Fondue was all the rage in America in the 1970s. For reasons I will never understand, it went out of fashion 30+ years ago. Cheese fondue is practically the national dish of Switzerland. I had it for the first time at a fondue specialty restaurant in Zurich forty years ago, and have made it at home many times since then, including last night! It is an extremely simple dish that can be made from only two ingredients, cheese and white wine, but there are innumerable ways to vary the theme. (Be aware that meat fondue and chocolate fondue are not traditional, although they are served in Swiss restaurants that cater to tourists.)
Although many types of cheese will work, if you want it to be authentically Swiss, gruyère is essential. The most common other cheese is emmentaler, but other cheeses that aren't stringy when melted will work. This recipe calls for the addition of a wedge of "Laughing Cow" cheese. It helps the cheeses stay together and imparts a creamy texture.
The Swiss use a wine called Fendant, very dry and crisp. Since the Swiss drink most of it themselves, it is difficult to find in North America. Some good alternates include a white Burgundy such as Macon Village, a dry Reisling from Germany or Washington state, a Gruner Veltliner from Austria or a Muscadet from France. Wines like California Chardonnays tend to overpower the cheese. In any event, the alcohol will cook off, so that the dish is fine for kids.
You can add many different flavoring ingredients. The Swiss generally use a bit of garlic and kirsch (cherry brandy). Lemon juice, mustard, paprika, nutmeg and thyme are also popular. If you want it very garlicky, toss in a teaspoon or so of pressed garlic.
Usually, a starch is added that helps to stabilize the fondue. Most recipes call for flour, but I prefer cornstarch.
Traditionally, cubes of crusty French bread are dipped into the melted cheese, but you can use vegetables, either raw or cooked and meats such as chunks of precooked ham or sausage.
Any pot that you can keep warm enough to prevent the cheese from solidifying will do. You will need a way to keep the fondue hot while it is on the table. Fondue specialty pots generally come with Sterno burners, but an electric hot plate is even better. As the cheese gets used up, you will need to lower the heat or it will burn. I use an enameled cast iron pot and a gel-filled tile that is heated in the microwave for 5 minutes. It stays hot for a couple of hours and I don't have to worry about adjusting the flame because it cools gradually.
When the fondue is almost all used up, it may form a crust on the bottom of the pot. This crust is incredibly delicious. If you are nice, you will cut it up and share it, but, if no one is looking, I recommend that you scarf it up all by yourself.
White wine is an obvious accompaniment to cheese fondue, but red wine works extremely well too. I also like to have a few shot glasses full of kirsch on the table as a "digestif."
In the Swiss home, cheese fondue is a main course, typically accompanied by a green salad and a fruit dessert for a complete meal. Cheese fondue can also serve as an elegant starter course.
1 Clove Garlic
1 Cup Dry white wine
1 Lb Gruyère cheese, shredded
1/2 Lb Emmentaler cheese, shredded
1 Wedge Laughing Cow cheese, cubed
2 Tbs Kirsch or other white brandy (optional)
1 Tbs Lemon juice (optional)
Salt and whitre pepper to taste
1 Tsp Pressed garlic (optiponal)
1 Pinch Ground nutmeg (optional)
1 Pinch Dry mustard (optional)
1 Pinch Paprika (optional)
1 Tsp Chopped fresh thyme (optional)
Peel the garlic clove, cut it in half and rub it all over the inside of the pot in which you will be making the fondue. Pour in the wine and bring to the simmer. Toss the cheese with the cornstarch and add it, a little at a time, stirring to melt it evenly.Add the kirsch and the seasonings. Stir the pot until everything is melted together and is bubbling.
You can also make fondue in the microwave if you use a ceramic pot. Throw everything into the pot and nuke it for a couple of minutes. Stir well and nuke it a minute more. Keep stirring and nuking until the consistency is right and the fondue is bubbling.
Put the pot on the table over a burner or hot plate and have at it.