To many non-Swiss, fondue is a bit of a Seventies cliché. In Switzerland, it’s just an uncomplicated, convivial, warming winter dish – just right for this week when the temperature has been struggling to get its head above zero. There are no hard and fast rules about which cheese to use – at least none that are universally agreed upon in this most directly democratic of countries. It all depends on the region – in canton Fribourg the classic mixture (moitié-moitié, half-and-half) is Gruyère and Emmentaler; in the Jura you might get a fondue featuring some locally made semi-hard cheeses like Mont Soleil or Erguel and Tête de Moine. In central Switzerland around Lake Lucerne there’ll certainly be a bit of Sbrinz in the mix, while over in eastern Switzerland, Appenzeller and Tilsiter will likely share the honours.
Get creative yourself and come up with your own fondue mixture, using your personal favourites. Aim for a balance of two or three different kinds: something feisty/hard like Gruyère, L’Etivaz or Berner Alpkäse; something smooth and mild-mannered (Emmentaler – but Swiss only, please, none of those dreary wannabes that taste of soap) and some semi-hard, melting cheese (Vacherin Fribourgeois, Appenzeller, Tilsiter, Tête de Moine). Fainthearts and those of delicate digestion will content themselves with 150g of cheese each; serious cheeseheads and those with iron stomachs can handle 200g without turning a hair (and then ask what’s for mains…)
The white wine and the lemon juice are there for a reason – not only do they season the mixture, their acidity also helps to prevent curdling. (Young cheeses, btw, are more likely to separate than older, aged ones – make sure your cheeses are, if not mature, at least not in the first flush of youth – certainly no younger than 8 months.) It’s also important to keep stirring the fondue not only during the heating but also during the eating – first with a large wooden fork and stirring in a figure of eight, and – at table – using bread-speared fondue forks.
And what to drink with fondue? White wine seems logical, since it enters into the composition of the dish, but some people (notably those to the north of the Rostigraben) consider that cool white wine can turn the cheese into chewing gum inside you, and that warm black or peppermint tea is preferable. A shot of Kirsch or other Schnapps, said to aid digestion, is also frequently offered.
As for the pan, this must be a wide, shallow, earthenware caquelon, not one of those metal fondue bourguignonne pans. And when you’re done, and the last crumbs of croute/réligieuse have been prised off the bottom of the caquelon, fill it with cold water and let it soak a few hours or overnight. That way any stray bits of cheese will come away without much opposition.
plenty of good, well-crusted bread
900g – 1.2 kg mixed cheese (see suggestions above), coarsely grated
1 clove garlic, mashed
400ml dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a little freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp cornflour/cornstarch (Maizena)
1 small glass Kirsch, optional
- Cut the bread in good chunks, making sure that each piece has some crust, and put in a basket on the table
- Put the grated cheese, garlic, wine, lemon juice, nutmeg and cornflour/cornstarch into the caquelon and mix well to distribute the cornflour/cornstarch
- Heat over a gentle flame, stirring constantly, until wisps of steam start to rise and the cheese is evenly melted and beginning to emit gentle bubbles and burps
- If using Kirsch, stir it in now, and season generously with black pepper
- Transfer the caquelon to a spirit burner and instruct everyone to get spearing and stirring