Posted in Food

Gooey, Melted and Dipped

Though holidays have been around the corner, the requirement to stay within the premises has taken the thrill out of it for the children. Quite often the early rays see them waking up eager to soak in the morning sunshine, by evening they are quite restless. Which is why calling it an early night, helps most of the time. If the indoors become too stifling, supper outside helps to get them in the mood right for bedtime. All one needs is an old crock-pot, plenty of cheese, long dipping forks, cut pieces of bread (or crackers, roti), a camping spot, a guitar and we are good to go.

Essentially a melted cheese dish served in the pot over a stove, eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long stemmed forks; the fondue has been found initially in the Swiss cuisine, traced to around the early 19th century by food historians. This dish can be made as simple with melted cheese and seasonings (a little flour, tiny pinch of nutmeg) together with dry white wine, flavoured with kirsch, served as a hot dip for pieces of bread or as a dish of hot liquid in which small pieces of food are cooked or dipped and also as a baked souffle-like dish usually containing cheese and cracker crumbs or breadcrumbs.

“Give me a good sharp knife and a good sharp cheese and I’m a happy man.” George R.R. Martin

Often regarded as a peasant’s meal, the recipe required very simple ingredients and just a heavy earthenware or iron meant to distribute the heat evenly. In fact, Swiss recipes traced to the recipe can be found in the early 1600s. Obscure mention of the fondue can see in the Homer’s Iliad (around 800 BC) where it was referenced as a “mixture of goat’s cheese, wine, and flour.” Records mention of Swiss peasant families (1700s) eating aged bread and cheeses together as a wintertime food. The discovery of then, that if cheese was melted with a dash of added wine, garlic and herbs; the stale bread dipped into this flavorful mixture was a pretty enticing meal.

“Cheese Fondu: Use one tablespoonful of butter, one cupful of fresh milk, one cupful of fine bread-crumbs, two cupfuls of grated cheese, a teaspoonful of dry mustard, two eggs, and a little cayenne. Melt the butter in a chafing-dish, add the milk, bread-crumbs, cheese, mustard, and cayenne. Stir constantly, and add two eggs, slightly beaten, just before serving. Serve on hot toast or crackers. Remember to have the plates hot.-A.R.” The American Pure Food Cook Book, David Chidlow et al [Geo. M. Hill Company:Chicago] 1899 (p.268)

From the change of ingredients to types of cheese used, cheese fondues vary based on style, region and local recipes.For instance, the Italian Fonduta alla valdostana is made of Fontina, milk, eggs, and truffles while the Swiss Vaudoise uses Gruyère cheese. Other Swiss recipes include Appenzeller cheese with cream added; Gruyère, Emmental, crushed tomatoes and wine or made spicy with Gruyère, red and green peppers, and chili; or with Gruyère, Fribourg vacherin and mushrooms.

Though known famously to the Swiss cuisine, similar recipes involving melted cheese have been seen in not just the French but the Mexican and Spanish cuisine (caldo de queso,chile con queso). And where table-side cooking has been the norm in Asian cooking, dishes involving melted cheese has been always a part of the indigenous cuisine like the ema datshi, chhena jhili, rasabali or churu.

Ever since the spread of recipes over to different cuisines, the term “fondue” is referred to food dipped into a communal pot of liquid kept hot in a fondue pot. From meat to tomatoes or potatoes as well as choclate, fondue is essentially more of a way of cooking.

More than the taste of the meal, it is the friendly and family feel that is shared by the meal. One of the best memories had during the childhood was when we used to gather around the crock-pot of melted cheese and tip off the bread from the other’s fork. The inner who tips the maximum gets a whole stash of candies from the losing side. With all this and simple ingredients, making a simple dish of cheese fondue can make for a welcome change, especially in the outdoor cooking. Little wonder why then experimentation with fondue recipes can drive the strain of the lock-down away.

Cheese Fondue
Basic Recipe
600 g (21 oz) shredded cheese (1/2 Gruyere, 1/2 Emmentaler), 1 garlic clove, 3 dl (1 1/4 C) dry white wine, 3 tsp cornstarch, 3 small glasses kirsch, ground pepper, nutmeg. Rub a heavy saucepan or heat proof clay fondue pot (Caquelon) with the split garlic clove. Dissolve the cornstarch in the kirsch. Put the cheese and wine into the pan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the cheese is completely melted, add the kirsch and cornstarch mixture, stirring vigourously. Continue to cook. Season with pepper and nutmeg. Serve over an alcohol lamp. The cooking should continue on low heat. Stir constantly with small pieces of bread speared on a fondue fork. There are several varieties of fondue:
In the Canton of Vaud, fondue is prepared with Gruyere cheese only, but at varying stages of ripeness. Sometimes it is mixed with cheese from the Jura. In the Jura, the fondue is made up of 1/2 Jura cheese and enhanced with 1-2 challots per person. The challots are eaten last.
In Geneva three kinds of cheese are used: Gruyere, Emmentaler and Vaudois cheese. Then, sauteed chopped morsels (fresh or dried and pre-soaked) or diced tomatoes are added.
Fondue is usually eaten with bite-sized pieces of crusty bread speared on a fondue fork. One can also, however, use small potatoes or potato slices. Fondue aficionados dunk their bread in kirsch before dipping it into the cheese. And don’t forget: whoever loses his bread in the pan must pay for a round of beer or a bottle of wine. If it happens to a lady she must kiss the man sitting next to her. On the whole, however, the former is more popular.”
Cooking in Switzerland, Marianne Kaltenbach [Wolfgang Holker:Zurich] 1984 (p. 84)