At least once every winter, inspired by glittery snow that is not yet gray heaps, we break out a red enamel pot, sit in front of the fire and have ourselves a traditional Swiss fondue. We can trace this ritual to our shag-carpeted childhoods, when both our families – maybe every ’70s family – enjoyed bright fondue sets and three-packs of Sterno.
I like everything about fondue.
In the early 90′s Greg and I would go to Geja’s Cafe, the fondue institution in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, a subterranean place with stucco, flamenco tunes and delightfully curtained booths. Called “Chicago’s Most Romantic Restaurant,” it features a massive fondue menu with cheese, beef, lobster, scallops, flaming chocolate. You drink wine for two hours while you wait. You drink wine with four fondue courses, watch wine blaze your dessert, clink champagne. Then, if you are me, you pass out on the table in cheese-wine coma and, for an encore, fall out of a taxi and hurl.
Still, I like everything about fondue.
I like going to buy the cheese, and griping about the cost. Oh well, I always say, it’s only once a year. I love that it’s a one-pot meal, and prying open Sterno, and piling tart apples in bowls and drinking wine while I stir in the wine. I like forks flying, diving, and tangling under cheese. Enough tangled dipping and someone’s bound to drop an apple, or lose their bread. When that happens, tradition dictates that you kiss the person to your right…
…especially if that person is a Josie-loving Lab. Now break out that set – you know, up in the high cabinet, in the back. Pour, stir, bubble and smooch.
Traditional Swiss Fondue
adapted from The Book of Fondues
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Gruyère cheese
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Emmentaler cheese
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
dash white pepper
pinch grated nutmeg
crusty French bread, cut in cubes
1 – 2 tart, firm apples (I prefer Granny Smith) cut in chunks
Rub inside of fondue pot with cut garlic clove.
Pour in wine and lemon juice; cook over medium heat until bubbling. Turn heat to low and gradually stir in cheese with wooden spoon or, for easier cleanup, a heatproof silicone spatula. Cheese will melt, but cheese and wine will appear separated.
In a small bowl blend cornstarch with Kirschwasser. Add to melted cheese mixture and continue to cook, stirring for 2 – 3 minutes, until mixture comes smoothly together. Watch carefully and do not allow fondue to boil. Season with white pepper and nutmeg, and serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a first course; double recipe to serve as main course.
A word about heat: whatever your fondue heat source, it’s a balancing act. You want it high enough to keep fondue melted, and low enough not to burn. Despite best efforts, you’ll nearly always find a small patch of burnt cheese on the bottom. French-speakers and true fondue fans love this treasure and call it “la religeuse,” the nun. I call it holy good snacking.