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Culinary tradition World Fondue Championships: a seriously cheesy business

Long forks were drawn for the 3rd Fondue World Championships in canton Vaud, western Switzerland, this weekend. Around 10,000 spectators turned up to watch 120 cooks battle it out in the three-day event. 

Fondue has been described as Switzerland's crowning achievement. It was conceived as a clever way to turn leftover cheese and stale bread into a meal. So what’s so difficult about boiling up a bit of cheese? You’d be surprised at how tricky it can be. 

You need to know which cheeses make the winning pot, which wine is best for cutting through the fat and how to stop it all from separating. Winners Florian and Jean-Matthieu Baer, a father and son team of professional chefs from canton Valais, have mastered the art. 

The science

Connoisseurs know that well-ripened cheeses are best suited to fondue preparation because enzymes have broken up proteins into small fragments that are more readily dispersed in the water solution. Competition judge André Bourqui says the best cheeses are found at dairies rather than in the shops.

In this competition, 50% of the cheese content had to be Gruyère, with the AOC stamp of authenticity. The most common version of fondue, originating in cantons Vaud and Fribourg, is moitié-moitié, made up of almost equal parts Gruyère and a creamy cheese called Freiburger Vacherin, which stops the sauce from becoming stringy.

There are even rules about how you eat it. Traditionalists say you must stir it clockwise or in a figure-eight pattern to keep the cheese homogenised. They warn against drinking anything but white wine, kirsch or herbal tea with your fondue if you don’t want the melted cheese to form a giant ball in your stomach.

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