Wine, cheese and a little bread – the ultimate combination! Blending them together in a pot with some seasoning makes it even better. If you can’t get enough of the rich, fragrant, velvety, and sublime qualities of steamy cheese fondue, you’re in luck. As a filling, sumptuous, even romantic repast, fondue lacks nothing, and April 11th is National Cheese Fondue day. By some standards it’s the best reason to fire up the caquelon (characteristic earthenware communal pot), ignite the rechaud (portable flame), invite a few friends over, and lose yourselves in hearty cubes of baguette dipped in creamy Gruyere or Fontina, or linger over sweet strawberries, kiwi, apple and orange slices, dates, figs, marshmallows, bits of angel food cake, or juicy pineapple chunks swirled in warm, decadent chocolate fondue.
Noted for its Swiss, French (Rhone Alps), and Italian (Piedmont and Aosta Valley) heritage, fondue – past participle of the French word fondre, to melt down – was first identified in a 1699 Zurich publication, though it used to imply a dish made with eggs as well as cheese, tantamount to a soufflé. According to historical records, the first more modern application (cheese and wine, no eggs) was presented in 1875, and when Switzerland first acquired cornstarch in 1905, reportedly a smoother, more stable emulsion (to keep the heated cheese from separating) was achieved, making fondue more popular. Following the end of WWII rationing, the Swiss Cheese Union sent fondue sets to military entities across Europe, and fondue soon became a symbol of Swiss unity.
Today, culinary pundits espouse experimenting, with what qualifies as fondue expanded to include pieces of meat dipped and made crispy in boiling oil, common in some Asian restaurants. Even traditional fondue recipes have cast a wider net in an effort to favor the flavors of many nations, such as Holland (use Gouda), Mexico (salsa and chipotle chilies), Spain (sherry and Manchego cheese) and a host of other countries.
And for real variety and a smorgasbord of textures on the tongue, who says bread has to be the only means of cheese-portation? Pieces of roasted vegetables such as asparagus, shallots, and green beans, as well as raw cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, baby carrots, and broccoli make tasty dippers, as do bite-sized sausages, pepperoni, smoked chicken, etc. So call up some friends and try these traditional and not-so-traditional ideas for a true fondue experience.
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound shredded Swiss
1/2 pound shredded Gruyere
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 loaf French bread, cubed
Simmer wine in fondue pot. Add cheeses, ¼ pound at a time. Stir after each addition of cheese until melted. Stir in flour. When everything has thoroughly melted, stir in salt and nutmeg. Serve with bread.
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