Legendary Dishes | Fondue (aromatic cheeses, melted with wine, served with bread cubes) + Fondue Story

Cheese, garlic, kirsch, potato (or corn starch) and white wine are the essential ingredients of fondue. Emmental, Gruyère and Vacherin, the cheeses that form the base for a classic Swiss fondue, only tell part of its story.

FRANCE | SWITZERLAND 

Across from the railway station in Lausanne is a rising cobbled street. It leads to a busy road in the heart of the lakeside city. Located in an alleyway across from a nondescript church is the august establishment known as Café Romand. We looked around and wondered where we could sit. A sign above the kitchen celebrated the year 1951. Immediately we were transported into Switzerland’s past, when the country was still clinging to its culture, its traditions and its unique forms of language – Swiss-French along its western border with France, Swiss-German throughout almost two-thirds of its 26 cantons, Italian in the south and Romanche in the east. Yet here, on the rising shore of Lake Geneva, Café Romand epitomised this distinctiveness and uniqueness.

The Swiss are a courteous, generally friendly people with a strong sense of identity, an even stronger sense of belonging rooted in place, especially in the mountains. This is evident in the café.

A thin, gaunt woman dressed in a white apron and black dress, money belt hung loosely around her slight waist, asked us for patience. We waited. We were standing close to the kitchen, while waitresses darted in and out.

Meanwhile the waitress who had told us to be patient began dragging a smallish square table to an area between similar sized tables and several oblong tables joined together. She motioned for us to follow her.

In a flash she whipped out a white table cloth, produced cutlery from somewhere, chairs from somewhere else and told us to sit while she bought the menu cards. A badge on her waitress uniform told us she was Virginia.

We thanked her and ordered fondue. It was the reason we had come, ‘the best fondue in Lausanne is in the Café Romand,’ we were told.

It was. 

Then we heard an interesting story. The high mountains that divide France from Switzerland are believed to be the birthplace of this comforting winter dish and there is ample evidence to suggest that fondue is a product of the dairy farmers who have tended cattle for centuries on high meadows, in the areas of France and Switzerland once known as the Duchy of Savoy. It stretched across the Alps into Piedmont in Italy, and in the departments of Haute Savoy and Savoy in France and in the cantons of Vaud and the Valais the people shared the same food culture.

The western Swiss cantons of Fribourg, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud all specialise in fondue but Emmental, Gruyère and Vacherin – the classic cheeses that form the basis for a classic Swiss fondue – only tell part of the fondue story.

The Vacherin cheese of Fribourg is preferred by fondue aficionados because it adds full flavour to the mildness of the Emmental and the piquancy of the Gruyère – the combination for the classic Neuchâteloise.

Neuchâteloise, Moitié Moitié (half Gruyère, half Vacherin) and the fondue served in Salvan restaurants and along the valley canton are among the most popular with Swiss people. If you want to know which cheeses go into which fondues served high in the Alps you will have to ask. This is another clue to the origins of fondue.

More than likely you will be told a story about black and white cows, sonorous bells and hidden valleys. The semi-hard ‘delicious, fatty, sweet and soft’ cheeses of the Bagnes and Goms valleys are associated with the lively Hérens cows, as much a part of Swiss alpine scenery as the chalet and cable car, and the fondue of the region.

An older, more romantic fondue! Yet not that different from the fondue served in the valleys of Haute Savoy, across Lake Geneva, across the high peaks between the Valais canton.

High above Martigny in the valley canton of Switzerland, the picturesque town of Salvan is an alpine vision of perfection. Here, and all along the Trient valley towards Chamonix – the ski resort in the French Alps, the restaurants serve a special fondue made from mountain pasture cheese, in the tradition of their fore-bearers.

Of course the popularity of this amazing cheese dish may also have something to do with the tradition that demands punishment when a diner loses their bread in the fondue pot.

A man must buy a bottle of wine or a round of drinks.

A woman must kiss all the men in the company.


Fondue Savoyarde

Beaufort, Emmentaler

Made with milk from the abondance and tarine cows found grazing alpine flora. Beaufort is known as the prince of mountain cheeses in Haute Savoy and Savoy, and usually the principle ingredient in this distinctive fondue.

  • 1 large farmhouse loaf, cut into cubes
  • 400 g beaufort cheese, grated
  • 400 g emmentaler cheese, grated
  • 375 ml dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • Nutmeg, large pinch
  • Black pepper, large pinch

Rub the inside of the fondue pot (caquelon) with garlic. Add the cheeses white wine. Warm over a low heat, stirring thoroughly with a wooden spoon to obtain a smooth, blended mixture. Add pepper and grated nutmeg. Let the fondue cook for five more minutes, stirring constantly. Place the fondue pot over its warmer and enjoy the fondue by dipping the pieces of bread using long forks.


Fondue Rustique

Appenzeller, Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin

  • 1 large farmhouse loaf, cut into cubes
  • 300 ml white wine
  • 200 g appenzeller cheese, grated
  • 200 g gruyère cheese, grated 200 g smoked bacon, cubed
  • 200 g vacherin fribourgeois cheese, grated
  • 150 g ham, cut into thin strips
  • 100 g emmentaler cheese, grated  
  • 75 ml kirschwasser (sour cherry spirit – schnapps)
  • 20 g potato starch
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • Lemon juice, splash
  • 1 sprig tarragon
  • Black pepper, pinch
  • Paprika, pinch 
  • Nutmeg, pinch

Sauté the bacon in a frying pan over a low heat. When the fat begins to separate add the ham strips and tarragon. Remove from heat. Rub fondue pot (caquelon) with the garlic clove. Add the cheeses, potato starch and wine, warm slowly. When the cheese starts to bubble on the surface, reduce heat, stir in the lemon juice and kirsch followed by the bacon and ham pieces. Season and leave the fondue to cook for five minutes over a low heat. Transfer the pot to its warmer and enjoy the fondue by dipping the pieces of bread using long forks.


Fondue Simpilär

Gruyère, Raclette

Less well known are the individual fondue of the mountain valleys. In their 2012 cookbook the farmer’s association of the Wallis canton offer a fondue made with local raclette and local wine.

  • 400 g gruyère mature cheese, grated
  • 400 g raclette full-fat cheese, grated
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 20 ml Walliser white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • White bread, cubed

Rub caquelon with the garlic, add wine and reduce. Turn the heat low, stir in the cheese and allow to melt gradually. Make a paste with the cornstarch and a little wine. Add to the fondue and reduce. Serve with bread, keeping the fondue warm.


Fondue Neuchâtel

Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin

The classic fondue in Switzerland.

  • 800 g mixture of emmental, gruyère, vacherin, grated
  • 240 ml kirschwasser
  • 35 ml white wine
  • 20 g /cornstarch
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • nutmeg, grated
  • White bread, cubed

Usual procedure. Add the lemon juice with the cornstarch and wine, then the kirschwasser, finishing with the nutmeg.


Fondue Apfel Walnuss

Gruyère and Vacherin with apple and walnuts

  • 400 g gruyère cheese, grated
  • 400 g vacherin Fribourgeois cheese, grated
  • 2 apples, diced small
  • 240 ml apple brandy
  • 50 g walnuts, coarsely chopped, toasted
  • 40 ml white wine
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved
  • Nutmeg, grated
  • Cayenne pepper, pinch
  • White bread, cubed

Replace kirschwasser with apple brandy. Once cheese is melted add walnuts, then carefully stir in the apple pieces. Finish with the cayenne and nutmeg.


Älpler Fondue

Appenzeller, Emmental mature, Emmental mild, Sprinz with macaroni and bacon

Inside the Cheese Grotto in the Swiss Alps
  • 350 g emmental mature cheese, grated
  • 350 ml white wine
  • 240 ml kirschwasser
  • 200 g bacon, cut into strips
  • 150 g appenzeller extra cheese, grated
  • 150 g emmental mild cheese, grated
  • 150 g sprinz, grated
  • 20 g  cornstarch
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped small
  • Pepper, pinch
  • Salt, large pinch
  • Älplermagronen pasta (amount of choice)

Stir cornstarch into kirschwasser. Fry bacon and garlic in butter in the fondue pot. Deglaze with wine, add cheese. Stir until cheese melts, add cornstarch mixture. Season. Serve with älplermagronen.


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