Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cheese Fondue - our Christmas Eve family tradition

(photo from cabotcheese.com)
Everybody knows cheese fondue. But recipes do vary, based on parts of the world from which they come (using local cheeses) and because people are wont to make changes. Not me. Uh-uh. I've stuck with this recipe almost from day one, when I had this version. And that's at least 40 years ago. A friend, Sandy Jenkins, served this to me, lo these many years ago. I liked the combination of the Gouda and Swiss. Often fondue is strictly Swiss, and I think Swiss has a sharp edge on it, that almost gives it a sour taste. Not liking that, but wanting to stay somewhat true to the origin of fondue (Switzerland and Swiss cheese), I like the mellowing characteristics of the Gouda with it. And I generally buy Emmental cheese for the Swiss. It's more expensive, but it's probably the original fondue cheese. Whatever you do, don't buy domestic grocery store, generic Swiss. It's just awful in this.

Back in the 1960's and 70's it was a popular thing to serve fondue for dinner. I was given a pot a long time ago (a ceramic one, can only be used for cheese or chocolate, not for oil for beef fondue) that came from Switzerland. It's weathered the years, thank goodness, and has nary a chip on it. It uses Sterno for heat. I bring the cheese mixture to a simmer on the kitchen stove (to totally melt the cheese) and then pour it into the fondue pot and deliver it to the entertaining location, usually on a coffee table in front of the fireplace.

This became a family tradition back in the 1980's in our family because on Christmas Eve, generally, my DH and I sang in one of the three church services that are held at our Presbyterian church we belong to. So preparing a traditional dinner that night was difficult. Yet we had 5 hungry mouths that needed some sustenance. And it was Christmas Eve, a festive night, and I wanted it to be special. So, I was able to get a lot of the prep work done ahead of time. I usually double the recipe. If you have hungry eaters, they may eat more than their fair share. I've also made a 1 & 1 /2 scaling of the recipe, which was about right for our family.

I chop or grate the cheese, sprinkle in the little bit of flour, nutmeg and paprika and put that in a plastic bag and leave it at room temperature. Next is to cut up the French bread. Having made this a lot of times, I've become very particular about the French Bread I use. It can't be the cheap grocery store variety (the bread doesn't hold us in the thick cheese, plus it has zero taste), but it can't be really hard-crust artisanal bread either (because it's just way too hard, and you poke your finger trying to get the fondue fork through the crust). So, you need to scout out your bread source and find something that's in between. Discard any bread that doesn't have a bit of crust on it since those generally get lost in the cheese anyway and bag those up too. The seasonings would be all ready by the stove, including the bottle of white wine, measuring cup at hand. I'd set up the fondue burner, napkins, plates, etc. in front of the fireplace, so it was only a matter of melting the cheese and we'd be ready to eat. We'd try to sing at the early service, at 7:00, would be back home by a few minutes after 8:00 and dinner would be on the coffee table within about 20 minutes.

Our daughter, Sara, has made this a Christmas Eve tradition for her family too, and she's added a nice touch - she puts out some blanched vegies to dip also (broccoli and carrots mostly), in addition to the bread. For Christmas this year, we're going to our daughter Dana's home in Placerville (the old gold country of Northern California). She wants to do fondue too, so I'm going to take my pot along, and she's going to do chocolate fondue in her pot. The kids will like that, to be sure. I'll try to take a photo of the fondue so I can update this posting with MY photo, rather than Cabot Cheese Co.'s.

Cheese Fondue
Recipe: Sandy Jenkins, a friend I knew in the 60's
Servings: 4
1/2 pound Swiss cheese -- prefer imported
1/2 pound Gouda cheese
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup dry white wine
1 clove garlic
5 tablespoons sherry
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg -- prefer fresh grated
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 large French bread loaf -- (see notes below)
1. If time and your patience permits, grate the cheese. Otherwise, cut both cheeses into small cubes (as small as you have time to make them), which makes for easier melting. Place grated/cubed cheese in a large plastic bag and add flour, nutmeg and paprika and mush around a little. This much can be done ahead and refrigerated or left out at room temperature if it's to be made within a few hours.
2. Select a very heavy saucepan and rub the cut garlic clove around the bottom of the pan. Add white wine and garlic clove to the pot and bring to a boil. Remove garlic. Add cheese mixture and stir until cheese is melted and smooth. Add sherry and stir. Pour into cheese fondue pot and serve with chunks of bread.
3. Note about bread: I'm very particular about what kind of bread to buy for the fondue. Hard baguettes are too hard, and some of the grocery store french breads are simply too soft (like Weber's bread). So, select a loaf which has a medium crust and is long and narrow. If you buy a big fat loaf, the cubes of bread from the middle of the loaf have a tough time in the thick cheese. The crust makes it easier to hold it onto the fondue fork.
Per Serving: 801 Calories; 35g Fat (42.3% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 66g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 117mg Cholesterol; 1307mg Sodium. Exchanges: 4 Grain(Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 4 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

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