When you think football, think fondue

Published 2:21 pm Monday, February 7, 2011

Over Christmas I mentioned to my daughter that I was writing an article for the New Year on fondue. Her comment to me was, “That is so 70s.”

She was actually right, because fondue became very popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Untied States. I decided to get out my old fondue pot from Switzerland and give fondue another try.

Though Switzerland lays claim to fondue, its origins are murky. There is no inventor, no official recipe. The word fondue comes from the French fonder (to melt). The first written record of melted cheese and wine, which appeared around 800 B.C. in Homer’s Iliad, is not so different from the formula we know today – the classic Swiss Neuchâteloise is an aromatic blend of Emmentaler and Gruyère cheeses, white wine and kirsch, a cherry brandy.

One theory credits Swiss peasants with dreaming up this appetizing way of repurposing cheese rinds and stale bread. There was certainly plenty of cheese to be had – by the early 17th century the Swiss were already considered among the best cheese makers in Europe.

The oldest printed recipe which features wine, cheese, and bread was published in Zurich in 1699. The popularity of this dish really began in the 1930s, when the Swiss Cheese Union began a marketing program with such slogans as “Fondue creates a good mood” or “Perfect weather for a fondue.” The dish became a part of the Swiss identity, and it is estimated that 88 percent of the Swiss citizens own a fondue set.

Fondue sets have changed through the years, from a simple clay vessel to an electric pot where the temperature can be controlled. I saw an electric fondue pot over Christmas at Williams-Sonoma for $79.99. I thought about buying it, but decided to use my old porcelain pot bought 30 years ago in Switzerland. A metal pot with a porcelain insert is best for chocolate as well as cheese. A copper pot is better for hot oil to cook meat. Since the early 1990s, the interest in fondue has revived and the French cookware line Le Creuset currently sells a high-end model made of porcelain-enameled cast iron, which encourages equal distribution of heat. So decide what you really want to do and buy the pot accordingly.

The building blocks of fondue are cheese, liquid, acid and starch. Since fondue is a Swiss dish, native cheeses such as Gruyère and Emmentaler are the traditional choices. But you can create fondue from a variety of cheeses, from cheddar to blue cheese as long as they melt easily. A cheese like feta is not a good choice. Adding alcohol to fondue, be it champagne, beer, or dry white wine, builds flavor and keeps the cheese from scorching or clumping. Nonalcoholic liquids serve the same purpose. Water is acceptable, but more flavor would come from chicken broths or sparkling apple cider. Some type of acid is needed to stabilize melted cheese. A squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine helps balance the richness of the fondue. The last element added to the fondue is a starch. The use of cornstarch, potato starch, or flour helps emulsify the fat in the cheese with the liquid, whether it’s wine, water, or broth, and creates a luxurious, silky, melting texture in the process. You will not taste it, but you will enjoy the appealing body that starch lends to this dish.

I secured my cheeses and wine to do my first fondue dish of 2011. There are endless variations of fondue, but the main thing is to have fun eating this dish together with friends. This is a great weekend for fondue. The Super Bowl would be a great time to share this dish.

This recipe is from Saveur Magazine, the December 2010 issue. It is the recipe I used, but I substituted Emmentaler for the Appenzeller, which I could not find. I also forgot to buy the garlic and had no cognac. What can I say? The fondue was yummy anyway.

Fondue Au Crémant

(Fondue with Sparkling Wine)

Serves 8

2 ¼ cups, sparkling white wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch

4 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise

1 pound Gruyère, grated

1 pound Emmentaler instead of Appenzeller, grated

2 tablespoons cognac or French brandy

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt, to taste

Day-old country-style bread, cubed

Whisk together 2 tablespoons sparkling wine and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside. Rub garlic cloves over the interior or a 5-quart pot and drop garlic into pot. Add remaining sparkling wine; bring to a boil and whisk in cornstarch mixture; discard garlic. Reduce heat to low; add cheeses in batches, stirring until melted, 10 minutes. Stir together cognac and baking soda in a small bowl, add to pot and stir until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and salt. Transfer to fondue pot, set over a lit Sterno cup and serve with bread.

I couldn’t find my old fondue sticks, so I used wooden skewers. The same week there was a fondue demo at a specialty store and they were using toothpicks to hand out samples. I had a sample but did not buy the prepackaged mix.