Take a Winter Dip…into a Swiss Cheese Fondue

SCM photoFood writer and columnist Hattie Ellis (who btw also wrote a delicious book on honey) recently came to a presentation I did on Swiss cheese, together with Rachael Sills of KaseSwiss and Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines. Now she’s written a lovely piece (The Field, Hattie Ellis) in this month’s issue of The Field all about the wonders of Swiss cheese and how these beauties are increasingly available outside Switzerland.

In London KaseSwiss on Druid Street or La Fromagerie on Moxon Street are great for Swiss cheese, while Whole Foods on Kensington High Street also has a terrific selection. In NYC Murrays and Artisanal have all you need and in Boston (and other cities) Formaggio Kitchen has a good range, while way down in sunny Florida, Caroline Hostettler at Quality Cheese is unbeatable. Loads more stockists are listed in the back of my cheese book.

It reminded me that now’s the time for fondue, if ever there was one (rain sluicing down over the UK, snow over the eastern US…) To many non-Swiss, cheese fondue is usually reduced to some kind of Seventies cliche. Not so in Switzerland where it’s just uncomplicated, convivial, warming winter nosh, great for this kind of weather. Its composition varies from region to region and every canton lays claim to the original, the real, the only authentic fondue recipe. Probably the best known, most classic version is the one known as moitie-moitie. (can’t do accents on this computer but they’re there in spirit, on both e’s) – half the unmatchable Gruyere, half Vacherin Fribourgeois, one of the most underrated of Swiss semi-hard cheeses.

In Switzerland it’s simple: you just schlepp round to the nearest Milchhuesli (dairy/cheese shop) and they’ll make up a mixture for you (or you can buy it vacu-packed from any supermarket). Outside Switzerland you can have some fun, get creative and come up with your own fondue mixture. The trick is to aim for a a good blend of feisty/tasty/hard cheeses (Gruyere, L’Etivaz, Berner Alpkase, a little Sbrinz, for example), plus a mild one such as Emmentaler (no ‘h’ in Switzerland), plus some semi-hards to give the right unctuous consistency (Vacherin Fribourgeois, Tilsiter, Appenzeller, Tete de Moine etc.) And quantities? A good rule of thumb is to allow at least 150g grated cheese per person;. real cheeseheads will go to 200g per head.

CHEESE FONDUE

SCM photoServes 6
plenty of good crusty French-style bread
900g – 1 kilo mixed hard and semi-hard cheese, coarsely grated (food processor or box grater)

1 clove garlic, mashed

400ml dry white wine

juice of 1 lemon
a little freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons cornflour/cornstarch

a good splash of Kirsch (optional)

black pepper

  • Cut the bread in good chunks, making sure that each chunk has some crust, otherwise the bread will fall apart in the fondue
  • Put all the grated cheese in an eathenware fondue pan (keep your metal one for meat fondues) with the crushed garlic, wine, lemon juice and nutmeg
  • Mix the cornflour into the Kirsch and stir until smooth, add to the pan, bring the cheese very gently to a simmer, stirring continuously (tradition dictates that this should be done in a figure of eight)
  • Season with pepper
  • Light the fondue burner and bring the fondue to the table

What to drink with your fondue

Some Swiss – generally those of German-speaking persuasion – advise against drinking anything cold with fondue, for fear it will turn the melted cheese to chewing gum inside you (or worse). They prefer peppermint tea. Others, particularly those from wine-growing areas like the Valais or Vaud would counsel white wine, usually a young Chasselas (aka Fendant in the Valais) with good acidity to cut through the rich cheese. A shot of Kirsch also helps to blast things apart.

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