BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | The Fondue Story

High above Martigny where the Rhône valley turns eastwards, the picturesque town of Salvan is an alpine vision of perfection. Here the restaurants serve a special fondue made from mountain pasture cheese, in the tradition of their fore-bearers.

The Savoy Alps and the Jura range 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 in these mountains.

Emmental, Gruyère and Vacherin, cheeses that form the basis for fondue, only tell part of the 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.

But if you want to know which cheeses go into which fondues served in the Alps you will have to ask. It is in these mountains that fondue makes its reputation, as chefs compete with each other to produce the ’perfect’ fondue. And they are not going to give away their trade secrets.

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.

Front counter in Rene Ryser’s cheese shop in Gstaad, Switzerland

Fondue Rustique
Appenzeller, Emmental, Gruyère, Vacherin Fribourgeois

  • 1 large farmhouse loaf, cut into cubes
  • 300 ml white wine
  • 200 g Appenzeller, grated
  • 200 g Gruyère, grated
  • 200 g smoked bacon, cubed
  • 200 g Vacherin Fribourgeois, grated
  • 150 g ham, cut into thin strips
  • 100 g Emmentaler, grated
  • 75 ml kirschwasser
  • 20 g potato starch
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • Lemon juice, splash
  • 1 sprig tarragon
  • Black pepper, pinch
  • Paprika, pinch
  • Nutmeg, pinch
  • Fondue warmer

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 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.