Having spent all day Sunday catching up on Celebrity Master Chef, The Great British Bake Off and James Martin’s French Adventure, as well as spending the majority of the day cooking and creating vats of whatever was leftover in my fridge (I’m well known for my culinary mushy inventions) or from various friends’ veggie patches, it’s only fitting that this week’s blog is about food. Just for the record, we spent Saturday doing a 3-hour charity Zumbathon with the fabulous Hélio Faria from Brazil (check him out on FB), so moving from sofa to kitchen and back to sofa again on Sunday was most certainly earned and 100% acceptable.
Delicious whatever the weather, summer or winter, we bring you one of Switzerland’s national favourites, a total party pleaser, a big pot of bubbling melted cheese – the cheese fondue. Fondue, the past form of the French verb ‘fondre’ meaning ‘melt’ in French, may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, it’s not exactly your meat and two veg and certainly won’t help with your 5 or 10 a day!
A bit of history
During the 18th century fondue was introduced in Switzerland as a way to use up old cheese and bread to feed families who didn’t have fresh food during the winter time. As the cheese aged and the bread became stale it became more difficult to eat so local villagers decided to heat the cheese with wine, garlic, and herbs and dip their stale bread into the flavourful cheese mixture. Cooking together over one pot and eating by a warm cosy fire became the Swiss winter tradition known as fondue.
Absolutely delicious, the natural one from the Valais is a mix of two cheeses called a moitié moitié (half Gruyère and half Vacherin). Stab a small piece of stale bread onto the end of the vicious looking fondue fork, dunk it into the pot of bubbling cheese (try not to lose it – there are various forfeits to be completed depending on how evil your friends are!) and savour that moment of cheesy heaven. It’s even yummier with a sprinkle of black pepper and pickled gherkins and onions (or as suggested by one of my friends, dunk a chip wrapped in dried meat into the cheese). When the cheese level has diminished and it starts to get crusty on the bottom, is when it starts to get really exciting. Fighting for the best bit of crusty cheese or the religieuse as it’s called in Swiss French. At this point a few people seem to think it’s a good idea to add a fried egg – just for the record, Eléonore thinks this is a terrible idea!
You can get fondue in many different flavours; mushrooms, chili, goat’s cheese, sheep’s cheese, champagne, herbs, to name but a few, or if you fancy extra stodge, tomato, which you eat with potatoes rather than bread. There’s even a speciality fondue in the Café du Midi in Martigny http://www.cafedumidi.ch/, which serves the fondue with a whole load of whipped cream on top, apparently making the cheese lighter and fluffier! You can try the fondue in most traditional Swiss restaurants, our favourite chili one is at the Namaste http://www. namaste-verbier.ch/restaurant/ and the Caveau for the tomato one. http://www.theplacetobe.ch/restaurant-le-caveau
(There are many other types of fondue for meat, seafood and even chocolate, but we’ll stick to cheese for now).
White wine is commonly drunk throughout the meal and most importantly, half way through your fondue as well as at the end, it is imperative to drink a shot (usually of the local speciality, Williamine or Abricotine) to help with digestion – water is a big no no.
The fondue is a great party food, with everyone sharing the bubbling pot in the middle of the table, drinking to a chorus of ‘santé’. You can eat it at music festivals with tables specially crafted to hold the pot in the middle of a stand up table, along with holes for drinks, bottles and wine buckets. You can even enjoy a fondue whilst plodding along on a horse and cart down in Sembrancher – genius.
A bit of cheesy vocab
Fondue, past participle of ‘fondre’ – to melt
The name of the fondue pot is a caquelon.
religieuse Swiss French for crust
moitié moitié – half and half
Williamine pear liqueur
Abricotine- apricot liqueur
santé – cheers
Here’s Eléonore’s family recipe:
Ingredients for 4 people
1 tsp cornstarch
1 garlic clove
2-3 dl of white wine (or beer!)
Half and half grated cheese
(Some people add nutmeg)
- Rub the pot with a garlic clove.
- Heat the white wine and cornstarch until bubbling and the cornstarch dissolves. (To avoid lumps, dissolve the cornstarch with a tiny bit of white wine in a glass and then pour it in the pot).
- Add some of the grated cheese and stir until melted
- Keep adding and melting the cheese until it is all in the pot and a smooth bubbling texture
- Add a drop (or two) of kirsch
Ground black pepper
Small pieces of stale bread
All this is making me hungry – may have to have a fondue. Sweet cheesy dreams!