Today finally feels like the first day of winter here in New York, with the temperature hovering around freezing. And, with these colder temperatures, my thoughts turned to making fondue. When I was younger, fondue was quite popular. Then again, it was the 1970s and fondue parties seemed to be all the rage. However, back then fondue – at least in the U.S. and Canada – was not typically known for good cheese. Normally, a generic supermarket cheddar cheese was mixed with cornstarch and some other ingredients. At least, my mom baked her own bread so we didn’t have to rely on crustless store-bought bread to dip. Then again, it was the 70s, and my palette was not very developed at the time.
That all changed when I moved to Switzerland, and discovered that cheese was actually very tasty. There were so many varieties and each had their own unique flavors and textures. In the wintertime, fondue was very popular and I was surprised at how different and delicious it tasted compared to my younger fondue experience. There was nothing like skiing in the Swiss Alps all day and relaxing with fondue and Fendant (white wine) in the evening. Although fondue is usually associated with Après skiing, it is actually a very traditional peasant meal enjoyed in its regional varieties all over Switzerland.
This is a classic Swiss (German) fondue and I hope you find it a delicious recipe to add to your winter meals. In the French part of Switzerland, a fondue moitié-moitié is made with half Gruyère and half Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese instead of Emmental. If you cannot find the proper cheeses in your local market, don’t despair as there are now some good fondue mixes available at many stores and on the Internet. Just do not use generic supermarket ‘Swiss’ cheeses as they do not melt well and your fondue will end up clumpy.
Classic Swiss Fondue
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 lb Gruyère cheese, grated
- 1/4 lb Emmental cheese (real not generic), grated
- 1/4 Appenzeller cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- Fresh ground pepper
- 1 Tbsp. kirsch (cherry brandy), optional
- Crusty bread such as french bread, cut into 1 – 1 1/2″ chunks
- Cut crusty bread into 1 to 1 1/2″ cubes. If bread is fresh, it’s best to cube the bread early and let it dry out a bit.
- Rub the inside of a cheese fondue pot (caquelon) or enameled cast iron pot with the garlic clove, discard. Toss the grated cheese with the cornstarch to lightly mix. Heat the pot on medium-high heat and add wine, cheese and a dash of freshly ground pepper.
- Stir constantly (figure eight) until the cheese melts, about 5-10 minutes. Add the kirsch and stir for about 2 minutes more. Transfer to the fondue stand and burner on the table. Spear the bread on a fondue fork and twirl briefly in the melted cheese.
There are a few traditions with Swiss fondue that are fun to follow. As part of swirling the bread in the fondue pot, it is customary to use the bread to occasionally scrape the side of the pot in order to prevent the cheese from sticking. Also, no double-dipping, that is vorboten.
If using cherry brandy (kirsch) in the fondue, you can also set shot glasses of kirsch for everyone to dip their bread in prior to dipping in the cheese. Traditionally, only white wine is served with cheese fondue as the Swiss believe that the acidity of the wine (a dry white wine is preferred) prevents the cheese from clumping in the stomach.
Finally, the crusty burnt circle of fried cheese at the bottom of the pot is considered a special treat.