There’s something heartwarming about bonding with friends and family over food. Add cheese to the equation and the little gathering turns into a party of epic proportions. Think you and the people closest to you, huddled over a warm pot of cheese fondue, sharing laughs and endless stories. It’s a TV commercial come to life. In your life.
Cheese fondue hails from Switzerland, where it is one of their national dishes. Despite the fancy trappings, it was originally a peasant meal enjoyed in winter, as it was made with ingredients that was readily available to them: cheese, wine, and coarse bread. It is actually served as a hearty main dish, and not as an appetizer or snack as the cut up bread might make you think.
Putting your Fondue Together
Cheese fondues, as the name says, needs cheese. Because it’s Swiss, a lot of people opt to use Swiss cheeses. A popular combination uses Gruyere and Emmentaler—Gruyere for the strong flavors and Emmentaler for a smooth, creamy base. Fondues also contain a good amount of white wine and a bit of kirsch, a colorless fruit brandy for an extra kick. Some cornstarch is also needed to help stabilize the cheese and wine mix, plus a garlic clove rubbed against the insides of the fondue pot for added flavor.
On a stovetop over medium heat, mix the wine and cheeses, continually stirring until the cheeses melt. Dissolve a little cornstarch in the kirsch, then add it in, stirring until the sauce is smooth and bubbly. Transfer your fondue to a fondue pot, then serve.
Fondue sets are readily available at most stores. Sets usually include a pot, the heating element, and long skewers for dipping. Electric sets are also available, in case you’d like something that will help you monitor the proper temperature easier. But if you’d rather not buy specialized equipment just for fondue, a small crock pot works just as well. If you have a portable stove, that will work too, as long as it can be set to low flame.
What you want to do is to keep the fondue warm enough so it doesn’t set, yet cool enough so it doesn’t burn. It may sound like a daunting proposition, but all you really need to do is to watch your fondue closely, and adjust the heat as needed. In case it dries up from being too hot, add a little wine or milk to thin it.
The standard companion of cheese fondue is plain crusty bread. Cube your bread in large chunks, making sure that a little bit of crust is left on each piece to make it stick better to the skewer. Cut it an hour or two before eating, to allow it to dry a bit before dipping.
While tradition dictates a simple fondue with just bread, there’s no reason to not try other nibbles for dipping in your cheese. You can try dipping cut up pieces of cooked meat, like sausages, steak, roasts, ham, mini-meatballs, and bacon. If you’re feeling luxurious, dip shelled lobsters and prawns.
Vegetables are also good for fondue. Cut steamed broccoli and cauliflower florets into manageable bunches. Slice roasted bell peppers, mushrooms, grilled zucchini, artichoke hearts and carrots. Fried or baked potato wedges are also a good idea. Tater tots would be great for the kids and kids at heart. The general rule is, if it’s good with cheese and can be skewered, dunk it.
You’re not eating alone, so never double dip! It is also polite to avoid touching the actual skewer with your mouth, letting your lips make contact with the food alone.
To prevent the cheese from sticking or burning along the sides of the pot, stir and scrape the sides with your bread instead of just dipping. Not only does this prevent the cheese from burning, it also gives your dipper maximum contact with the cheese.
Cheese fondue is a meal in itself, so there’s no need to serve up other dishes with it. Instead, prepare a fruit platter or some light sorbet for serving at the end of the meal as a palate cleanser.
Easy enough to do right? So, gather your friends and your cheeses, turn the stove on and get dipping!