Warm weather the past few weeks may have fooled you into thinking we were heading into Spring. But get real, it's February! A few nice days don't mean the end of Winter. As long as we have to suffer through rain and cold, at least we can turn to the kitchen to take the chill off. Or in this case, the flame at the table. Cheese fondue is a perfect warm-you-up dish. It's also a very social way to dine whether you are having friends over or entertaining that one special person.
Cheese fondue is one of those dishes like hollandaise sauce, ravioli, souffle--once you make it correctly you feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction. So don't let fondue scare you. It's actually fun to make once you get a hang of it. And just like mayonnaise or hollandaise there are things you can do to save it if it starts to go terribly wrong.
When you think about it, it really is a feat of chemistry in the first place. A pot of wine, with melted cheese that turns into the ultimate cheese sauce or dip. The reason it works, is all based on the wine (or cider). The tartaric acid unbinds the proteins in the cheese allowing it to combine with the liquid, which is mostly water. The water in wine keeps the casein proteins in the cheese moist.
The great fear of course, is that the cheese will seize up and turn gloppy, There are a couple of things you can do to prevent this--one is to use a bit of starch, either three tablespoons of flour or about a tablespoon of cornstarch as "insurance" and the other is to have some lemon juice on hand. In case your cheese does start to seize up, add a couple drops of lemon juice and the acidity will unbind the protein. Aficionados also suggest when adding the cheese to the wine that you stir it in bit by bit, using a figure-eight or zig-zag motion rather than circular pattern to prevent the cheese from balling up.
Don't feel constricted to the traditional Gruyere and Emmental version. Even in Switzerland there are lots of variations using many different cheeses. Most cities and cantons in Switzerland have their own version of fondue, there are also French, Italian and Dutch versions...Here are some to consider.
Gruyere is mixed with Vacherin Fribourgeois, or Freiburger Vacherin (which you may or may not be able to find since these are raw milk cheeses)
Walliser Bergkase is added to the more common Gruyere and Emmental. May include chopped morels
Gruyere and Schabzieger are added to a roux of butter, flour and milk
Appenzeller and Vacherin cheeses are combined with dry cider
Chopped garlic is added to the Gruyere
Uses Neuchatel wine
Uses Comte cheese
Val d'Aosta (Italy)
Fontina with egg yolks, milk, butter, flour and shaved white truffle
Gouda, milk and brandy
Here are a few more cheeses you can try in fondue, Beaufort, Tete de Moine, or Hoch Ybrig. Experiment and come up with your own personal blend based on the cheeses you like, mine is one part Gruyere, one part Emmental and 1/2 part Appenzeller.
My last tip is even when making cheese fondue for two, make enough for four. The leftovers are wonderful over toast or to add to a vegetable soup. Too little fondue in the pot will make it harder to dip and dipping is the name of the game. If you don't have a recipe, here's a link to a tried and true version.