Cheese For Dinner: Vive la Fondue!
Have you revisited cheese fondue lately? I know, you’re thinking about that episode of That 70’s Show when Kitty hosts a disastrous fondue party: burns, eye-poking, the awkwardness of long strings of cheese dangling from tiny forks. Fondue has been shaking off its cheesy reputation (ha ha, pun totally intended) and making a come-back for the past few years, thanks in part to the fact that the 1970s are now “retro.” If you’re anti-fad, don’t let your principles deter you from experimenting with fondue, particularly cheese fondue, because cheese melted in wine is, frankly, amazingly delicious.
A few years ago, I spent a week in the Chamonix Valley, in the French Alps, the birthplace of cheese fondue (although the Swiss make their own claim to the origins of the dish). I ate a lot of cheese fondue there. As the originators — or at least, the early promoters — of this unique dish, the French wisely do not suffer from the trendiness factor of fondue; fondue is always “in” when you live in a country obsessed with both cheese and wine. The classic French cheese fondue combines Gruyere and Emmenthal cheeses with dry white wine, a bit of cornstarch as thickener, and a hit of garlic and kirsch (cherry brandy) as flavoring. You can also add a little mustard, or a little nutmeg and pepper, depending on your tastes, but the important thing is the wine and the cheese. Oh — and big cubes of fresh bread for soaking up the wine and cheese, of course. Once you’ve got those three things, everything is going to be o.k.
Recently, our friends Kori and Craig invited us over for “cheese for dinner.” Craig’s cheese fondue was everything fondue should be — smooth, gooey, well-flavored, and willing to cling onto whatever was dipped into it. We dipped cubes of delicious sour-dough bread, chunks of cooked chicken, and an array of vegetables. The dark horse of the evening proved to be fresh mushrooms — not a combination I would have considered until it was placed right in front of me, but one I kept returning to throughout the evening. As if a big pot of cheese were not decadent enough for dinner, our hosts followed up with a big pot of melted chocolate (a perfect half-and-half blend of bittersweet and semisweet), into which we dipped a variety of dessert-y items, including pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, and Girl Scout Trefoil shortbread cookies.
In case you’re feeling inspired to have your own fondue dinner, here is a classic, no-frills recipe for cheese fondue.
French Cheese Fondue
1 clove fresh garlic
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
2 cups shredded Emmenthal cheese
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp kirsch or other fruit-flavored brandy
Make the fondue in a fondue pot for best results. You could also make the fondue in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a hotplate, but be sure to monitor the cheese mixture very carefully, or it will burn.
Stir together the kirsch and cornstarch in a small cup, and set aside.
Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the cut sides all over the inside of the fondue pot.
Add the wine to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese a handful at a time and stir to melt. (Using a back-and-forth motion to stir works better than a circular motion, so the cheese doesn’t congeal into one big ball in the center of the pot.)
When all the cheese has been added to the pot, stir in the kirsch/cornstarch paste. Continue to heat the fondue, stirring constantly, for another two minutes or so. The consistency should be thick but smooth.
Serve over low heat to keep the cheese melted. Dip into the cheese: chunks of baguette or other hearty, fresh bread, vegetables, cooked meats. Try not to poke anyone’s eye out with your fondue fork, and enjoy!