink water with Fondue, or cannot eat ice cream after it, for risk of indigestion? That is an urban myth.
200g of cheese per person
1 dl (100g) of wine per person
(if you don't usually eat fondue, reduce to 150g and a little less wine - this is the Savoyarde quantity)
half a teaspoon (flat) of corn starch per person, or a full teaspoon of flour per person (in that case, toss with the cheese)
garlic, salt, pepper to test
Kirsch to taste
Use a dry, crisp white.
The quality of the wine makes very little difference to the fondue, in my opinion. Although it needs to be dry enough, and unoaked, ideally.
You can of course use the same wine you are drinking. If you're drinking a really good Fendant, don't waste it in the fondue, use a more generic white.
Any clean dry white will do. Stay away from oaked wines, sweet wines, or aromatic ones like Gewurztraminer.
I'd probably use cider before I used a heavily oaked white.
Step By Step
0. rub the pot with garlic (we don't do this)
1. Put the cheese in, add the wine (keep a little bit of it aside for the binding agent, should you not use kirsch), and the (optional) garlic slivers.
2. Heat slowly, stirring often. Smooth steady motion in a figure of 8 works quite well.
It can take a while to it's nice to have someone around for conversation (they can be preparing the bread) and a glass of wine to sip.
3. Once the cheese has started to melt, dilute a teaspoon of corn starch --if you are making a fondue for two-- in a little bit of kirsch, and add it to the mix.
The cheese should bind. If it doesn't bind, stir more (typically, in a figure of 8)
If you don't want to add kirsch, use a bit of wine, or even a small amount of water if you forgot to set some wine aside.
4. Keep stirring regularly as the cheese melts. It must reach "slow boiling" temperature
5. Add a dash nutmeg and generous amounts of pepper to taste finish the fondue (or other spices/herbs should you feel adventurous)
Tip: If you are going to make several fondues in parallel, make them together in one pan and then split the liquid fondue across all the fondue pots at the end. Remember to warm the pots first.
Pick your wines: All wines for Fondue
Bring the fondue to the table, everyone must be sat, poised, bread on the fork, ready to dip in and stir (especially if the fondue has just been ladled out in a cooler pot for serving).
The guests duty is to stir regularly, not lose their bread, and enjoy.
No, the fondue won't immediately fall apart if people don't stir, but it is traditional to pretend.
In our family, it was tradition to fight over the small pieces of garlic in the fondue, but you don't have to copy that
It really helps to have fondue forks, with a long stem (to protect the hands), long teeth and a little notch to keep the bread from sliding. Get the teeth through the crust to make sure it stays. It is traditional, in a restaurant party setting, to assume that whoever loses their bread cube (or a big chunk of their bread cube) has to buy the next wine bottle.
On the bread, You can prepare thick slices in a basket, pre-cut cubes (this will help your fondue novices, making sure there's always a bit of crust), or, for that real rustic feel, let people tear their own chunks.
We tear our own chunks because Robb and I do not agree AT ALL on the appropriate size of a fondue bread cube.
Ask you cheesemonger to make you a fondue blend. They probably already have one, or can grate the cheese mix for you.
If you don't have access to a good cheesemonger, or want to experiment, you can of course make your own. It is fairly easy to make a good blend providing you follow some simple rules:
Half should be a mild, easy melting cheese then add some more mature cheese to get the flavour you want.
Mature cheese does not melt as well so you have to have a "melt-ier" cheese.
Buying a big block of raclette well in advance and keeping it a while to "age" it, it is a good way to get stronger fondue without losing "melt-iness".
In Switzerland the blends are based around Gruyere and/or Raclette, with Appenzeller, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Tilsiter or even Emmental in the mix. The classic "moitié-moitié" if half Gruyere half Vacherin Fribourgeois (100% my terroir of origin - Joelle).
The "Fondue au Vacherin" is 100% vacherin fribourgeois. It is trickier to make - it needs to be kept at a lower temperature and is usually made with milk and not wine, as too much alcohool would remain in the dish otherwise.
In Savoie the blends will focus on Beaufort with Raclette or Tomme de Savoie. In other parts of France, Comté is the default.
The traditional recipes just says to rub the inside of the fondue pot with a clove of garlic. We don't do this, as it is not enough garlic and gives you stinky hands!
we add chopped slivers of garlic to the fondue and enjoy "hunting" for the little garlic bits when eating the fondue.
A binding agent like corn starch helps the fondue "stay" smooth. Otherwise, you are relying on the stirring work of the diners to keep it all smooth. In Switzerland, corn starch is a staple, usually the Maizena brand.
if it doesn't bind - can happen if the cheese is too dry/old, or if the temperature fluctuates widely - a tiny amount of acidity (dash of lemon, vinegar, mild mustard) can often help
A Crust's a Must
Losing part or all of your bread means you buy the next bottle...
The bread must not be too crumbly or too soft. And it must have crust. You don't just dip the bread in the cheese, you are actively stirring the fondue with your bread on the end of your fondue fork. Without any crust the bread would fall apart and get lost in the fondue. In the UK, you can usually trust the good old "French Stick" and not much else.
Not enough Fondue?
You can't really just add more cheese and wine at the table - though you could take it back to the kitchen and add wine and cheese and make a new batch of fondue on top of the end of the last one.
What you can do is break and egg or two in a bowl (depending how much cheese is left), then pour them into the fondue pan, scramble it with the forks so it cooks a little, then eat it with the bread dipped in it. Not fondue anymore, but quite tasty.
Fondue can be slowly reheated, with a little extra wine, cheese and starch to rebind. It can be worth "breaking it up" with the fondue forks before, rather than leaving it all as 1 mass.
Making Fondue For a Crowd
If you are going to make several fondues in parallel, make them together in one pan and then split the liquid fondue across all the fondue pots at the end. Remember to warm the pots first.
You need a long spoon/stick to stir all the way to the bottom!
Fondue is a heavy meal, and people often overindulge. As a result, many "urban legends" have been creating about what can make fondue more digestible
- A tiny dash of Sodium bicarbonate just at the end can make it fluff up. This supposedly aids digestion. It's traditional, all Swiss have some just for that purpose, but, just like the "don't drink cold water" rule, I don't think it really does anything.
- cold water. Drinking cold water supposedly makes the cheese "block up" in a way tea or wine or kirsch doesn't. This is of course not true, and every few years some clever students devise another research project to have lots of free Fondue nights by testing this claim. A similar claim is made about ice cream as a post fondue dessert
- kirsch. It might be traditiona to drink a bit of Kirsh or other white spirits with Fondue, or dip the bread in Kirsch before putting it in the pan, but it won't help you digest it better either, sorry.
Shameless plug to buy wine: All wines for Fondue
Traditional fondue cookers use little dish burners which burn spirit. In Switzerland, we use what we call "Burning Alcohol". In the UK, this is called methylated spirits.
Be careful with these, as a spill from a burning burner can set a tablecloth on fire. Also, never refill them while hot, as this could catch fire while you pour.
If you run out of flame, don't refill. Everyone needs to hurry up eating ;)
There are also "paste" insets available - these are safer and fairly easily changed should you run out.
If you don't have a fondue burner a "camping gas" burner could do just fine, although a bit clunky.
If cook fondue a lot, you can now buy gas burners - they do cost quite a bit more up front, though.