Cheese fondue was something my parents made in the 70s. I assume. At least there was an old artifact from the era in one of the kitchen cabinets – a fondue pot. I hadn’t tried the dish many times – it was more or less extinct in Sweden and had been replaced by more modern dishes. But here we were; New Year’s Eve in Switzerland and we had decided to abandon our tradition of fireworks and fresh seafood in the middle of the night and honor our newest home country by proudly making our own cheese fondue. We consulted our classic Swedish cookbook; and yes there was a recipe and yes it seemed doable. So we went ahead. Maybe that´s where we went wrong. A Swedish cookbook. I mean, this wasn’t exactly in the age before Internet and Google but … you know; sometimes you just don´t think twice. Or maybe we did and just decided not to involve the mysterious Swiss-German in our culinary experiment.
Let´s just say it was a disappointment. Did not rock my boat at all. Happy New Year. And no fireworks either.
Half a year later, in the summer, we had guests from Sweden. We drove to the picturesque little town of Vevey by Lake Geneva and spent a few days. For lunch we visited a restaurant my family had tried earlier – we knew they had fondue on the menu as well as great entertainment for the kids consisting of empty pizza boxes with crayons and small surprises. We sat down and began to order. Lots of food and as a starter we decided to share a small cheese fondue – our guests had never had it and were eager to try. And we wanted to give it another go. The waiter said “Non.” We insisted and found ourselves dragged into a discussion, or rather argument, of why and why not we could have the fondue. Our arguments were in the lines of
- It´s on the menu
- We would like to have it
- We would like to sample a local dish
- Our guests are here from Sweden for 10 days only– not coming back in the winter!
- Other guests at the restaurant are having it
The waiter´s argument was simply “you don´t eat cheese fondue in the summer. It is too hot.” Period.
Well, he finally took our orders – including the fondue – and we set out to enjoy a tasty meal in the glorious summer weather. Blue sky, an abundance of flowers, steam wheelers on the lake – you get the picture. Vevey is truly a beautiful place to visit.
The kids’ dishes arrived, and a little bit later so did ours – with one exception; the fondue. This was clearly not a case of customers know best, or even of us being customers. The waiter had taken upon himself to save us from the, in his eyes, horrible mistake of having cheese fondue in summer.
During our years to follow in the Zurich area we had fondue – both cheese, fish and meat – several times, both in our home and at restaurants. We even tried it again at New Year; this time at a rustic bistro where they served a special champagne fondue menu. But it wasn’t until our last year in Switzerland that we got to enjoy the true soul of cheese fondue. Along with a few other expat families we were invited to dear Swiss-Swedish friends, permanently residing in Switzerland on a farm. Together we prepared the fondue and the rest of the meal in a separate area on the farm dedicated to festivities. It was a furnished barn with large wooden tables and benches, a small kitchen and even a bathroom. Perfect for parties, even more perfect for cheese fondue parties. Because one thing we have learnt; it smells. And as good as it smells when you eat it, it is not very appealing the next day.
Here is the recipe we use nowadays when we prepare cheese fondue. It´s a plain simple recipe, yet the best – we skip the Kirsch. It was passed on to us from very good expatriate friends in Switzerland. Cheese fondue has very much enjoyed a renaissance in our home; even more since moving from Switzerland. We all know this phenomenon.
Makes 4 yummy servings:
3 dl dry white wine – chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc works well; save some for the glass too!
3 tsp cornstarch
1-2 garlic cloves
800 g of shredded Swiss cheese (try a blend of Gruyère, Emmentaler and Appenzeller, or just two of them.)
It´s nice to use a fondue pot or a ceramic pot if you have one. I have to confess for a quick meal I just use normal cooking ware; heat the fondue on the stove and transfer the whole pan to the table. Easy! It´s gone in an instant so no need to worry about the fondue cooling off … We call it fast food in our family. And TCK food. A table top burner is useful if you want to sit longer.
Rub the inside of the pot with the garlic. Carefully heat wine and starch (you might want to dissolve it in some wine first). Add the rest of the garlic; crushed. Stir in the cheese and let it melt while continuing to stir carefully. Black pepper it with love!
Serve by dipping diced day old peasant bread in the fondue. There are special fondue sticks but you can use forks too. The gourmet who drops a piece of bread in the fondue gets to clean the pot afterwards. That´s the worst part.