February 23, 2006


So, we've had this little mind game going on for some time now, me and cheese fondue. The score was zero-three and I was losing. I'd been absolutely mystified why it was so tough for me. Until now. Take a look! I didn't even have a proper fondue pot.
With a small effort on my part, I figured out some of the reasons behind my past failures. I found a website that gave really detailed instructions, reinforcing my insistance that fondue is actually much more complicated than most recipes let on. Did you know there's a reason that you use wine and from Savoy when making fondue savoyarde? It's because Savoy wine is sufficiently acidic and the acid is what melts the cheese. I should say melts the cheese properly, without being stringy. Most recipes call for lemon juice to help the wine along. If you ask me, wine from Savoy isn't all that great. So, if you are using a wine that isn't very acidic, you are going to need more lemon juice. I used a dry reisling from Alsace, opened the previous day (to ensure proper acidity, of course) and thankfully it worked because I didn't have lemon juice. I also learned that the proper ratio of wine to cheese is about 6-7 tbsp. wine for every 6 oz. of cheese, which may help if you are working with odd amounts. You will need to dice the cheese, not grate it, since it melts better. Also, the type of cheese is up to you, but a really mature cheese like most of the cheese from Savoy will melt and taste better than a grocery store emmenthal.

So, armed with some science, I went for it. I started with less wine than called for to ensure I wouldn't have runny fondue. I stirred the wine and cheese together in that god damn figure 8 motion like a robot for about 15 minutes, adding the cheese in small handfuls and praying it would do something already! Finally, the cheese gradually melted and the fondue thickened. I had to baby it, but it rewarded me in the end.
Here's my successful Fondue Savoyarde recipe.

2 cups dry white wine (step away from the chardonnay!) Dry Reisling or Savignon Blanc would be nice.
1 pound of cheese (equal parts Gruyere, Beaufort (or Comte) and Emmenthal for a traditional fondue, but is equally good with just gruyere and emmenthal)
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. lemon juice
a splash of kirsch (cherry liquor) is traditional, but I think it's gross, so I don't use it.
Bourbon, sherry or whiskey would be nice.
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly grated pepper (use white if you're a purist)
one big beautiful baguette, cut into chunks (each should have a bit of crust!)

Add wine to a saucepan and heat over low heat. Dice the cheese into teeny-tiny cubes that are as small as you can manage without wanting to give up and order pizza. Combine the cheese and flour in a bowl. Just before the wine comes to a simmer (do not boil), add a few handfuls of the cheese and stir with a wooden spoon or heat-safe spatula in figure 8 motions. For some reason it seems important that you not just stir clockwise. Turn the heat up to moderate and keep adding more cheese as you notice the previous addition melting. Add some lemon juice if you think it isn't coming together. It might not thicken for awhile, but just be patient. When your fondue has thickened and all the cheese is added, stir in bourbon or sherry, pepper and nutmeg.

If you think your fondue is too thick, you can add more wine. Just do so a little at a time because if you add a lot of cold liquid, your fondue will seize on you and probably smack you in the face as well. If your fondue is too thin, add more cheese, keep it on medium heat, keep stirring and add a bit of lemon juice. My problem in the past was that when the fondue came together, thickened and had a good texture, I most likely had a bunch of cheese still sitting in that bowl, covered in flour, saying, "use me! I'm expensive!" It would get the best of me and I would just throw the last bit of cheese in (against my better judgment) and hope it would melt. Well, I've learned not to fool around like this. There is something really strict about making fondue, as if you're feeding the wine. When it's done, it's done. Not even Grandma can get it to take another helping. So, don't tempt fate.

That's my cautionary tale. What a shame that no one could witness my glory, but on the upside I got to eat it all myself!*

*Disclaimer! I halved the recipe.


Anonymous said...

Oh Megan, it was so wonderful to see you in Iowa City this past week! How refreshing it is to continue to read your gloooorious (ala James Lipton imitated by Will Ferrell) blog. Can't wait to see your loveliness soon!! And I am in agreeance with Wong... "arms folded"... so simple yet says so much.

emily said...

where's *my* cheese fondue? when do i get to see megan?