Warm cheese with wine and bread: a fondue tastes amazing and is easy to make.
Fondue is an absolute classic of Swiss cuisine. The dish achieves a refined taste with few ingredients and can be varied in countless ways. Different cheeses, added flavours such as tomato paste, a little alcohol, and herbs and spices can give the experience an entirely new taste. Learn all about the tradition, preparation, and various and sundry about the cheese dish.
You can conjure up a lot with delicious Swiss cheese, but nary a dish can compete with fondue. It’s not only the intoxicating aroma of the gooey, warm cheese that inspires new devotees to this mainstay of Swiss gastronomy, but also the communal experience of gathering around a common pot along with the combination of traditional and new recipe variations.
Fondue is a true mountain tradition that likely comes from the Savoy Alps. Whether it was a Frenchman, Italian or Swiss who filled the first caquelon can never be firmly established. But what is certain is that the cooks of the Swiss Army helped fondue capture the nation’s appetites and hearts when they first served it to troops as a main dish.
Today, not only is fondue a welcome guest at any kind of gathering, it has since developed any number of variations from the original. Wine, cheese, and bread, a caquelon and elongated forks, a few drinks, and good company are all you need for a successful fondue evening.
A classic fondue is made from one or more varieties of strong cheese and an alcoholic spirit such as white wine, beer, fruit brandy or cider. Another important component of the dish is the bread for dipping, although new potatoes or vegetables could be used as a substitute. In addition, spices such as pepper, nutmeg, paprika, or various herbs can give a fondue that extra touch of flavour. Garlic or kirschwasser are often used to round off the fondue, whereas lemon juice makes it creamier, corn starch serves as a thickening agent, and baking soda can aid the digestion.
You should plan for 200 g of cheese and an equal amount of bread or potatoes per person. And for every 400 g of cheese, 150 ml of white wine or a different variety of alcoholic beverage. If expecting hungry guests, you can double the amount of cheese but slightly less than double the amount of white wine to create twice as much fondue. The reason for this is that the alcohol has to evaporate from the open caquelon. The opening reveals the same evaporation surface even when the amount of fondue mixture is greater, including the alcohol component. This may mean that more wine remains in the cheese, which affects the taste of the fondue.
On the other hand, different fondue pots have different opening sizes, which makes it difficult to give a precise wine to cheese ratio for larger fondues. If in doubt, simply give it a try and omit the optional kirschwasser if necessary.
The most important rule is that the fondue must never come to a boil, because too much heat makes it runny. Even at the very start when the alcohol is heated it should merely simmer. When this occurs, reduce the heat and add the grated or diced cheese and mix in the flour. Now it’s important to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until all the cheese has melted and the desired consistency is achieved.
The mixture should never be heated beyond a slight bubbling and must be regularly stirred, even during serving. This prevents the cheese from sticking to the bottom of the pot. On the other hand, the cheesy crust that forms this way is considered a delicacy by many, perhaps even the highlight of the fondue evening. So if you’re looking forward to this crispy, chewy bounty, best not to scrape the bottom of the caquelon too often while stirring.
Cheeses that are not too young and are nice and spicy are particularly suitable for a fondue. Swiss cheeses such as gruyère and emmental are often used, but asiago, brie, cheddar and parmesan also find their way into the occasional fondue pot. An equally classic and popular mix is the so-called Moitié-Moitié, which consists of half gruyère and half vacherin fribourgeois.
There are also fondues that don’t use cheese at all. A Chinese fondue or “hot pot” involves cooking meat, fish, or vegetables in a simmering pot of hot stock or water. When half the liquid in the fondue pot consists of wine and spices, this is called a vintner fondue.
A tomato fondue is perhaps the most popular adaptation of the classic cheese fondue. Tomato purée is added to the cheese in the caquelon as well as herbs such as thyme; this tastes fantastic with roasted potatoes and provides a welcome change for many fans of cheese fondue.
Wine is not only an ingredient, but also the ideal complementary drink with fondue. A dry white wine goes just as well in a glass as into the caquelon. Those who prefer red wine with this tantalising cheese dish are advised to choose a very light vintage. Water and herbal teas can also serve as thirst quenchers, whereas black tea aids in digestion. Alcoholic digestifs help less than one would think because the body is first occupied with breaking down the alcohol and then later the fat.
As far as the bread for dipping goes, it shouldn’t be too fresh, as otherwise it slips off the fork too easily and disappears into the depths of the fondue. Whether one uses whole grain, white, or half white half whole wheat is a question of personal taste. If using potatoes, one should opt for a more firm-cooking variety because these stay on the fork a bit better.
A sociable meal also includes a complementary dessert. After a fondue, one should avoid chocolate crème pots or other heavy sweets. When everyone is full from cheese and bread, it’s better to indulge in something light and fresh, such as a fruit salad with pineapple or a coconut and passionfruit sorbet, i.e. something without cream.
If there’s leftover cheese after the fondue, this can be used the next day for a toast Hawaii or baked over potatoes. If there’s leftover bread, it’s easy to use up with a bread and butter pudding or French toast.
If any cheese has hardened in the caquelon, it helps to soak in baking powder and water. Simply add both to the pot, lightly warm it and then remove the crust carefully.
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