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Traditional Winter Warmer

A classic dish for cold weather and good times, Fondue is a great winter warmer. Like so many enduring food traditions, Fondue’s history is based on frugality and survival. Bits of leftover cheese and wine were melted together and bread was used to extend this hearty mixture. Today, Fondue makes a great entertaining centerpiece, and your choices for ingredients are bountiful.

While you can fashion your Fondue in the traditional Alpine style, or branch out into Tex-Mex or Asian flavors, a few basic rules must be followed: First and foremost – use the best natural cheese. Second, keep a keen eye on the temperature of your cheese – too hot and it will be stringy and dry; not hot enough and you’ll be stirring all night long. Third rule – Have a good time. Fondue is a simple formula, so let’s get cooking!

Here’s our master recipe for Fondue.

For 6 people you will need approximately 3 lbs of cheese (12 cups) grated and dusted with a little cornstarch. You will also need approximately 2 cups of dry white wine, Vermouth or other alcoholic beverage. You’ll serve the Fondue with crusty bread, pickled cornichon and pearl onions, bits of prosciutto, ham or salame, steamed vegetables, and crisp apples. Spice it up if you like with a little dry mustard, grated nutmeg, a clove of garlic, or a splash of truffle oil – let your creativity flow.

Serve crisp dry wine such as Apremont from the Savoie region of France, Chardonnay (not too oaky) or Sauvignon Blanc, crisp Apple Cider, light Pilsner Beer, or refreshing sparkling wine to help wash it all down. For dessert a little fresh fruit or sorbet will complete the meal wonderfully.

The technique is straightforward. Using a standard fondue set with a fire candle or canned heat gel let the wine heat for a few minutes. Slowly add handfuls of your cheese while stirring. Once the cheese starts melting add a little more cheese continuously until it’s smooth. If your mixture is too wet, just wait a few minutes, if too dry add a little more wine. This process will take about 10 – 15 minutes and then it’s time to dig in.

When the Fondue is cooked away and all but gone you’ll find a crisp layer of cheese at the bottom, this is called La Religieuse, or The Nun and is a wonderful delicacy to be saved for the most special person at the table. Enjoy!

A traditional Alpine Fondue typically includes at least 2 cheeses; Emmentaler and Gruyère. Emmentaler is the classic “Swiss” cheese with plenty of well-formed eyes (holes) in its body. Made in wheels of approximately 200 lbs, Emmentaler is mellow and nutty and provides nice texture for Fondue. Emmentaler, like many traditional European cheeses is always made with raw milk. Gruyère is a more complex cheese, also raw milk, and fashioned into 70 lb wheels. Gruyère adds more piquant flavor and rich creaminess to the recipe.

Branching out from the basic recipe you will find many more regional recipes using more cheeses, or simply focusing on the favorite cheese of the area. Here are a few choices to consider:

Vacherin Fribourgeois – A creamy and full flavored raw milk cheese from West Central Switzerland. Mix a little in for an earthy mushroom-y character.

Appenzellar – A relative of Gruyère made with raw milk from Northeastern Switzerland. Washed in white wine and Swiss mountain herbs this cheese lends a bit of spice and brightness.

Fontina Val d’Aosta – From Northern Italy. This raw milk cheese is closely related to Raclette. It has a mellow earthy flavor and melts wonderfully.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve – A raw milk farmstead cheese from Wisconsin based on the style of Beaufort from France. Pleasant Ridge is only made during the spring and summer when the grasses are on the prairie. This cheese adds a nice buttery character with plenty of meaty flavor.

Raclette – We offer Raclette from France and Switzerland, and also a French goat’s milk version. All have a smooth texture and a little spiciness. You can use Raclette in Fondue or in a dish also known as Raclette.

We also offer a variety of Gruyère cheeses from France, Switzerland, and right here at home, too:

L’Etivaz – An AOC protected raw milk Gruyère from the French corner of Southwestern Switzerland. Made in the strictest and most time honored method from only 80 farms during the months of May to October, this is Gruyère as it was made over 100 years ago. Full flavored with gorgeous fruity complexity and generous meatiness.

Comté Sainte Antoine – Comté is Gruyère’s French sibling. Generally regarded as lighter and more fruity than Swiss Gruyère, Comté is subtle yet complex with a wonderful aroma of the green pastures it calls home. Raw milk.

Le Gruyère Reserve – Our best selling Gruyère from Switzerland. Made from farmer cooperatives and aged up to 1 year for full on meaty flavor and a smooth texture. Raw milk.

Sur Choix Gruyère – From farm cooperative dairies of Wisconsin comes this pasteurized Gruyère. We like this 1 year aged cheese for its full flavor and traditional character.

At Cheese Plus we’ll help you with your favorite Fondue recipe. We’re stocked with all the trimmings you’ll need for a great Fondue night. We can shred your cheeses, and we offer Fondue pots and Raclette grills for sale and rental, too.

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This article was written on 17 Jan 2007, and is filed under Cheese, Recipe, Specialty Food, Wine.

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