Using no fillers allows this Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue to be so creamy and really soak into the bread. Each bite, a delight
My family story - Behind the making of Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue
Full Disclosure - This recipe for Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue is not so traditional.
It IS traditional because this is the way my family has made fondue all my life.
It's NOT traditional in that, it contains no flour or cornstarch or other thickeners as most other recipes you find do.
"Our's is a homogeneous creamy gooey cheesy pot of yum!"
My grandparents on my father's side were Swiss. My grandfather, a watchmaker, was solicited to come to America by Bulova Watch company. He moved with my grandmother, a country girl, to NYC in 1926. My father was born there in 1929.
Being Swiss they knew their fondue and my grandfather taught my father the family recipe which we enjoyed every Christmas Eve. As a small child, it was limited to a few bites after we had had a proper dinner. As we got older, the tradition of fondue was so ingrained in our Christmas Eve festivities that the three of us children would eschew any dinner prior, insisting on joining the adults at the "fondue table". Fondue in my home was a stand-up dinner.
cheese, wine, bread…the key ingredients
But being a part of the adult fondue table, we were limited in our choices of drink. My grandmother believed that if you drank a cold drink, the cheese would "harden in your stomach causing great amounts of pain". Science might not have been her strong suit. So we were offered either wine, with some water mixed in, or hot tea.
Hot tea with hot cheese...no thank you very much.
So the three of us would opt for the watered down, but still very much winey tasting cold drink and make frequent runs to the bathroom where we would gulp down large mouthfuls of water from the tap.
Not a tummy ache amongst us.
Although these days, I opt for the wine. Sans water.
Each year we would make the fondue the traditional way and stand around the table saying how "this is the best fondue EVER".
Except for one year.
That was the year my mother read a recipe to my dad for fondue, from Redbook or some such, which had you "tossing the cheese with 2 tablespoons of flour".
Interesting. Would thicken things right up.
Yep, it did. Worst Fondue EVER.
So don't do this. Don't add any flour or cornstarch. It makes the fondue grainy. It makes it so it doesn't soak into the bread properly.
It's horrible. OK, maybe not horrible, but certainly not as good as mine. Our traditional Swiss cheese fondue is the best.
Ours is a homogeneous creamy gooey cheesy pot of yum.
So here are the basics of making an excellent traditional Swiss cheese fondue, the proper way
Being a cheese fondue, you can imagine the cheese is important. The cheese is actually the key ingredient with your choice of wine being a close second. We'll get to the wine in a minute.
There is really no such thing as "Swiss" cheese. It's a generic name given to cheese that is riddled with holes, and it's only called Swiss cheese in North America. So for the Swiss cheese, I use the Swiss named cheese for Swiss cheese, which is Emmental. Along with that, I use an equal amount of aged Gruyere, another type of Swiss cheese. For added creaminess, I add a small amount of Fontina. While not traditional to the family recipe, I found it does add to the richness of the dish. My mother and sister use a bit of Jarlsberg cheese, a Swiss cheese derivative from Norway.
Buy the best cheeses you can.
Grate the cheese at least an hour before you plan to make the fondue so it has time to come to room temperature. It doesn't work so well trying to add cold cheese to the wine as with each addition you compromise the wine's heat. I usually grate mine in the morning and let it sit for hours.
So step one, good cheese, grated, at room temperature. Toss it with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.
Fondue is wine and melted cheese. Therefore the wine you use will certainly affect the flavor. While the wine doesn't have to be expensive, it should be a fairly good bottle of wine. I like to use a Fume Blanc which is really a derivative of Sauvignon Blanc. If using a Sauv Blanc do not use one that is from New Zealand as those have a tendency towards being grassy. You want a non-grassy wine. Another good choice is Pouilly-Fume, a French wine.
The bread you choose is also a factor. Get a good French baguette with a hard crust and a lot of nooks and crannies. Cut the bread so that there is crust on EACH piece, this is for sticking the fork into it to hold it on while you are dunking it into the hot liquid. It's best to cut your bread at least 2 hours before you want to serve so it crisps up a bit and isn't too soft.
A couple cloves of garlic.
A shot of Kirschwasser, a clear brandy liqueur made from cherries.
Some freshly ground nutmeg. Just at the end, and just a dash.
What else is key?
A pot. I have a handy fondue pot that was a gift from my parents when I moved into my own home. If you don't, you could use some Corningware or another glazed earthenware pot. I don't find metal to hold and distribute heat properly, although I'm sure a Dutch oven would, but the pot itself cannot be too large. I would say not more than a 2-quart pot.
A heat source. Once the fondue is hot and ready to serve, it must be kept hot, and bubbly. The best way to accomplish this is by using sterno. Other ways would be to keep it hot over a low flame on the stove-top and you could all stand around and dip and eat there; or use a candle under the stand, although the heat would not be quite as good as sterno. If the fondue isn't bubbling, it's going to become a cold hard piece of cheese quickly.
To Prepare - the ratio cheese to wine
To each pound of cheese you use, you will need 1 ¼ cups of wine. Rub the bottom and sides of the pot with a clove of garlic that has been lightly smashed. You can remove the garlic, or, if you are like us and like garlic, leave it in. Place the pot over medium heat and add the wine. When the wine comes to a simmer start slowly adding the cheese; very slowly, a handful at a time, and stir the cheese in until each addition has melted before you add the next one. When stirring use a figure 8, a circular stirring will only cause the cheese to fold onto itself into a ball. So a figure 8 is key to keeping the cheese in motion. Keep adding the cheese until you have a nice thick sauce, with still a little wine on top; usually about 15 minutes from the first addition of cheese; then add the Kirsch and nutmeg. Put the fondue over your heat source and dip away. Be sure to stir the pot with your bread each time you dip to keep it from burning.
*A pound of cheese is about right for 4 people. The amounts are guesstimates; I almost always grate too much cheese so only add as much as you need and save the rest for a nice omelet or ham and cheese sandwich.
Sharing a fondue is a fun way to spend an evening with friends. It encourages conversations while you dip and enjoy the cheesy goodness; and a glass of wine, or two. In my family, we always ate standing around the table, but now, we sit around the coffee table while we enjoy the bowl games. Yes, Fondue has moved from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day. But it's still a tradition.
And make sure you get that bread onto the fork well. If you drop it into the cheese, you must kiss the person on your right. Of course, if you really really like the person on your right, maybe loose bread is a plus.
LindySez: Best fondue ever.
Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue
- As I said there is no real recipe, just proportions. But we'll do the best we can down here in this recipe part
- ½ pound each Emmental Swiss and Gruyere*
- ¼ pound Fontina or Jarlsberg
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 - 2 cloves garlic smashed or split
- 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups dry white wine such as a Fume Blanc, or non-grassy Sauv Blanc. Do not use an oaky chardonnay
- 1 shot Kirsch
- Freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 crusty French baguette not sourdough
- Grate the cheeses together; place into a large bowl and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Let stand at room temperature for at least one hour, two is better.
- Cut the baguette into quarters lengthwise, then across into bite-sized pieces. Place into a large bowl or colander and let sit out for about two hours.
- Rub the bottom and sides of your pot with the garlic, leaving it in or removing it as desired. Place the pot over medium heat and add the wine, when the wine comes to a true simmer start slowly adding the cheese; a handful at a time stirring in a figure 8 until it has melted. Continue to add the cheese in this manner until you have a nice melted amount of cheese in the pot, you want to be able to dip your bread in and come up with a good ratio of melted cheese to wine-soaked bread. When this is accomplished, add the Kirsch and nutmeg. Give it a good stir and then move the pot to your heat source. Dip and enjoy. Kiss the person on your right.