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Classic cheese fondue

First We Eat: Now is the perfect time to enjoy a leisurely fondue
as we continue to stay closer to home

Life in a pandemic takes its toll in many ways. One of the noticeable changes is how we spend our leisure time. No trips this year — not that I was actively planning, and not that I go often, but I’d love to see Europe again. I want to see Asia, too, and Australia, Africa, South America, more of North America. But not under these conditions. Not now.

So I’ve been reading instead, notably American humorist Calvin Trillin’s Tummy Trilogy, where he tootles across the continent, or I turn to foodie flicks.

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But mostly I’ve been cooking. It’s been my cure for stress, trauma and day-to-day worry for decades. This morning, for instance, I was suffering from anxiety about a pair of feral kittens who were born in our barn this spring. Last week their loving mama took them on a hunting lesson, then she got hunted. Now the kittens are orphans, stranded halfway down our driveway, sheltering in a stand of aspens, afraid to venture home. I fear for them. Coyotes hunt close by, as do red-tail hawks and great horned owls. The kittens won’t be coaxed and they are too wild to pick up. So I feed them. Then I go back to my kitchen and cook. Today I plan to make grilled Gruyere cheese sandwiches for lunch. Or maybe we’ll have fondue made with Gruyere for supper instead. Last week we had Margherita pizza topped with Gruyere; and corn quesadillas with the last of the summer vegetables and grated Gruyere; a Gruyere and new potato omelette for brunch; French onion soup with extra Gruyere; lamb burgers topped with…

You bet there’s a theme. I received a big — I mean BIG — block of very good Gruyere from a friend who was passing through town a couple of weeks ago. (We visited safely, in a park, a picnic at arm’s length. Then she hauled this enormous piece of cheese from her cooler and went on her way.) We’ve been eating Gruyere-everything ever since.

You might, in a generalized way, call it “Swiss” cheese, but Alpine or high-mountain cheeses include Franco-Swiss Gruyere; Swiss Emmenthal and Appenzeller; French Cantal, Beaufort (a type of Gruyere) and reblochon; Italian Fontina, Asiago and Gordo; and Norwegian Jarlsberg. They are made in summer, when the cows graze in high-elevation meadows. The milk is made into big wheels of cheese that often have holes from carbon dioxide generated during the cheese-making process. In general, all are dense, sweet, nutty, cave aged — and slightly crystalline as they age. Gruyere is one of more than 180 European cheeses that have Protected Designation of Origin (DOC) status, so its production is strictly limited, and contained within a geographic region and to particular methods of production.

These cheeses are all yummy. Feed the kittens, download that movie and melt some cheese. First we eat, then we talk about Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Great casting…


Classic Alpine Cheese Fondue

Use a single type or a traditional mixture of Alpine cheeses – Gruyere, Appenzeller and Emmenthal — and add non-traditional ones — Asiago and Jarlsberg — to taste. Allow 1/4 lb. cheese per person. Add exotic flavour agents like truffle-infused oil before serving if you like. Set out a range of garnishes to suit your palate: sliced raw or cooked vegetables, crusty bread cubes, sliced ham or sausages, pickles and olives, chutneys and savoury relishes. Don’t ignore the crust on the bottom of the pot; for many, it’s the best bit of fondue. Serves 4.

  • 1 clove garlic, halved
  • 1 lb. grated cheese, a mixture
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 c. dry white wine
  • Garnishes and dippers such as: a drizzle of herb-infused olive oil or truffle oil, optional
  • crusty bread
  • vegetables
  • ham, kielbasa or other cooked sausage

Rub the garlic along the inner surface of a fondue pot. Toss the cheese and cornstarch together. Heat the wine in a heavy-bottomed pot to just below boiling point. Add a handful of cheese, whisking well, and add more as each handful melts. Stir until smooth. Transfer to fondue pot or small individual bowls. Serve warm with preferred garnishes and dippers.

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