Comforting Fondue

Winter is a great time for prodigious amounts of cooking and eating! ;) The cold air really gives us an appetite and thus a desire to get into the kitchen; soups and stews never tasted so good. A friend who contributes to the blog Vinoteca recently posted on comfort wines. That got me thinking about the soothing dishes I go to especially when the winter months roll around. Many are tied to my southern upbringing and my grandmother’s table. Today, though, I’m making cheese fondue which I associate with junior year abroad when I met my husband. As soon as the weather gets cold, we both get a yearning for the festive Swiss national dish!

First, you need the right cooking vessel: un caquelon, or a ceramic fondue pot. You’ll also need some kind of heat source to keep the mixture warm once you get it to the table. Those small gel-type warmers like Sterno which have little more strength than a candle are not sufficient for this job. We have a spirit burner that I found at a neighborhood yard sale; you just have to keep replenishing the denatured alcohol that fuels it. After you have assembled the necessary equipment and cubed French bread, you need to get started on the cheese: a mixture of a half-pound each of aged emmentaler and gruyère. (You can increase the proportions if you're serving more than two.)

I have had only one failure making my own fondue—but it was a colossal one! Don’t make my mistake or you will end up with a huge glob of cheese for supper. The cheese cannot be cubed, thinly sliced, or any way other than grated. You can buy a bag of the two grated cheeses at Price Chopper and probably at other supermarkets around the country. We have a nifty cheese grater that you crank and the job is quickly done. Next, mix 3 tablespoons of flour into the one pound of grated cheese and you’re 10 minutes away from eating!

Cut one clove of garlic in half lengthwise and rub the cut side inside the pot. (I also chop up a bit of the same piece of garlic and throw it in as the cheese starts to melt.) Then pour 2 cups of dry white wine into the cooking dish and set it over medium high heat. When small bubbles begin to form over the bottom of the pot, squeeze in about one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Now you’re ready to put in one handful of cheese, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon making 8s for about 20 seconds or so until it melts. Keep adding a handful of cheese at a time until it is all used up. Stir in a dash of pepper and a grating of nutmeg, plus a tablespoon or two of kirsch. (The recipe also calls for a little salt, but I tend to think it's salty enough with just the cheese.) It’s now ready to serve. I normally make a green salad to go along with it.

There is some debate about what to drink along with fondue as seen by a recent article that appeared in the Times Union. I would strongly discourage beer or red wine. Classically, the drink of choice is white wine which matches an ingredient in the dish. Anyway, I hope you’ll try it.

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