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Fun With Fondue

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cheesy... chocolate-y... If the mere thought of hot, stringy fondue makes your mouth water, this article is for you! Dev Goswami & Sara Shah tell you about the origins of fondue, types available and what cheese to use for classic versions of this sinful dish. They also bring you tips to help you to throw your own fondue party

Do you dream of crusty bits of bread dripping in hot, stringy cheese? This European dish is easy to prepare, delicious and makes for a great sharing treat at an intimate gathering. Here we tell you more about the history of fondue, eating etiquette and what cheese and bread you should use for a classic version. Take a look — and then throw your own fondue party with our great tips!

The history of fondue
While many believe that fondue is a relatively new culinary innovation that originated in 1950, the origins of fondue are even older. In fact, there several accounts that point to Homer’s epic The Iliad, (believed to have been created between 760 and 710 B.C.), where Song XI had a recipe for fondue that spoke of a mixture of grated goat cheese, Pramnos wine and white flour. Early historical accounts suggest that fondue was peasant food and was meant to be a good way to use hard cheese and leftover bread. Interestingly, it is believed that the word fondue originated from the French verb fondre, which means to melt.

The 17th century saw some of the earliest printed recipes for fondue, which originated in a region that is believed to be part of Switzerland today. These early recipes used eggs along with Gruyere, which is a cheese that to this date is part of the traditional Swiss fondue. The preparation, which included adding melted cheese to eggs and then scrambling them, reads almost like a cheese soufflé and is unlike the fondue we are used to, which do not include egg in any form.

Fondue as we know it today, emerged in the early 20th century. One of the first modern recipes is believed to be in Madame Saint-Agne’s cookbook La Bonne Cuisine, which was published in 1927. Surprisingly, the cookbook is French, not Swiss. Since then, fondue recipes began to gain popularity, with 1950 considered to be an important point in the history of this preparation, when chef Konrad Egil of the Chalet Swiss Restaurant in New York, created what we know today as oil-based fondue (see ‘Types of fondue’ to find out more), which includes dipping meat in boiling oil till it is cooked.

In the ’60s and ’70s, fondue parties became extremely popular in America with varieties such as only-cheese fondue courses or those that included both cheese and meat. Around the mid ’60s, dessert fondue, which included dipping fruit, marshmallows or small cookies in melted chocolate, gained popularity. While fondue isn’t as popular as it used to be, it is one of  the last surviving communal culinary experiences — and it looks like it’s here to stay. 

Types of Fondue
Fondue doesn’t have to be limited to cheese or chocolate. There are essentially four different preparations, all of which can be classified as fondue. Take a look.

  • Cheese: The classic and most popular version, this includes a bowl of boiling hot cheese, typically two types. Most variations of fondue use a hint of garlic to add extra flavour and some kind of flour in order to prevent the cheese from curdling. Cheese fondue is  eaten with bread.
  • Broth or bouillon: Fondue may not be the first word that comes to your mind when you see a simmering pot of broth, but the  technique is pretty similar. Believed to have been invented by Mongolian warriors, broth fondue contains less calories than cheese fondue and includes pieces of vegetables such as potatoes as well as seafood, which are cooked in a simmering pot of broth.
  • Oil fondue: Oil fondue may not be common in Mumbai, but it’s pretty popular across the world. Oil fondue has the same set-up as their cheese counterparts, with the only difference being that the hot cheese is replaced with hot oil and the bread is replaced with meats, seafood or vegetables. These are then dipped into the oil till they are cooked. Sometimes, the meat or vegetables are coated with batter in order to ensure more flavour.
  • Dessert fondue: We’re sure you know about this sinful fondue. Chocolate is melted in the fondue pot, which is then used as a dip for fresh fruit or marshmallows. For a burst flavour, you can also add spices or liqueur to the chocolate.      

Best Cheeses for a Fondue
Cheese plays the most important role in a fondue and so, the better the cheese is, the better the fondue will taste. A fondue usually includes two kinds of cheese, and it’s crucial that you choose the right kind if you’re throwing a fondue party. Take a look at a few popular varieties that you can pick from.

Gruyère Cheese
A hard, yellow cheese, Gruyère is named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland. It has a sweet and salty flavour profile, but the taste can vary depending on the age of the cheese. Also known as Le Gruyère, this is the cheese that adds creaminess and nutty hint to a cheese fondue. To get the best out of this cheese, pick one that has been aged for five months to a year — you can tell whether it has been if the cheese has tiny cracks and a slightly grainy texture. 

Think cartoons and cheese, and the first thing that comes to mind is Tom & Jerry, and that typical block of cheese with holes. Well, the cheese that you saw then was Emmentaler. Commonly known as Emmental, this is a yellow, medium-hard cheese that originated around Emmental, Switzerland. It is produced with the help of three different types of bacteria. The holes that you see are produced by one of the bacteria that consumes lactic acid and releases carbon dioxide. You can tell that a fondue has been made using this cheese when it has a savoury flavour, although Emmental isn’t as sharp as other kinds of cheese. Emmentaler and Gruyère are a classic fondue combination that you can’t go wrong with.

Chedder Cheese
Ah! The most common of the lot, cheddar cheese originated in Cheddar, Somerset, UK, and is a hard, pale cheese that has a somewhat sharp taste. It is fairly easy to melt, which is why it is used in fondue.

Fontina Cheese
Essentially an Italian cheese, this is made solely from cow’s milk and is available throughout the year. The pungent-smelling cheese has an intense, woody flavour.

You can pick up Le Gruyère, Emmantaler, and cheddar cheese from Nature’s Basket outlets or HyperCITY, Malad (w)

Throwing a fondue party
Gorging on delicious morsels that are dipped in hot, bubbling cheese can be quite an expensive affair in Mumbai. But, you need not empty your pockets for that occasional cheesy treat. Bring out the cheese and throw your own cheese fondue party! You can pair your fondue with as many different morsels as you like and call a few friends over for a get-together. We got Ajay Thakur, executive chef at Café Mangii and Juliano Rodrigues from Out of the Blue, to give us a few tips on throwing a cheese fondue party. Take a look.

Pick the morsels
Remember that while the cheese may be the star of a fondue, if you don’t have enough dipping food on hand, your guests are going to be left hungry and dissatisfied. You’ll also need to make sure that you have different types of morsels on offer, so that you can accommodate a diverse range of palettes. Different types of bread and cut raw vegetables are good options. Chef Ajay tells us, “For cheese fondue, bread pairs the best and always compliments the dish. You can pick from basic breads including foccacia, brioche and French baguette. You can also have raw vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, baby carrot and celery as well as cooked vegetables and meats.” Also remember that the pieces of bread or vegetables should be bite-sized so that they do not break apart and fall into the dip or worse, on to your floor!

Place it in a pot
You don’t need to cook your fondue in large pots, which are not only expensive, but are also impracticable in small, home kitchens. Pick up small fondue pots, which have a small burner attached underneath. All you need to do light a tea candle and you are good to go. You can strategically place these pots around your living room and make sure that your guests don’t have to fight their way through a crowd of hungry fondue lovers. “Make sure that the pot is made from cast iron, ceramic or porcelain as these prevent cheese from sticking to the pot,” suggests Juliano.

Fondue essentials
Make a statement with trendy fondue accessories and cutlery that make the whole experience fun. Also, keep plenty of tissues at hand as dipping and swirling the cheese can be a messy affair. Provide your guests with long fondue forks that won’t require them to put their hand all the way into the pot. Using disposable forks will make cleaning up an easier task.

Fondue basics
That’s pretty much it when it comes to throwing fondue party! However, Juliano does have a few suggestions that will ensure your fondue party is a success. He explains, “Instruct your guests not to put the fondue forks straight into their mouths. Rather, they should take it from the pot and transfer it on to a plate. Also, make sure that the white wine that you pair the fondue with is not a young, acidic wine as it can mess with your guests’ stomachs. Keep the fondue on a low flame at all times to prevent curdling.”

Breads pairings
You can use almost any kind of bread you want with a cheese fondue. The sky is the limit! Even stale bread tastes better when it is dipped in hot, melted cheese. But, if you want to create the perfect fondue, here are a few options to choose from.

  • French baguette: Distinguished by its length and crustiness, this bread is the most common bread used for a fondue. You don’t even need to toast it. Just cut it up into cubes and you are good to go.
  • Focaccia: Similar to pizza dough, focaccia is round and flat and is topped with garlic and herbs. Why is it so great for fondue? Well, the herbs work wonders with the cheese to give you an absolutely divine experience!
  • Brioche: Brioche is more of a French pastry than a bread, but since it is high in butter and egg, when it’s paired with cheese, the bread is rich and scrumptious. Toasting it before it’s served will make it taste even better.

Fondue Etiquette
Since fondue is essentially a communal dish, there is a certain etiquette that you need to follow when you’re eating it. Once you spear a piece of bread and dip it into the cheese, you need to hold it over the pot in order to let the excess cheese drip off and to ensure that you don’t get any cheese on the table. When it comes to eating, you have to make sure that you don’t touch the fondue fork with your teeth or your lips, since you’re going to be dipping it back into the cheese. If you find this hard to do, another slightly cumbersome way to eat it is to place the bread on a plate and use a second fork to slide the bread off the fondue fork. When you’re not using the fondue fork, it should be placed on your plate and not in the pot. When you’re eating oil fondue, spear the meat with the fondue fork and place it into the oil till the meat is cooked. Take it out of the pot, place the fork on your plate and use another fork to slide the meat off before eating it.

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