Let me say first of all that I’m a fondue purist. After living in Switzerland for 11 years, and eating my fare share of cheese fondue, I am well and truly converted to eating only “real” fondue. I was (nearly) appalled when I moved to Holland and people talked about making a fondue and dunking MEAT into it, or pieces of vegetables! What??? No way. Not in MY fondue you won’t!
A real cheese fondue, as far as I’m concerned, and as far as a few million Swiss are concerned, can only have bread swirled through it and eaten. Period. If you want to involve other foods, then dip OUT the cheese onto your plate, if you please.
There are a few other rules regarding cheese fondue:
It should only be eaten during cool weather. Fondue is not eaten in the summer. I’m very happy that tonight we opened this year’s fondue season!
Fondue should be creamy and all one mixture. This seems to be a Swiss rule and not necessarily a French rule. I’ve had cheese fondue in the French Alps several times and each time I have been served a fondue that has been cooked too hot and the fat has separated from the cheese and sits as a clear yellowish layer on top of the mixture. It’s awful. But this seems to be the French way. I just don’t get it.
It is perfectly acceptable to let the last bit of fondue burn on the bottom of the pot (caquelon). Swiss people will let this burn, turn brown, then cook an egg on top of it, scrape the whole lot out and eat it on a plate. By the time I get down to the bottom I’m so full I can’t even think about doing something with the remaining crust, but I’m sure it’s tasty.
If you drop your bread into the cheese you have to pay a forfeit of some kind. It could be drinks. It could be that you have to sing a song. Just be careful and don’t drop your bread!
It’s ok to use dark heavy bread in a fondue. This is actually my preference. I have read several American recipes for cheese fondue and they all call for “french” or “french style” bread. I can only imagine this is because it’s the closest you can come in the US to decent hearty heavy bread. You need bread that’s not going to fall apart when you dip it. Tonight we used a very dark bread with nuts in it. Perfection!
Each piece of bread must contain a bit of crust on it. Cut the bread yourself to make sure this is true.
A fondue should only be kept bubbling in a “caquelon”. This is a heavy ceramic pot that will happily keep your cheese bubbling without burning (unless you want it to burn). Under the caquelon sits a burner of some kind. I used to always use those disposable gel burners, but got fed up with the smell and mess. Last year I bought a gas canister burner which is fantastic. You can control the heat and you can easily refill it with lighter fluid. Worth buying if you fondue more than a couple of times a year.
You must drink either white wine or hot tea with fondue. The Swiss believe that if you drink anything else, the cheese will become a hard solid ball in your stomach and make you very sick. Everyone knows a friend or (distant) relative that this has happened to. I prefer not to take my chances and simply drink wine. To make fondue you have to use white wine anyway, so just continue drinking the bottle!
Optional: dip your cheese covered bread into a little kirsch; grind some fresh pepper onto your plate, then touch your cheese covered bread to the pepper (just a little!); kirsch can be added to the fondue during preparation, or not, to your own taste; same with garlic, but I recommend keeping the garlic in.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but of course no double dipping!
Tonight I made a fondue with 50% Vacherin Fribourgeoise and 50% L’Etivaz. I’ve never tried the L’Etivaz before but it was a special at Tromp (see previous posting) and the samples were delicious. I have to say, this is definitely the creamiest fondue I’ve ever made. It was so smooth and all of melted almost immediately. I followed the typical fondue recipe, although I used more than the usual 200g per person. I find that’s not enough for a main course. 250g per person seems more reasonable. Anyway, it was a damn good fondue, even better than my normal Moitié-Moitié version. Wikipedia has some good info about different versions of fondue. And here is a typical recipe.
Going back to this L’Etivaz cheese, here’s a quote about it that I found online, which exactly sums up how it tastes to me: heavenly.
“Basically, this is 19th Century Gruyere, made by a group of 76 devoted Gruyere-loving families who felt that the government regulations were allowing cheesemakers to compromise the qualities that made good Gruyere so special. So in the 1930’s, they pulled out of the government’s Gruyere program, and “created” their own cheese – L’Etivaz – named for the village around which they all lived. L’Etivaz is made essentially as Gruyere was 100 years ago. It may be made only when the cows are doing their summer grazing in Alpine pastures in glorious mountain meadows filled with wild flowers and herbs. It must be made in traditional copper cauldrons, and only over old-style, open wood fires. The resulting cheese is superb – a bit creamier, less sharp than the above-mentioned Antique Gruyere, yet exceptionally smooth and flavorful. Aged for over a year, L’Etivaz has a firm texture, a melt-in-your-mouth butteriness, and a lingering lilt of succulent Swiss mountain cream on your tongue.”
Happy fondue season everyone!