One crucial part of my food development is the five months I spent in Grenoble, France during my junior year in college. As a matter of fact, it is where I met the one and only Lady Gouda, our friendship cemented over many, many meals. Grenoble rests at the foothills of the Alps, so between hiking from centre-ville to skiing in Albertville, the mountains were a big part of my experience. Having never seen the Rockies or any other comparable mountain range, I was stuck by how something so physical could resonate so emotionally. And although I had some incredible outdoor experiences in France, the next meal was never far from my mind. Probably the most impressionable meal I ate (many times) in Grenoble, and now one of my all time favorites, is fondue.
I recently managed to squeeze in a girls’ trip to my friend Sadie’s mountain home in the Adirondaks in upstate New York. With another formidable mountain range as a backdrop and the temperatures hovering around zero, a serious cheese fondue was almost a necessity. Sadie’s family takes their fondue quite seriously, so I was honored to be asked to select the cheese. Instead of the usual Emmenthaler and Gruyere combo, I added to Emmenthaler with some salty Swiss raclette and Chällerhocker, another Swiss cow’s milk cheese that is wonderfully creamy and meaty. The combination was a knockout, if I do say so myself, but the fondue was taken to new heights by Sadie’s father, the fondue master. While kirsch is traditionally used as the liquor of choice in fondue, Heiny (as he is fondly known) used some pear brandy and tons of white wine. I myself stick to the kirsch that I usually have on hand, but both the pear (think Poire Williams) and kirsch (which is cherry brandy) can work. Neither lend a fruity flavor by any means, but rather add depth and brighten up the heaviness of the cheese.
Although cheese fondue is traditionally served with stale baguette, Sadie’s family has enlightened me to the fact that so many other morsels taste delicious when dipped in melted cheese! Bread, boiled potatoes, broccoli, apples, hard salami, and even my beloved cornichons that typically accompany fondue–we plunged them all straight in. Just remember that seating arrangements are important at a fondue party, as you have to kiss the person on your left (or is it the right?) if you drop your bite into the cheesy depths–only to be recovered if you manage to eat enough to scrape the bottom of the pot.
Cheese Fondue (serves 4)
Note: I tend to overestimate the amount of cheese needed, but in general about a half a pound per person is the way to go, assuming fondue is the main course. I serve with cornichons and a green salad.
2 lbs. roughly equal parts Emmenthaler and Gruyere (Chällerhocker and raclette cheese work well and melt beautifully, if you can find them), shredded
2 tbsp. cornstarch or flour
pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
pinch of freshly ground black or white pepper
1 1/2 c. dry white wine
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 shot of Kirsch (cherry brandy)
Place cheese in a large bowl and sprinkle to coat evenly with cornstarch or flour. Heat wine in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling gently. Slowly start to add cheese to wine in handfuls, stirring with wooden spoon to melt before adding the next handful. Once all the cheese is melted, add kirsch. Season with pepper and nutmeg.
Rub the inside of your fondue pot with the cut side of the split garlic clove. Transfer cheese mixture to fondue pot and adjust the flame (or dial–mine is electric) so that the cheese stays warm, but not boiling. Serve immediately with pieces of crusty bread, apples, pears, cooked potatoes, broccoli, hard salami, kielbasa, etc.