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Food and Drink

Do you fondue?

The 1970s favorite doesn't have to be totally cheesy

Wendy M. Levy has been working with cheese for more than 18 years, and nobody has been able to convince her to stop.

BRATTLEBORO—I don’t know about you, but it seems to me it got much colder much sooner this year than it has in previous years. And nothing makes a person want to eat full-fat, flavorful foods like a long stretch of cold weather and gray skies.

Cheese, of course, is one of the best categories of full-fat, flavorful foods, but when you’re chilly, who wants to wait until the cheese gets to room temperature from the refrigerator? Not me!

That’s where fondue comes in.

Yes, fondue! Melted cheese! Or, if you’re Italian, “fondutta.” Or as the Spanish say, “fundido.” However you say it, fondue provides one of the nicest ways to entertain, so call up a few friends, tell someone to dig out that bottle of kirsch hiding in the pantry, and let’s melt some cheese!

* * *

It’s best to have an actual fondue pot, but you can always use a regular saucepan and have everyone stand around the stove, or get one of those Sterno things, or a hot plate. But really, you can almost always find a fondue pot in the thrift store, so go look. Sure, it might be missing a fork or two, but you can substitute a set of chopsticks or some bamboo or metal skewers. Be creative!

Speaking of creativity, even though you should always follow a recipe three times before you start messing with it — or at least that’s what my chef friends have always told me — I’m going to let you in on a little fondue secret: you can substitute different cheeses if you can’t find the ones in this recipe. Or you can substitute different cheeses simply because you want to!

It’s best to keep texture in mind: you want a semi-soft or semi-firm cheese. A soft cheese will disappear in the mix, and a hard cheese won’t melt right. If you’re not sure of a cheese’s texture, give it a little squeeze. If it’s soft and oozing like pudding, it’s too soft. If it’s hard like Parmigiano, it’s too hard. If it gives a little? Goldilocks, it’s just right.

Basic fondue

Cut in half horizontally:

¶1 garlic clove

Rub interior of a heavy, 4-quart saucepan with the cut sides of the garlic, then discard.

Pour into saucepan:

¶1.5 cups of dry white wine

Bring just to a simmer over medium heat.

Pour into a cup:

¶2 teaspoons kirsch or lemon juice

Stir in, then set aside:

¶1 tablespoon cornstarch

Grate coarsely:

¶1 pound total (approximately 4 cups) of Alpine-style cheeses, such as Emmentaler, Gruyère, Appenzeller, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Comté. Vermont cheeses you can use are Springbrook Farm’s Reading, Cobb Hill’s Ascutney Mountain, or Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman.

Add cheese to saucepan in {1/4}-pound increments, melting as you go along. Stir constantly in a zigzag pattern (not a circular pattern) to prevent cheese from clumping, until the cheese is just melted. Do not allow the cheese to come to a boil.

Stir the corn starch mixture again, then stir it into the cheese mixture.

Bring the fondue to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 6 minutes.

Season, if you wish, with:

¶{1/4} teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

Transfer the contents of saucepan to a fondue pot set over a flame. Serve with whatever you’re using as fondue-delivery foods: good quality bread cut into 1-inch cubes, cherry tomatoes, broccoli or cauliflower florets, strawberries, grapes, or any other big, chunky things that taste good with cheese.

* * *

Swiss tradition warns us never to serve fondue with chilled water, ostensibly because doing so causes the cheese to solidify in your stomach. While we have no scientific evidence to back that up, and it does sound odd from a physiological standpoint, it’s best to serve fondue with room-temperature white wine or juice, or hot tea. Since you’re eating a lot of cheese, some warm apple cider will keep everyone’s tummies happy.

Should you find yourself in the enviable position of having leftover fondue, don’t make the terrible mistake of throwing it away. That’s a lot of good cheese! Transfer the leftover fondue to a container, seal tightly, and refrigerate. Use it as a cheese spread for sandwiches, or scoop some onto the morning’s scrambled eggs.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #234 (Wednesday, December 25, 2013). This story appeared on page C1.

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