There is a reason everyone who got married in the 60’s got a fondue pot for a wedding present – fondue is fun and relatively inexpensive entertainment – at least when you do it yourself. We figured out a few years ago that we like to have fondue more often than we can splurge on the restaurant version. Cheese fondue makes for a nice date night at home, or a fun family dinner when the cold winter winds are whistling past the windows and the same old dinner options seem ho hum. Sure, it’s a lot of cheese for one meal, but you aren’t going to do this very often, so celebrate the gooey cheesiness. And yes, there is wine in it. I figure that the kiddo gets about a quarter cup of wine, if that, in his serving.
For a while we had a fondue pot that used sterno cans to heat the pot. It was hit-or-miss at best – the sterno would either go out for lack of air, or it would burn merrily with that special sterno hiss and pop, getting the cheese too hot. I do have to say that the layer of browned cheese in the bottom was quite tasty, though. We never dared to try chocolate in it. Browned, toasty chocolate just isn’t the same as browned, toasty cheese.
We finally got around to buying an electric fondue pot and wonder why we waited so long. The interior is nonstick, which is really nice for cleanup, and we can control the heat to the nth degree. No more sterno fumes or frustrated sessions with matches and dying flames. And sadly, no more browned cheese on the bottom. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
Cheese fondue has so few ingredients – they all need to be high quality. Make sure the wine is one you would actually drink, though you don’t have to go expensive to get good wine. And don’t even think of using American-style Swiss cheese in this. I get my Gruyere and Emmenthaler in the imported and specialty cheese section of my regular grocery store – no need for a trip to a specialty cheese store.
Get (or make) good bread that has some flavor and isn’t Wonder Bread soft. I like to make Middle Eastern flatbread and use that. The small loaves have a lot of crust, which helps you keep your bread cubes on the fondue fork – less fishing for lost bread in the cheese. Make the whole thing a party and get the family, or some friends, together to make the bread that you are going to dip. The flatbread comes together in little more than an hour, which you can count as entertainment for your party or family night.
We also dip apples, and sometimes potatoes. You could branch out into blanched broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, if you like. When we do potatoes, I buy waxy red potatoes since they are firm enough to stand up to the whole dipping process. Mealy white potatoes fall apart when you try to spear them with the fork.
Chocolate fondue will have to wait for another time. For now, get the cheese, bake or buy the bread, and start dipping.
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer
If you don’t have a fondue pot, you can make this on the stove and serve it right out of the pot, or transfer to a crockpot set on high.
½ pound Jarlsburg, Emmenthaler or other strong Swiss cheese, shredded*
½ pound Gruyere cheese, shredded*
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
*Don’t use Kraft, or other typical American-type Swiss cheese.
1 medium loaf good quality French bread, cut into large cubes (or 2-4 loaves Middle Eastern flatbread)
2-3 apples, cut into large dice
1-2 large red potatoes, cooked and cut into large dice (see Note)
Note: For best results, boil potatoes whole and unpeeled until just tender when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly, then peel and dice. If you cook the potato too long and it won’t stay on the fondue forks, use a spoon to drizzle cheese over the potato pieces on individual plates.
In a bowl, toss cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. In a fondue pot (use the manufacturer’s recommendations for settings) or in a saucepan over medium heat, bring garlic, wine and lemon juice to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the wine. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, sprinkle top with ground nutmeg.
Serve at once with dipping options of choice.
Any leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated, though the fondue won’t be as smooth. I have used the leftover mixture in scrambled eggs and they were fabulous.