Leave it to the Swiss to make the traditional peasant practice of dunking stale bread in a pot of melted leftover cheese into something remotely fashionable. Actually, it was the result of efforts by the cheese industry in Switzerland to promote cheese consumption in the 1950s, and it worked, spreading to the U.S. in the 1960s where it became a big party food fad. Now, fondue (French for “melted”) has come to mean any situation where people are skewering bite-sized pieces of just about anything, and dunking them into warming pots of melted cheese, chocolate, or something tasty that will stick. Some even do a “boiling oil” fondue, where people can quick-fry tidbits.
It’s a lot of fun to invite friends over and have a great evening around the table “fondue-ing” on a cold winter night. And fondue sets — with pots and skewers — are available in most kitchen supply stores, as well as the occasional thrift store or yard sale. But making the fondue can be a little tricky, especially the melted cheese, which we will be getting into here.
Cheese has a tendency to seize up in clumps when heated, because the fats will melt and separate from the proteins. My advice is to heat the complete mass up very SLOWLY, and keep stirring steadily … but not too fast! Add a little cornstarch as needed for texture. Then, when you are about to serve it, make sure the fondue does not cool off too much.The recipe I have here is a basic and simple one. You should feel free to experiment with dunking ingredients and fondue flavorings. Try using some local cheeses; try a well-aged cheese, or a moist cheese that grates well. Also, the thin crust of toasted cheese left on the pot’s bottom at the end of the party is a special treat.
Oh, and please observe fondue etiquette. Try not to touch your skewer with your mouth. Absolutely no double-dipping. And if you drop your item in the fondue pot, the host devises the appropriate penalty.
½ lb. Emmenthaler cheese, shredded
½ lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. of Kirschwasser (clear cherry brandy)
pinch of nutmeg
a lot of day old bread, cut up in cubes
In a small pot bring the white wine and lemon juice to a boil. Reduce to low heat and add the kirschwasser, cheese, and cornstarch. Stir steadily but slowly until mixture is melted and smooth, adding wine or cornstarch as needed to achieve consistency.
Rub the crushed garlic on the inside of the fondue pot, and pour in the cheese mixture, adding the nutmeg on top. Put the fondue pot on the fire stand (lit), and enjoy a great night of cheese!
(Wine, of course, goes great with this … but may I suggest trying a cup of Earl Grey tea with this fondue. You’ll be amazed by the combination.)
For years it’s been “common knowledge” that when you eat cheese before going to bed, you will get nightmares. Well, fear no more! This myth has apparently been put to rest recently by the British Cheese Board, who have found that eating cheese before bed will actually be more likely to help you get a good night’s rest, as the amino acid tryptophan in cheese reduces stress and helps induce sleep. The study by the board also claimed that more vivid dreaming occurred with cheese eating, and that different cheeses will give you different dreams. So eat your cheese and sleep tight …