We were hoping spring was just around the corner and the sight of frozen snowscapes would be the exclusive reserve of the Winter Olympics. However as the ‘Beast from the East’ brings snow drifting up to the door it’s also created
a hankering for the essential alpine comfort food – a rich and gooey cheese fondue.
At Maws we’ve taken years to assemble our carefully curated list of continental cheeses, including a host guaranteed to deliver a gold-medal performance in a classic fondue. Use a combination of our recommendations below alongside our essential tips and a go-to recipe for successful fondue making, and we guarantee some silky, savoury, melt-in-the-mouth results.
Essential ingredients and tips
Cheese: Whether cheese fondue originated in the Swiss cantons of Valais or Fribourg, or Savoy in France is often a prelude to the lengthy debates fondue connoisseurs are prone to have on their favourite topic. How many cheeses should be used? One, two, four, more?
Many purists will argue for a single strong note of melted Swiss Gruyere, others may insist its mixed with Emmental, the other famous Swiss cheese has a milder nutty tang ideal for tempering the earthy flavour of more mature gruyere. Within the same family of hard cheeses the other Swiss cheese, Vacherine Fribourgeois, is almost as popular, while Comte from the neighbouring French region of Franche-Comte and Fontina from the Italian side of The Alps are also excellent in fondue.
Maws Fine Foods sells top quality Emmental King Cut Swiss and Gruyere King Cut Swiss by the kilo.
Wine: The other vital ingredient of fondue is white wine and, as with the accompanying cheese, it has to be the correct variety. Rather than needless purist dogma, selecting this is actually for the entirely practical purposes of making a smooth and melting cheese fondue.
This is because the naturally occurring tartaric acid in wine is essential for preventing the cheese's casein proteins from clumping together and turning your fondue into a stringy, broken mess. Higher acidy levels are usually found in wines made from grapes grown where the nights are cooler, so many of the native whites grown in the hillside vineyards of Switzerland, unsurprisingly, make a perfect pairing with the local cheese products.
However, more widely available Chenin Blanc, Chablis, and especially Riesling (but not the sweet varieties) from the Mosul Valley, will also work wonders in your fondue.
Heat: All the fondue-friendly cheeses above have a melting point of around 150˚F (65˚C). Let them get too much hotter and their proteins begin to press into each other, which also causes the fondue to break. Therefore melting your fondue should be a slow and gentle process. To this end, placing the cheese in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (the same method used for melting chocolate) is highly recommended.
Accompaniments: Bread for dipping should be rustic, white and crusty, and a day or two old, as fresh bread can be a little too moist a companion. Kirsch, the clear, colourless cherry brandy, is often found in recipes for cheese fondue, however more traditionally you’ll find the Swiss keep a glass of it on the table to very lightly dip their bread just prior to dunking it in the cheesy goo.
Recipe: This slightly adaptation of a Swiss Cafe classic, uses a blend of gruyere and emmental, but a combination of any mention above will work just as well. Do however use cheeses less than a year old, as the more matured versions can be too salty.
1/2 a cup (375ml) dry white wine (a dry Riesling is highly recommended)
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
400g of Gruyère
Juice of half a lemon
Roughly grate the cheese, then thoroughly rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic halves and discard.
Add the wine and lemon juice then bring to the boil and simmer until the alcohol in the wine has evaporated.
Sit the fondue pot snugly over a pan already half full of gently simmering water, and gradually add the grated cheese while stirring continuously. Once all is melted to a smoothly unctuous and velvety consistency, bring to the table and serve immediately.