Fondue savoyarde

Cheese fondue

This classic recipe from Savoie in the Alps of eastern France makes a delightful start to a dinner, or can be a meal in itself, accompanied by cured meats (prosciutto, bresaola, thinly sliced hard sausage), little boiled potatoes, cornichons (little pickles) and a green salad to lighten things up. And of course a crisp white wine.

Fondue is theoretically easy to make. The cheese is slowly melted in white wine, flavored with garlic, nutmeg and perhaps a little kirsch. The pot is brought to the table and set over a source of heat to keep the fondue bubbly. Diners spear bread cubes and take turns dipping them in the cheese, making this a convivial dining experience.

But beware — fondue can be tempermental. Notably, if the heat is not just right, the cheese can separate, leaving you with a gooey mass at the bottom of the pot and a thin cream at the top. This can be rectified with a little cornstarch, however, as explained below.

For best results, use a mixture of cheeses from Savoie or nearby regions, including Switzerland: Beaufort, Abondance, Comté, Gruyère, Emmental, Reblochon, Raclette, Appenzell, etc. You can substitute other hard cheeses, but you will not get the same effect.

For the heat source, the best solution is to use a fondue pot, which comes equipped with a stand and burner as well as long fondue forks. Another solution is to set your pot of melted cheese on an electric grill like a raclette machine (at right). Otherwise you can set votive candles beneath a jerry-rigged stand, for example in an empty cake tin topped by a cake rack. Or you can simply return the cheese pot to the kitchen every now and then for reheating.

The quantities below will serve four people.

1/2 pound (250 g) Comté or a similar cheese (see above)
1/2 pound (250 g) Beaufort or a similar cheese (see above)
1/2 pound (250 g) Abondance or a similar cheese (see above)
1 clove garlic
1 loaf crusty white bread (baguette)
1 cup (20 cl) dry white wine
freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. kirsch (optional)
2 tsp. cornstarch (maïzena), as needed

Remove the rind from the cheeses and slice the cheese into small pieces.

Peel and halve the garlic.

Cut the bread into cubes. Set aside.

Heat the wine in a heavy-bottomed pot, preferably nonstick. When it simmers, add the cheese and garlic pieces.

Simmer over low to moderate heat, stirring constantly, until all the cheese has melted. This takes time, about 10-15 minutes. Do not be tempted to raise the temperature, or the cheese may separate.

When all the cheese has melted, turn the heat down to low. Remove the garlic pieces. Grate in some nutmeg and add the kirsch if using.

Take your bubbling fondue pot to the table and set it over a source of heat, with the bread cubes alongside, as well as any extras. Serves 4.

If the cheese separates, heat 1/4 cup white wine (5 cl) and 2 tsp. cornstarch in a separate pot. When it simmers, add the fondue little by little, sitrring constantly, and it will come together again.

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