Friday, November 20, 2015

Julie's Cheese Fondue

Just the thing to make dinner a little more interesting than usual!

Nothing says 1970's quite like a good cheese fondue. Don't believe me? It's so iconic to the period that American Girl actually used to make a fondue set for Julie, which now demands pretty frightening prices on the second hand market. Where's my BeForever reboot of that set, AG?

As a fan of things that involve hot, melty cheese (and you're going to be seeing another in a couple days, stay tuned!), I am unsurprisingly a fan of fondue, and a little bit bummed that it's less of a novelty people seek out in this day and age. I'm sure my waistline isn't, but making a pilgrimage to Melting Pot isn't always something I can work in, even if I do find myself craving it a lot.

But as the proud owner of an electric fondue pot, I can happily take a trip back to the days of the fondue party, and force the rest of my family to come along with me without getting in the car and heading to a restaurant! Everybody wins!

Except when it comes time to do the dishes, I suppose...  

Fondue - like many things - has a long, vague, complicated history. No one knows for sure when the first fondue was made, but the Swiss have happily claimed it as their national dish, and have for quite a long time. The name comes from the French verb "fondre", and the first recorded use of the word to describe a hot, gooey cheese you dunked things in was in 1735. People were likely making fondue for far longer than that, as it's a speedy way to re-purpose cheese and stale bread. It's been suggested it was originally a peasant food, while others argue that it was clearly made in towns because the cheese needed would have been too expensive for the poor to afford and the earliest known recipe we have for it comes from Zurich.

Of course, like most things, the fondue we eat today isn't exactly the same as its medieval counterpart. Cheese fondue used to have eggs in it! The dish we're more familiar with probably comes from 1875, when the Swiss first claimed it as their national dish. It still didn't have much international appeal until someone decided to add cornstartch to the recipe, which helps keep the cheese thick and smooth. It was rising in popularity until World War II, when rationing and shortages for most of the world made it more difficult for people to afford or find cheese to purchase. After the war, the marketing campaign - led by the Swiss Cheese Union - continued, and fondue began convincing people to buy Swiss cheese to melt and enjoy all over the world.

Fondue parties genuinely were a fashion trend of the 60's and 70's, and it's through this international appeal and commercialization that chocolate fondue first came to be. My grandparents even owned a fondue pot and hosted parties with their friends! It hasn't been used in years, but it's definitely a fun prop for pictures with Julie.

Any good fondue needs to start off with a good cheese. The best cheese fondues mix two cheeses in them rather than just being one throughout. This gives you the opportunity to get a lot of flavor and have complementary textures instead of just one cheese by itself.

I used a recipe for standard cheese fondue that came with my fondue pot, and it called for a pound of Swiss cheese and 3/4 of a pound of gruyere. These are usually the cheeses you'd throw in a traditional fondue, even though my favorites usually have some combination of fontina and cheddar, too. It's better to shred your cheese because it keeps the pieces small and more or less even, meaning they'll melt faster and more evenly when you throw it in the pot.

I tossed my cheese with six teaspoons of cornstarch to help keep the fondue smooth and thick, and then added 1 1/2 teaspoons of mustard powder for extra flavoring.

Now comes time for the wine!

As you may remember, I really don't like alcohol. Like, at all, in any variety or flavor, no matter how much other stuff you stick in the glass to hide the flavor. This recipe called for two and a quarter cups of wine, so I was a little concerned. Especially when we wound up emptying a bottle into the measuring cup! But it's an essential part of your traditional fondue, so I decided to keep moving forward and hope for the best.

The wine needs to simmer before you add the cheese in. Having never made fondue before, but being intimately familiar with cheese's tendency to separate and get all lumpy and oily, I was a little worried I'd wind up with nasty, chunky, oily fondue. The secret to avoiding this is adding in your cheese handful by handful, stirring constantly the whole time until the handful has been completely melted into the wine. Then, add the next handful, still stirring, and continue until you're out of cheese.

My pot has a Teflon base, so you can't use metal cooking utensils in it. I used a handy wooden spoon to stir the cheese instead!

The constant stirring a bit of an upper body workout (especially after grating all that cheese), but eventually, you should notice your fondue getting nice and thick.

It actually doesn't take too long to get this ready to go. Even though the prep of the cheese and things you dunk in said cheese took me quite a while, getting the fondue finished really only took a couple minutes. Maybe somewhere between five and ten? I'll admit I wasn't really paying attention to the clock.

Once it's done, it's very important to lower the heat of your pot. You don't want your cheese to boil!

The most common accompaniment to fondue is a nice, crusty bread. You really can't go wrong with it, and it holds the cheese sauce very well, which some other dipping items struggle with. You can dip sausage, carrots, apples, tortilla chips, and even pickles in fondue, or pretty much anything you think might taste good dunked in hot, goopy cheese!

We added apples, broccoli and kielbasa to our spread. I did miss my tortilla chips, but I'll admit that they're not exactly the sort of thing you'd traditionally pair with Swiss cheeses, so they stayed in the pantry this time around.

With all of it assembled, we dug in!

So, I've always prided myself on being honest with you guys, and I'll be absolutely honest now: this was definitely not the best fondue I've ever eaten. While my mom said it tasted like the fondue she's had in Switzerland, this had way, way too much booze in it for me. I felt like I was drinking cheesy wine more than eating fondue! And while the texture was good, it was hard to get the cheese to stick to some of our dippables. It took a little finagling to figure out how to get it right!

But even though this fondue wasn't really my cup of tea, I actually really enjoyed making and eating it, which is kind of weird because I'm really bad at sharing, especially when it comes to food. There was something fun about crowding around the island and trying to get the cheese all over the bread, apples and sausage, and I'd definitely do it again if given the opportunity and a willing audience! Obviously this isn't something you should be eating every night, but I totally understand why fondue parties seemed exciting and exotic for average Americans who were finally getting exposed to international cuisine.

Even though the fondue itself was a flop for me personally, I'm interested to try a couple new recipes and twists on the traditional cheese fondue to see if I can perfect one that I like as much as the ones I've had at restaurants. And did I mention dessert fondue? Because that is so happening sometime soon.

Overall, not a bad peek into the pantry, if I do say so myself!


  1. Replies
    1. I already want more! Maybe with cheddar cheese next time.

  2. *From Julie's doll mom:*

    Groovy! We used to have a fondue maker, but melted cheese (and chocolate) can be rather messy to clean up, so it didn't get used much.

    1. The nonstick version was super easy to clean, so I guess it made up for not being able to use metal in it! In case you're ever on the market for a new one, haha.

  3. It was nice to Geema's pot out of storage! She even had another one that was more like a chafing dish that was burnt orange...very 70's! I really liked the fondue and would totally have it again.

    1. Too bad the burnt orange one has probably been lost in some yard sale! That would have been awesome to dig out, haha.

  4. Fondue made a prominent appearance in the 1970s episode of the Supersizers Go... A lot of drinking happened in that episode too.

    1. That was a great episode! I've finally watched all of them except the 1920's one, for some reason YouTube doesn't have a video of it I can legally view in the US. :(