Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Cheese Fondue

A meal of melted cheese, served with carbs (bread and potato) and a plateful of cured meats (sausages, salami, bresola) and nice chilled white wine is one of my favourites in winter. Fondue and Raclette are enjoyed not just while skiing in the Alps but also at home on special winter occasions such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. I am particularly fond of Fondue; I love the taste of strong cheeses mixed with white wine and garlic and the involvement of everyone on the table, dipping their forks with bread on one end into the communal cheese pot. My motto with food are: eat fats and carbs in moderation and stop eating before I feel full. Unfortunately, these principles that I live by fly out the window when Fondue is served, which is why I’m grateful that at least I have the will power to limit fondue indulgence to only once or twice a year.

If you haven’t had fondue before and you love cheese, then this should be the winter you try it. If you haven’t found a restaurant that serves it, the good news is, it’s very easy to make. The ingredients list is short and there is no technique involved apart from whisking. All you need would be a fondue set (I bought mine from Staub) or you can purchase a stand to put a pot on and something to light the pot from below like fondue gel fuel (you can get it on amazon). I remember one winter when I was desperate for fondue but didn’t have a fondue set, I ate fondue out of a saucepan set atop the stove. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
My Staub Fondue set made of cast iron

As for the recipe, fondues can taste vastly different from one to another, depending on the ingredients used. You can play with the flavour by using different mixes of cheese, but stick to strong flavoured hard cheeses. Popular choices include Comte, Gruyere, Emmental and Vacherine. Don’t worry about the proportions of each cheese; focus instead on getting good quality cheese. If you can, go to a reputable cheese shop like La Fromgerie in Marylebone or check out the other cheese stores or counters I’ve listed in my post, talk to the staff that work there about the flavours you want (stronger or milder) and get them to recommend to you which cheese they think will work best. Then comes the alcohol which are usually white wine and kirsch, which is a fruit brandy made from the distillation of cherries. Choose good quality dry white wine. Remember that just because you’re using it for cooking, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about the quality; if you can’t drink it out of a glass, you might as well not use it for cooking.

I’ve had a lot of different fondues in my life, from alcoholic fondues (containing more wine than cheese) to tangy fondues (Dutch version ordered in Amsterdam), but I think Heston’s recipe yields one of the best fondues I’ve ever tasted. I know I’ve mentioned Heston Blumenthal many times on this blog, but I have to give credit where it’s due; the guy’s a genius with food. I have altered his recipe only slightly by adding more sherry and leaving the garlic cloves in.

Heston’s Cheese Fondue with Sherry and Cloves (adapted from Heston at Home)
Serves 6-8

450 g Gruyere cheese
450 g Comte Cheese
15 g Cornflour
60 g Manzanilla sherry (original recipe calls for 30g)
6 sprigs of thyme (original recipe calls for 2)
3 cloves of garlic
500 g Dry white wine
20 g lemon juice
5 g English mustard powder
Pinch of ground cloves

Grate the cheeses (I used the grater attachment to my food processor) and mix it with the cornflour.

Bring 30 g of sherry to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the thyme and garlic, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 mins. Strain and allow to cool. [I left mine to cool for an hour in the pan which is perhaps why I was left with so little alcohol, so I topped it up with another 30 g of sherry]

Bring the wine and lemon juice to boil together in a medium saucepan, then add the cheese one handful at a time, whisking continuously until smooth and creamy. Add the sherry, garlic cloves, mustard powder and ground cloves, stirring until the fondue thickens. This will take around 10 minutes. [Your arms will get tired, but keep your eyes on the end prize, smooth silky cheese]

Transfer to a fondue pot and set it on the stand with a flame beneath it to keep it warm.

Traditionally, fondue is served with cubes of bread and cornichons. To make it healthier (and at my mother’s request), I offer my guests the option of raw cauliflower and broccoli to dip into the cheese. Grilled and sliced German sausages make great dippers too, if you want to go all out. I've observed how people who love fondue eat (myself included) and my conclusion is that we become singleminded and eat with a mission: have as much as possible and finish that pot of cheese! What’s great about fondue is that unlike most meals where it’s usually anti-climatic after the first few bites, the best of fondue is the thin layer of toasted cheese left at the bottom of the pot at the very end. Stick a fork in and gently lift it up; crunchy and cheesy, it’s the perfect ending to the perfect winter meal.

Scraping the last of the cheese

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