Dear Family and Friends,
My favorite thing about fondue may surprise you. It is not the joy of melted cheese. It is not the fun of a shared meal. It is not even the transformation of my two staple foods (bread and cheese) into an elegant and satisfying dinner. Of course, I take pleasure in all of these things. But what I love the most is the advice I received to master this seemingly foolproof dish.
While a total fondue “disaster” is very, very rare (i.e. the cheese clumps into a solid mass or the fat separates into a greasy top layer), the fact that one could screw up (by Swiss standards, that is) something as simple as melting cheese over a low flame fascinates me. As I experienced first-hand through numerous fondue dinners in Gruyères, Switzerland, you have to know which cheese (or cheeses) to use, how to balance their proportions, what to serve them with, how to thicken or thin the sauce, etc.
My Swiss friends were quick to fill me in on the proper ways to make fondue and I compiled their “dos” and “don’ts” into the following list:
- Stir clockwise
- Steady the pot with your hand to regulate heat
- Warm the liquid before adding it to the grated cheese
- Pair Gruyère fondue with bread; Vacherin fondue with potatoes
- Serve with pickled onions or cucumbers
- Use a heavy pot
- Add cornstarch for good consistency
- Crack fresh pepper on top for spice
- Portion out at least 200 grams per person
- Eat with friends, not alone
- Know where to get cheese at midnight from a neighboring farm (yes, this happened).
- Stop stirring. Even after the fondue is served.
- Microwave leftovers
- Let the fondue get cold
- Serve with a cold drink (tea is best)
I realize not everyone may agree with the advice I received and that a few of the points are quirky. But I am still impressed by the conviction with which some tips were voiced and the enthusiasm with which my friends would share their thoughts on fondue. Perhaps you will find it helpful. As for me, this list makes me smile. Not only do the bullet points expose values (such as pride in regional specialties and a passion for tradition), but they speak to a depth of cheese knowledge, unique to Switzerland, that reminds me of dinner with friends and a place where cheese has been a dietary staple for centuries.