Ahh... fondue. Like cake, the dish and I have a harried past that has somehow led to expertise. At 10, I was alone in our family kitchen, cleaning up after a true fondue party. Somehow I got it in my head that the remaining melted cheese was unfit for future consumption, and trashed close to $100 in leftovers before Momo discovered my failed attempt to assist.
Then, in college, a family member hooked me up with a writing gig for a new food magazine. The topic? Fondue. I had not yet recovered from my decade-old folly, but at a dollar a word, this poor student was eager to be paid for my skills. I went and 'invested' in a substantial library of cheese for the project, and got my hot, new, OLDER boyfriend (queue Premal Trivedi) to hook me up in the alcohol department. I researched the history of fondue in pop-culture (a scheme dreamed up by the Swiss cheese lobby*), and toiled over a series of pots of molten dairy, perfecting my technique. In the end, I was late on my deadline, the magazine tanked, and I was never paid. This left me regretting a number of decisions, listed as thus:
- Working with relatives
- Spending too much money on cheese
- Reacquainting myself with fondue
Nearly another decade on, it seems I'll never learn. I continue to practice the activities above on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis.
Here's the thing about rustic, old dishes. They're really easy. With fondue, there's a basic equation, and thus far, it's served me well. For every pound of cheese, you'll need a cup of booze, a tablespoon of flour, and a large clove of garlic. Grate the cheese and toss it with the flour. Then, rub down the interior of your pot with a halved garlic clove, and warm your alcohol. Add the cheese a handfull at a time, and stir until melted.
BUT HERE COMES THE MAGIC:
Anyone can follow a recipe, but it takes a sound mind to keep your cool when $h*t hits the fan. This is where I truly shine. If your fondue it grainy, thick, or stringy here are the ugly tools that will enable a beautiful fete: an emersion blender and a slurry of cornstarch and lemon juice. If something's not right, mix up a two-to-one concoction of lemon juice and cornstarch. The acid in the lemon will dissolve the stringy proteins in the cheese and the cornstarch will thicken and smooth for good measure. Still not right? Bring out that magic wand and go to work. It does the trick every time.
Now that I've shared my methods, here are the combinations we used to get you started.
Traditional--Gruyère+White wine+Nutmeg+Black pepper
American--Aged cheddar+IPA+Maple syrup (1T)
U So Fancy--Havarti+Champagne+Honey (1T) +Thyme
For dipping we had roasted veggies, cornichons (my fav), and more glorious bread than you can shake a stick at courtesy of the folks at Il Forno.
*Don't believe me? Well, NPR's Planet Money team recently did a whole (fantastic) episode on the topic.