So today we are going to start by putting on our imagination caps. I’ll wait a minute so you can go retrieve it out of your imagination box.
So fun already.
…Ok. Is your cap jauntily placed on your noggin’? Good. Because right now I’m going to whisk you away to the Swiss Alps. In December. You are a Swiss farmer’s wife. Your name is Hilde, you like gingham and kirsch, and you once had an affair with a man you met at a cafe in town after he bought you a glass of red wine and you couldn’t stop staring at his impressive mustache. Unfortunately December in Switzerland is a snowy time so you don’t have a lot of variety in your gastronomical options, your chubby sister is staying with you for the holidays and a shepherd with strong shoulders but gentle hands showed up at your door step last night when it started to snow. Great. All you have for dinner is some really old cheese, a container of pickles, some Stroopwafels and a hunk of bread that you are pretty sure you baked last August. And everyone is hungry and huddled around a small fireplace in the back of your cabin.
After sneaking a gulp of kirsch and wondering if it would be appropriate to spill a glass of water all over the mysterious shepherd while he’s just wearing his thermal shirt and leiderhosen, you get to thinking about how you can use the food in front of you. You want something hot and filling, and you gotta figure out how to drink more of your precious cherry brandy, but you don’t have much to work with.
What’s a gal to do?
DUN DUN DAHH DUNNNN DUH DUH DUH DUHHHHHHH. That’s right. The birth of fondue. Congrats. It’s a cheese.
This is basically how the culinary treat of fondue was created. Cold, hungry farmer folk in the Jura mountains of Switzerland needed a way to figure out how to eat all the old crusty food they had because they were snowed into their mountaintop houses. (Is there anything the Swiss CAN’T do?!)
Fondue became “fine food” in the 1950′s, with Konrad Egli the chef of New York’s midtown Chalet Suisse restaurant, putting chocolate fondue on the menu. Popularized in the 60′s and 70′s, during a time when communal lovin’ and livin’ was the grooviest thing since patchouli, fondue has become a huge global sensation – an exciting and slightly bougie way to hang with your friends. (No seriously. Look at the prices of any “fondue restaurant.” These people are making a killing. A KILLING I TELL YOU!)
The word “fondue” comes from the French verb “fondre,” which means to melt. In the past tense, it becomes “fondu” and if used in the feminine gender, we come back to “fondue.” Easy peasy. It’s pretty unclear when “fondue” became “fondue,” BUT I will tell you that it became part of popular food culture in 1825, when a little man named Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published a little gastronomical tome called “The Physiology of Taste.” No big deal.
Brillat-Savarin told a tale of a man he met in Switzerland who basically melted Gruyere cheese with some butter and eggs. Then he told a slightly inane story about some priest who really liked it and how everyone ate it up with a spoon (literally and not so literally). This story was told and retold by French chefs everywhere. It became a fondue epidemic. Born out of necessity, tweaked with herbs, garlic, and wine, popularized by working class servants cooking for the wealthy and a French dude with a really good publisher in the 19th century. Badabing badaboom, cheese culinary legend is born in the popular lexicon.
Traditionally, fondue is prepared by first rubbing the “calqueon” (or earthenware fondue pot) with a piece of crushed garlic. Then, a combination of Emmenthal and Grueyere is melted in said pot with either cherry brandy (remember the kirsch of earlier in our tale?!!! Full circle. I don’t just write these things to fill space. It all has a purpose.) or white wine. Add some salt, some pepper, you got fondue. Dip your crusty bread in by using a long fork or knife and you have a feast.
Today, there are probably as many variations on fondue as there are types of wine. Each region has a different recipe and a different name. For example, the traditional Gruyere-Emmental fondue is known as “Fondue Neuchâteloise.” Other examples are “Fondue Moitié-moitié” (Gruyere and Vacherin-Fribourg), “Fondue Vaudoise” (just Gruyere), or “Fondue Jurassiene” (just Comte). Even Italians are getting into the mix with “Fonduta” which is a combination of cheese, eggs, and truffles. If you are dipping meats in hot oil, you have “Fondue Bourguignonne,” with origins in Burgundy. So many fondues. My head. Explodededed.
There are even fondue traditions that must be followed. Double-dipping is a super no-no. Touching your long fondue spear to your mouth is really uncool. If you are a guy and you lose your bread in the melty cheese, you have to buy a bottle of wine for the table. If a lady loses her cheese? She risks her reputation and exposure to herpes by kissing everyone at the table.
Many say it is better to think of fondue less as a specific recipe and more as a style of eating. A communal method of sharing food where you are forced to eat and converse in an intimate setting. I mean, there’s no way you are going to have 25 people over for fondue. If you want that, it’s called Chuck E. Cheese, and there’s something hiding for you at the bottom of the ball pit.
So now, to leave you, I am going to share the famous “Fondue Stephanieoise” recipe. Created by the infamous cheese shop Stephanie. Here we go.
Start with 1 pound total of gruyere, emmenthal, and vacherin fribourg. Shred the cheese and toss in corn starch and put aside. Rub the pot you are melting the cheese in with a cut piece of garlic. Pour a 1/2 cup of dry white wine (such as Apremont from the Savoie) and bring to a simmer. Slowly add the cheese into the pot and melt into the wine, stirring frequently. Add up to a half cup more of the wine until the melted cheese is smooth. Finish with a tablespoon of kirsch and eat with ham, cornichons, and blanched veggies. And I say eat it with crusty bread. Cuz carbs are cool. And there you have it. A delicious recipe for delicious people.
Nom, nom, nom.
Well that’s all from me, internet lovers. Hopefully you’ll hear from me soon and there will be more internet hilarity to follow. Thanks y’all!