Once upon a time, families all across America sat down together for dinner enjoying a home-cooked meal in kitchens of gleaming white porcelain appliances on simple tiled or hard wood floors…
TV was black and white, people still wore suits and hats to ballgames and milk might very likely have been delivered right to your home.
There were no ATM machines, phones were rotary, pastel was in and depending on your taste, Rock and Roll was the best or worst thing that ever happened to music.
One thing was certain, when you fashionably entertained, fondue was THE rage…so much so, that every bride seemed to have a fondue set either in her “hope chest” or on her bridal registry.
Fondue was here to stay….or so they thought.
Then, mysteriously, like the trailing tail of a comet, fondue just….faded away.
Well?, if you wait long enough, it seems every food fad eventually comes around one more time in a new color, a new flavor or a new shape.
What’s old is now new, dressed in a different package and with a new slogan….(and a higher price.)
Like Haley’s comet, the cycle seems almost generational.
So…. fondue is back.
Actually, fondue’s most recent visit began a few years back and it seems to have some staying power this time. I mean, come on now, who doesn’t like melted cheese??
Ok, maybe not everyone but then again, fondue isn’t just cheese anymore. Fact of the matter is that nowadays just about anything on a stick that’s dipable, dunked into a dip of some sort (whether hot or cold) qualifies.
The delicious dish that we know as Fondue was actually invented out of necessity in the 18th century. Swiss villagers, separated from large towns by the long, freezing winters, were rarely able to enjoy fresh food. Instead, most of the villagers relied on foods like bread and cheese, which were made in the summer and had to last through the fall and winter months.
As you can well imagine, aged cheese and stale bread isn’t exactly pleasant. But the villagers found if they heated the cheese over a fire it improved the taste and was much easier to eat. They also noticed that the hard bread would soften when dipped into the cheese. From there, wines and liquors were added to the melted cheeses and the experimentation began.
And, if you’re wondering how fondue got its name, the word is actually the feminine passive past participle (are you still following?) of the French verb fondre (‘to melt’) ….but used as a noun….
Thankfully, making it is easier than explaining it.
And why the “sticks”??
Well, of course, poorer villagers didn’t have the luxury of enough eating utensils, and they also had to gather around the fire to stay warm. These two factors probably explain why fondue is eaten out of one pot. And to this day, fondue is still a communal meal.
A short history.
French gastronome Brillat-Savarin mentions fondue as an accepted dish in his 19th century writings.
Fondue was popularized as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930’s as a way of increasing cheese consumption.
Fondue really hit its heyday in 1952, when chef Konrad Egli of New York’s Chalet Swiss Restaurant introduced a fondue method of cooking meat cubes in hot oil.
The early 60’s see fondue become a household word.
Chocolate fondue follows in 1964.
When most people think of fondue, it’s the traditional Swiss cheese fondue that comes to mind and that’s no surprise, the traditional cheese fondue is easy & fun to make.
And it’s absolutely delicious.
The traditional recipe below is a good one to get you started, but there are thousands of other recipes you can try in countless books and publications
Traditional Cheese Fondue Recipe: Serves about 4 persons
½ lb Gruyere Cheese, grated (rind removed)
½ lb Emmentaler Cheese, grated (rind removed)
1 Clove Garlic, fresh
1 Cup White Wine semi-dry
1 TBSP Lemon Juice, fresh
1 TBSP Cornstarch
1 TBSP Kirsch (Cherry Liquor) (optional)
To Taste White Pepper and or Nutmeg
1. Rub the inside of a medium saucepan with the peeled garlic clove. Throw away the garlic. Add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the Gruyere and Emmentaler cheese with the cornstarch and toss. Stir the cheese mixture into the wine one small handful at a time. Make sure each handful is completely melted before adding another. The fondue can bubble a bit, but don’t let it boil. Season with the nutmeg and pepper. Stir in kirsch (optional).
3. Transfer to a cheese fondue pot and keep warm with burner. Serve right away.
What to Dip:
•Crusty cubes of French or Italian bread (leave a piece of crust on each cube)
•Cooked, boneless chicken or ham, (bite sized cubes)
•Nino’s Homemade Italian Sausage
•Cooked Red Skin or Fingerling Potatoes
•Broccoli or Cauliflower Florets (blanch first)
•Colorful Bell Peppers
•Granny Smith Apple Wedges
Cooking & Serving Tips
Don’t use a cheap cooking wine for fondue. A slightly sweet, nice white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, California Riesling or Chenin Blanc will do well.
The hard crust left at the bottom of the pot is called “la courte” or “la religuese”, and is considered a delicacy. Pry it out and serve pieces of it to your guests.
If the fondue is too thick, add more dry white wine. If it is too thin, more cornstarch and cheese. Keep the heat as low as possible so the cheese doesn’t become rubbery.
Wondering what to drink with your fondue creation? Try more of the wine you used in the recipe. If you want more of a full-bodied wine, Bordeaux, California Merlot, Chianti, and Cabernet Sauvignon work nicely. Hot black tea, hard cider, and beer also deserve mention.
Fondue Dipping Etiquette
After you spear a small piece of bread, dip it into the fondue to coat it with cheese. Remove it, but hold it over the pot for a few seconds to allow the extra cheese to fall back into the pot instead of all over your hands and face. This also gives the cheese time to cool.
Because the fork goes back into the pot, be extra careful not to touch it with your lips, tongue or teeth. In other words, don’t double dip.
Don’t dip with your fingers.
Don’t lose your food in the pot (tradition dictates that the person who loses food in the pot has to buy a round of drinks or the next pot of fondue.)
So the next time YOU lose your bread in the fondue, you now know the recipe and of course Nino’s, where you can pick up all the essential ingredients for your next pot of this historic and tasty dish.
Failing that, we also have the lowest liquor prices in town….