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My Dutch colleague Bianca and I share a predilection for fondue and there has been a long-running debate over which of us executes the superior version. Chivalry and modesty prevent me expounding my thoughts on Bianca's interpretation of this celebrated dish of the mountains but let's just say that the Low Countries aren't noted for their fine cuisine. Of course if you are after 'pot', pancakes, herring or Old Masters that's a different matter altogether but perhaps cobblers should stick to their lasts and not get any delusions of grandeur.

 

Fruit fondue

Don't do this at home!

 

One thing that Bianca and I do agree on is that 'proper' fondue is the molten cheese version and nothing to do with raw meat and hot oil or (even worse) fruit and chocolate. To enjoy a decent fondue you need a hearty appetite, cold weather (the latter should help induce the former) and the requisite kit. I was given a very smart mushroom coloured 'Le Creuset™' fondue set by tearful colleagues when I left gainful employment at Gabriel Boudier's liqueur emporium in Dijon back in the early nineties. It served me well over the next decade or so but bits and pieces parted company over the years and so I recently invested in this smart new version.

 

fondue set

 

Without giving away too many trade secrets the trick of making decent fondue lies in sourcing good cheese. The classic 'Fondue Savoyarde' calls for Comté, Gruyère and Emmental in approximately equal proportions and they then need to be coarsely grated. You start off by vigorously rubbing a scored clove of garlic round the inside of your fondue pan. You then add white wine, heat the pan, gradually add the cheese, season with black pepper and nutmeg and thin the mixture with a little kirsch or vodka. Most recipes include corn starch but I can't see why you would need a thickening agent so never bother with that. The other really important ingredient is good 'Breugal' bread. You need a chewy, textured country loaf that can support a decent weight of molten cheese and won't disintegrate.

 

Asterix in Switzerland

 

Aesthetes may want to serve a lightly-dressed green salad on the side but the real appeal of fondue is that it is one pot peasant fare for feeding up hungry outdoor folk. Wine matching is very straightforward as you can't go wrong with Savoie. A white Jacquère or red Mondeuse would be ideal as their clean, fruity flavours make a great foil for the rich cheese hit. Required background reading is 'Asterix in Switzerland' which goes into great detail about the traditional fines and forfeits for losing your bread which should, of course, be adhered to. Lastly, do not volunteer to do the washing up. Cleaning a fondue pan is a punishment that should be imposed upon the least popular or well-behaved diner present.