The secret to homemade cheese fondue? No fondue pot necessary. Now that we’re officially in spring, it seems funny to be talking about fondue, a winter comfort food. But we fly West for spring break, to hit the slopes with fleeces and sun glasses, returning home proudly with raccoon tans. And when I’m skiing, I crave fondue.
It doesn’t matter if I’m in Vermont, Utah or France, or if it’s spring skiing in short sleeves with the sun warming our faces or bundled up December skiing, singing as loud as we can on the lift to forget the biting wind. The slopes make me dream of sweet roasted potatoes, dipped in an ocean of golden cheese.
My skiing/fondue association began on a teenage vacation in Val d’Isere, alone with my mom during spring break senior year in high school. We shared a fondue dinner with a long tableful of strangers and for the first time I felt more adult than angry, isolated teenager. The memory was no doubt made even richer with my first few glasses of Alsatian wine, poured from a communal carafe by a handsome young guy to my left.
At home, I’ve been known to buy those handy dandy packages of ready to microwave fondue cheese at Trader Joes or the local supermarket. You can’t beat their convenience in getting a bowl of fondue to the table. But if you take the time to make homemade fondue, carefully selecting two or three cheeses to marry together with a nice beer and a little garlic, you’ll taste the difference.
Step #1 – Choose your aromatics – Wine, Beer, and/or garlic.
Adding a little beer or wine to your base will help your cheese melt, add some nice flavor, and will keep the melted cheese smooth longer. For fondue that serves 4, pair 1 pound of cheese with 1/2 cup of wine or beer. The traditional mix in is a nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc, topped off at the end with a little Kirsch. Half a cup for the fondue and the rest to drink while eating. I actually prefer to throw in a dark ale for a richer flavor.
Garlic also adds a nice starting note. To vary things, try some shallots instead.
Step 2 – Select your Cheeses
Semi-hard cheeses such as Gruyere, Comte, or Emmenthaler are great melting cheeses and are the traditional choice for Swiss fondue. I love mixing the fruitiness of Comte with Gruyere. You definitely want to stay away from salty very hard cheeses that have been aged longer than a year, such as parmesan. But feel free to experiment with some American cheeses for variety – 1/3 cup of extra sharp cheddar adds some really interesting flavor notes.
Step 3 – Dipping Choices
A nice loaf of crusty bread is a must. It holds up to a good dipping, has tons of nooks and crannies for hot cheese, and has enough flavor to counter balance the cheese. Pumpernickel or sour dough add a whole other dimension.
Bread is just the beginning. We love to fool ourselves into thinking we’re being somewhat healthy by dipping baby carrots, raw cauliflower, and plenty of crispy apple slices.
Cheese and potatoes are also a marriage in heaven. Especially when turned into a menage a trois with a slice of prosciutto or jambon de parme. It’s tough to dip a cooked potato without it breaking into a million pieces, but no one will judge you too harshly if you use a spoon to help you along.
- 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- ½ cup of dark ale of your choice, nothing as heavy as a Guinness though
- 1 pound of grated cheeses of your choice (my recommendation is to start with ½ pound of Gruyere and ½ pound of Comte your first time, then experiment with later fondues)
- Crusty bread, carrots, cauliflower, apples, and cooked potatoes for dipping or slathering
- Grate your cheeses. It can be very tempting to save time and effort and cube them, but the melting will take a lot longer.
- Take a small to medium saucepan and put it on a medium flame.
- Add the vegetable oil and the garlic. Saute for 3 minutes until soft.
- Add the beer and the cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted, about 5 minutes.
- Serve immediately on the table with a ceramic bowl. If you have a fondue pot, feel free to use it instead. But if you don't, just reheat in the microwave for 45 seconds if it seizes.