I’m Fondue of You, Switzerland

13 Jun

This is emmentaler cheese. We have an Americanized version of this called Swiss cheese. But as you can see by the packaging this is the real Swiss cheese. It's so real. So very, very real.

I love cheese.  I think many of us are in this boat.  Thanks to my cruelty-free vegan friends I know that some of us love cheese because we’re addicts.  You see a cow produces milk that’s up to 80% casein.  This casein is both a protein (yay!) and a sedative (what?).  Nature did this so that baby cows would become grown up cows and get jobs, pay taxes and become a productive member of bovine society.  However, when we make cheese, ice cream and milk chocolate we are getting concentrated opiates.  Some of us poor digesters will even become addicted to the stuff.  This might not bother you since cheese is both legal and delicious, but then again, it might.  If that’s the case don’t read on.  I plan to talk about both cheese (potentially addictive) and gluten-happy bread (also potentially addictive, I checked here).  I’d hate to be your pusher man but I’ve got needs and they involve…

Fondue.  Oh, man.  I love fondue.  When we were kids we had a lovely Swiss man named Alex staying with us for a time.  He made us amazing (not that we thought so at the time) stinky cheese sandwiches and he taught my parents what real fondue should taste like.  This lead to more stinky cheese, wine and a tiny bit of cornstarch being added to a pot.  Then it was heated before being transferred to our faithful fondue pot and its stand.  We then stabbed some crusty bread on a fork and jammed it into the fondue.  Or at least this is how I’m assuming it happened.  I was all of six so I’m going on old sensory memories that just scream “yummy!” without giving me much in the way of details.  I looked the rest up and used my imagination.  I’m not a real reporter anyhow.  Go bother CNN.

The Swiss are credited with the creation of fondue.  After WWII military regiments and event organizers were sent fondue kits by the Swiss Cheese Union to promote cheese consumption.  It worked.  The Swiss now consider fondue one of their national dishes and a sign of Swiss unity.  Not bad melted cheese!

The Swiss typically mix two Swiss cheeses: Gruyere (nutty, slightly sweet) and Emmenthaler (like America’s “Swiss” cheese but higher quality).  It depends on which region they live in as each canton has its own cheese favorite.  Then a dry white wine is added.  If you’re in Switzerland the wine is likely chasselase but it’s rare to get this wine outside of Swiss.  Not much is produced so it isn’t exported.  Lastly, a clear cherry brandy called kirsch might be added to increase the tartness of the fondue.  It can also be served alongside the fondue as well as raw garlic, pickled gherkins, onions and olives.

The word “fondue” comes the French fondre which means “to melt”.  Nowadays fondue can be used to describe a hot liquid that food is dipped into.  The Mister enjoys a chocolate fondue, for example.  These other types of fondues were the product of a New York restaurant called Chalet Suisse.  The Swiss chef in residence there created the beef bourguignon fondue, a mixing of fondue and the French beef bourguignon, in 1956.  He followed up this hit with chocolate fondue in 1964 as part of a marketing campaign for another Swiss masterpiece, Toblerone.

There is a little etiquette in enjoying fondue.  Toasts are often made before dipping your, um, toast into the fondue.  There are also rules for what happens if you drop your bread in the cheese.  A man will have to buy the next round and a woman will have to kiss her neighbors.  I think that this means her neighbors at the dining table and not those who live next door.  Either way, it’s a fine commentary on the roles of men and women.  Hey, at least if I’m clumsy I get off cheap!  Or I am cheap.  I can’t decide.

The part I found the most interesting involves the bit of cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot or caquelon, as it is called.  This cheese typically becomes solid throughout the long cooking and becomes like a cracker.  It’s referred to as la religieuse which means “the nun”.  Well, the Swiss never discard the nun.  They eat it.  I’m going to stop right there because I feel myself getting into trouble as I write this and this time it has nothing to do with cow opiates.


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