The Fondue

More recipes from Bob Brown’s “The Complete Book of Cheese”… this time Fondue.

There is a conspiracy among the dictionary makers to take the heart out of the Fondue. Webster makes it seem no better than a collapsed soufflé, with his definition:

Fondue. Also, erroneously, fondu. A dish made of melted cheese, butter, eggs, and, often, milk and bread crumbs.

Thorndike-Barnhart further demotes this dish, that for centuries has been one of the world’s greatest, to “a combination of melted cheese, eggs and butter” and explains that the name comes from the French fondre, meaning melt. The latest snub is delivered by the up-to-date Cook’s Quiz compiled by TV culinary experts:

A baked dish with eggs, cheese, butter, milk and bread crumbs.

A baked dish, indeed! Yet the Fondue has added to the gaiety and inebriety of nations, if not of dictionaries. It has commanded the respect of the culinary great. Savarin, Boulestin, André Simon, all have hailed its heavenly consistency, all have been regaled with its creamy, nay velvety, smoothness.

A touch of garlic, a dash of kirsch, fresh ground black pepper, nutmeg, black pearl truffles of Bugey, red cayenne pepper, the luscious gravy of roast turkey—such little matters help to make an authentic dunking Fondue, not a baked Fondue, mind you. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin a century and a half ago brought the original “receipt” with him and spread it around with characteristic generosity during the two years of his exile in New York after the French Revolution. In his monumental Physiologie du Goût he records an incident that occurred in 1795:

Whilst passing through Boston … I taught the restaurant-keeper Julien to make a Fondue, or eggs cooked with cheese. This dish, a novelty to the Americans, became so much the rage, that he (Julien) felt himself obliged, by way of thanks, to send me to New York the rump of one of those pretty little roebucks that are brought from Canada in winter, and which was declared exquisite by the chosen committee whom I convoked for the occasion.

As the great French gourmet, Savarin was born on the Swiss border (at Belley, in the fertile Province of Bugey, where Gertrude Stein later had a summer home), he no doubt ate Gruyère three times a day, as is the custom in Switzerland and adjacent parts. He sets down the recipe just as he got it from its Swiss source, the papers of Monsieur Trolliet, in the neighboring Canton of Berne:

Take as many eggs as you wish to use, according to the number of your guests. Then take a lump of good Gruyère cheese, weighing about a third of the eggs, and a nut of butter about half the weight of the cheese. (Since today’s eggs in America weigh about 1½ ounces apiece, if you start the Fondue with 8. your lump of good Gruyère would come to ¼ pound and your butter to ⅛ pound.)

Break and beat the eggs well in a flat pan, then add the butter and the cheese, grated or cut in small pieces.

Place the pan on a good fire and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is fairly thick and soft; put in a little or no salt, according to the age of the cheese, and a good deal of pepper, for this is one of the special attributes of this ancient dish.

Let it be placed on the table in a hot dish, and if some of the best wines be produced, and the bottle passed quite freely, a marvelous effect will be beheld.

This has long been quoted as the proper way to make the national dish of Switzerland. Savarin tells of hearing oldsters in his district laugh over the Bishop of Belley eating his Fondue with a spoon instead of the traditional fork, in the first decade of the 1700’s. He tells, too, of a Fondue party he threw for a couple of his septuagenarian cousins in Paris “about the year 1801.”

The party was the result of much friendly taunting of the master: “By Jove, Jean, you have been bragging for such a long time about your Fondues, you have continually made our mouths water. It is high time to put a stop to all this. We will come and breakfast with you some day and see what sort of thing this dish is.”

Savarin invited them for ten o’clock next day, started them off with the table laid on a “snow white cloth, and in each one’s place two dozen oysters with a bright golden lemon. At each end of the table stood a bottle of sauterne, carefully wiped, excepting the cork, which showed distinctly that it had been in the cellar for a long while…. After the oysters, which were quite fresh, came some broiled kidneys, a terrine of foie gras, a pie with truffles, and finally the Fondue. The different ingredients had all been assembled in a stewpan, which was placed on the table over a chafing dish, heated with spirits of wine.

“Then,” Savarin is quoted, “I commenced operations on the field of battle, and my cousins did not lose a single one of my movements. They were loud in the praise of this preparation, and asked me to let them have the receipt, which I promised them….”

This Fondue breakfast party that gave the nineteenth century such a good start was polished off with “fruits in season and sweets, a cup of genuine mocha, … and finally two sorts of liqueurs, one a spirit for cleansing, and the other an oil for softening.”

This primitive Swiss Cheese Fondue is now prepared more elaborately in what is called:

Neufchâtel Style

2½ cups grated imported Swiss
1½ tablespoons flour
1 clove of garlic
1 cup dry white wine
Crusty French “flute” or hard rolls cut into big mouthfuls, handy
for dunking
1 jigger kirsch
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg

The cheese should be shredded or grated coarsely and mixed well with the flour. Use a chafing dish for cooking and a small heated casserole for serving. Hub the bottom and sides of the blazer well with garlic, pour in the wine and heat to bubbling, just under boiling. Add cheese slowly, half a cup at a time, and stir steadily in one direction only, as in making Welsh Rabbit. Use a silver fork. Season with very little salt, always depending on how salty the cheese is, but use plenty of black pepper, freshly ground, and a touch of nutmeg. Then pour in the kirsch, stir steadily and invite guests to dunk their forked bread in the dish or in a smaller preheated casserole over a low electric or alcohol burner on the dining table. The trick is to keep the bubbling melted cheese in rhythmic motion with the fork, both up and down and around and around.

The dunkers stab the hunks of crusty French bread through the soft part to secure a firm hold in the crust, for if your bread comes off in dunking you pay a forfeit, often a bottle of wine.

The dunking is done as rhythmically as the stirring, guests taking regular turns at twirling the fork to keep the cheese swirling. When this “chafing dish cheese custard,” as it has been called in England, is ready for eating, each in turn thrusts in his fork, sops up a mouthful with the bread for a sponge and gives the Fondue a final stir, to keep it always moving in the same direction. All the while the heat beneath the dish keeps it gently bubbling.

Such a Neufchâtel party was a favorite of King Edward VII, especially when he was stepping out as the Prince of Wales. He was as fond of Fondue as most of the great gourmets of his day and preferred it to Welsh Rabbit, perhaps because of the wine and kirsch that went into it.

At such a party a little heated wine is added if the Fondue gets too thick. When finally it has cooked down to a crust in the bottom of the dish, this is forked out by the host and divided among the guests as a very special dividend.

Any dry white wine will serve in a pinch, and the Switzerland Cheese Association, in broadcasting this classical recipe, points out that any dry rum, slivovitz, or brandy, including applejack, will be a valid substitute for the kirsch. To us, applejack seems specially suited, when we stop to consider our native taste that has married apple pie to cheese since pioneer times.

In culinary usage fondue means “melting to an edible consistency” and this, of course, doesn’t refer to cheese alone, although we use it chiefly for that.

In France Fondue is also the common name for a simple dish of eggs scrambled with grated cheese and butter and served very hot on toasted bread, or filled into fancy paper cases, quickly browned on top and served at once. The reason for this is that all baked Fondues fall as easily and as far as Soufflés, although the latter are more noted for this failing. There is a similarity in the soft fluffiness of both, although the Fondues are always more moist. For there is a stiff, stuffed-shirt buildup around any Soufflé, suggesting a dressy dinner, while Fondue started as a self-service dunking bowl.

Our modern tendency is to try to make over the original French Fondue on the Welsh Rabbit model—to turn it into a sort of French Rabbit. Although we know that both Gruyère and Emmentaler are what we call Swiss and that it is impossible in America to duplicate the rich Alpine flavor given by the mountain herbs, we are inclined to try all sorts of domestic cheeses and mixtures thereof. But it’s best to stick to Savarin’s “lump of Gruyère” just as the neighboring French and Italians do. It is interesting to note that this Swiss Alpine cooking has become so international that it is credited to Italy in the following description we reprint from When Madame Cooks, by an Englishman, Eric Weir:

Fondue à l’Italienne

This is one of those egg dishes that makes one feel really grateful to hens. From its name it originated probably in Italy, but it has crossed the Alps. I have often met it in France, but only once in Italy.

First of all, make a very stiff white sauce with butter, flour and milk. The sauce should be stiff enough to allow the wooden spoon to stand upright or almost.

Off the fire, add yolks of eggs and 4 ounces of grated Gruyère cheese. Mix this in well with the white sauce and season with salt, pepper and some grated nutmeg. Beat whites of egg firm. Add the whites to the preparation, stir in, and pour into a pudding basin.

Take a large saucepan and fill half full of water. Bring to a boil, and then place the pudding basin so that the top of the basin is well out of the water. Allow to boil gently for 1½ to 2 hours. Renew the boiling water from time to time, as it evaporates, and take care that the water, in boiling, does not bubble over the mixture.

Test with a knife, as for a cake, to see if it is cooked. When the knife comes out clean, take the basin out of the water and turn the Fondue out on a dish. It should be fairly firm and keep the shape of the basin.

Sprinkle with some finely chopped ham and serve hot.

The imported Swiss sometimes is cubed instead of grated, then marinated for four or five hours in dry white wine, before being melted and liquored with the schnapps. This can be pleasantly adopted here in:

All-American Fondue

1 pound imported Swiss cheese, cubed
¾ cup scuppernong or other American white wine
1½ jiggers applejack

After marinating the Swiss cubes in the wine, simply melt together over hot water, stir until soft and creamy, add the applejack and dunk with fingers of toast or your own to a chorus of “All Bound Round with a Woolen String.”

Of course, this can be treated as a mere vinous Welsh Rabbit and poured over toast, to be accompanied by beer. But wine is the thing, for the French Fondue is to dry wine what the Rabbit is to stale ale or fresh beer.

We say French instead of Swiss because the French took over the dish so eagerly, together with the great Gruyère that makes it distinctive. They internationalized it, sent it around the world with bouillabaisse and onion soup, that celestial soupe à l’oignon on which snowy showers of grated Gruyère descend.

To put the Welsh Rabbit in its place they called it Fondue à l’Anglaise, which also points up the twinlike relationship of the world’s two favorite dishes of melted cheese. But to differentiate and show they are not identical twins, the No. 1 dish remained Fromage Fondue while the second was baptized Fromage Fondue à la Bière.

Beginning with Savarin the French whisked up more rapturous, rhapsodic writing about Gruyère and its offspring, the Fondue, together with the puffed Soufflé, than about any other imported cheese except Parmesan.

Parmesan and Gruyère were praised as the two greatest culinary cheeses. A variant Fondue was made of the Italian cheese.

Parmesan Fondue

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt
Pepper

Over boiling water melt butter and cheese slowly, stir in the eggs, season to taste and stir steadily in one direction only, until smooth.

Pour over fingers of buttered toast. Or spoon it up, as the ancients did, before there were any forks. It’s beaten with a fork but eaten catch-as-catch-can, like chicken-in-the-rough.

Sapsago Swiss Fondue

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups milk
2½ cups shredded Swiss cheese
2½ tablespoons grated Sapsago
½ cup dry white wine
Pepper, black and red, freshly ground
Fingers of toast

Over boiling water stir the first four ingredients into a smooth, fairly thick cream sauce. Then stir in Swiss cheese until well melted. After that add the Sapsago, finely grated, and wine in small splashes. Stir steadily, in one direction only, until velvety. Season sharply with the contrasting peppers and serve over fingers of toast.

This is also nice when served bubbling in individual, preheated pastry shells, casseroles or ramekins, although this way most of the fun of the dunking party is left out. To make up for it, however, cooked slices of mushrooms are sometimes added.

At the Cheese Cellar in the New York World’s Fair Swiss Pavilion, where a continual dunking party was in progress, thousands of amateurs learned such basic things as not to overcook the Fondue lest it become stringy, and the protocol of dunking in turn and keeping the mass in continual motion until the next on the Fondue line dips in his cube of bread. The success of the dish depends on making it quickly, keeping it gently a-bubble and never letting it stand still for a split second.

The Swiss, who consume three or four times as much cheese per capita as we, and almost twice as much as the French, are willing to share Fondue honors with the French Alpine province of Savoy, a natural cheese cellar with almost two dozen distinctive types of its very own, such as Fat cheese, also called Death’s Head; La Grande Bornand, a luscious half-dried sheep’s milker; Chevrotins, small, dry goat milk cheeses; and Le Vacherin. The latter, made in both Savoy and Switzerland, boasts two interesting variants:

1. Vacherin Fondue or Spiced Fondue: Made about the same as Emmentaler, ripened to sharp age, and then melted, spices added and the cheese re-formed. It is also called Spiced Fondue and sells for about two dollars a pound. Named Fondue from being melted, though it’s really recooked,

2. Vacherin à la Main: This is a curiosity in cheeses, resembling a cold, uncooked Fondue. Made of cow’s milk, it is round, a foot in diameter and half a foot high. It is salted and aged until the rind is hard and the inside more runny than the ripest Camembert, so it can be eaten with a spoon (like the cooked Fondue) as well as spread on bread. The local name for it is Tome de Montagne.

Here is a good assortment of Fondues:

Vacherin-Fribourg Fondue

2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 cups shredded Vacherin cheese
2 tablespoons hot water

This authentic quickie is started by cooking the garlic in butter until the butter is melted. Then remove garlic and reduce heat. Add the soft cheese and stir with silver fork until smooth and velvety. Add the water in little splashes, stirring constantly in one direction. Dunk! (In this melted Swiss a little water takes the place of a lot of wine.)

La Fondue Comtois

This regional specialty of Franche-Comté is made with white wine. Sauterne, Chablis, Riesling or any Rhenish type will serve splendidly. Also use butter, grated Gruyère, beaten eggs and that touch of garlic.

Chives Fondue

3 cups grated Swiss cheese
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 cup dry white wine
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
A pinch of nutmeg
¼ cup kirsch

Mix cheese and flour. Melt butter in chafing-dish blazer rubbed with garlic. Cook chives in butter 1 minute. Add wine and heat just under boiling. Keep simmering as you add cheese-and-flour mix gradually, stirring always in one direction. Salt according to age and sharpness of cheese; add plenty of freshly ground pepper and the pinch of nutmeg.

When everything is stirred smooth and bubbling, toss in the kirsch without missing a stroke of the fork and get to dunking.

Large, crisp, hot potato chips make a pleasant change for dunking purposes. Or try assorted crackers alternating with the absorbent bread, or hard rolls.

Tomato Fondue

2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon dried sweet basil
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
Paprika

Mix basil with chopped tomatoes. Rub chafing dish with garlic, melt butter, add tomatoes and much paprika. Cook 5 to 6 minutes, add wine, stir steadily to boiling point. Then add cheese, half a cup at a time, and keep stirring until everything is smooth.

Serve on hot toast, like Welsh Rabbit.

Here the two most popular melted-cheese dishes tangle, but they’re held together with the common ingredient, tomato.

Fondue also appears as a sauce to pour over baked tomatoes. Stale bread crumbs are soaked in tomato juice to make:

Tomato Baked Fondue

1 cup tomato juice
1 cup stale bread crumbs
1 cup grated sharp American cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter
Salt
4 eggs, separated and well beaten

Soak crumbs in tomato juice, stir cheese in butter until melted, season with a little or no salt, depending on saltiness of the cheese. Mix in the beaten yolks, fold in the white and bake about 50 minutes in moderate oven.
BAKED FONDUES

Although Savarin’s dunking Fondue was first to make a sensation on these shores and is still in highest esteem among epicures, the Fondue America took to its bosom was baked. The original recipe came from the super-caseous province of Savoy under the explicit title, La Fondue au Fromage.

La Fondue au Fromage

Make the usual creamy mixture of butter, flour, milk, yolks of eggs and Gruyère, in thin slices for a change. Use red pepper instead of black, splash in a jigger of kirsch but no white wine. Finally fold in the egg whites and bake in a mold for 45 minutes.

We adapted this to our national taste which had already based the whole business of melted cheese on the Welsh Rabbit with stale ale or milk instead of white wine and Worcestershire, mustard and hot peppers. Today we have come up with this:

picture: pointer 100% American Fondue

2 cups scalded milk
2 cups stale bread crumbs
½ teaspoon dry English mustard
Salt
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of pepper
2 cups American cheese (Cheddar)
2 egg yolks, well beaten
2 egg whites, beaten stiff

Soak crumbs in milk, season and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the beaten egg yolks and stir until you have a smooth mixture. Let this cool while beating the whites stiff, leaving them slightly moist. Fold the whites into the cool, custardy mix and bake in a buttered dish until firm. (About 50 minutes in a moderate oven.)

This is more of a baked cheese job than a true Fondue, to our way of thinking, and the scalded milk doesn’t exactly take the place of the wine or kirsch. It is characteristic of our bland cookery.
OTHER FONDUES
PLAIN AND FANCY,
BAKED AND NOT

Quickie Catsup Tummy Fondiddy

¾ pound sharp cheese, diced
1 can condensed tomato soup
½ cup catsup
½ teaspoon mustard
1 egg, lightly beaten

In double boiler melt cheese in soup. Blend thoroughly by constant stirring. Remove from heat, lightly whip or fold in the catsup and mustard mixed with egg. Serve on Melba toast or rusks.

This might be suggested as a novel midnight snack, with a cup of cocoa, for a change.

Cheese and Rice Fondue

1 cup cooked rice
2 cups milk
4 eggs, separated and well beaten
½ cup grated cheese
½ teaspoon salt
Cayenne, Worcestershire sauce or tabasco sauce, or all three

Heat rice (instead of bread crumbs) in milk, stir in cheese until melted, add egg yolks beaten lemon-yellow, season, fold in stiff egg whites. Serve hot on toast.

Corn and Cheese Fondue

1 cup bread crumbs
1 large can creamed corn
1 small onion, chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
2 cups cottage cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 eggs, well beaten

Mix all ingredients together and bake in buttered casserole set in pan of hot water. Bake about 1 hour in moderate oven, or until set.

Cheese Fondue

1 cup grated Cheddar
½ cup crumbled Roquefort
1 cup pimento cheese
3 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire

Stir everything together over hot water until smooth and creamy. Then whisk until fluffy, moistening with more cream or mayonnaise if too stiff.

Serve on Melba toast, or assorted thin toasted crackers.

Brick Fondue

½ cup butter
2 cups grated Brick cheese
½ cup warm milk
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Melt butter and cheese together, use wire whisk to whip in the warm milk. Season. Take from fire and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Please note that Fondue protocol calls for each egg to be beaten separately in cases like this.

Serve over hot toast or crackers.

Cheddar Dunk Bowl

¾ pound sharp Cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons cream
⅔ teaspoon dry mustard
1½ teaspoons Worcestershire

Grate the cheese powdery fine and mash it together with the cream until fluffy. Season and serve in a beautiful bowl for dunking in the original style of Savarin, although this is a static imitation of the real thing.

All kinds of crackers and colorful dips can be used, from celery stalks and potato chips to thin paddles cut from Bombay duck.

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