The fine art of making fondue

Forks away! Christian and Renate Hofer are joined by assistant Eugen Koller (from left to right) at their Chäs Stübe kitchen. Samantha Tonkin

Fondue is the quintessential Swiss dish - a fast, friendly dining experience. Now, a Swiss couple are teaching "golden rules" to produce a foolproof fondue.

This content was published on March 30, 2002 minutes

French-speaking farmers first ate cheese fondue in the 1930s, after developing a tasty and thrifty way of eating stale bread and mature cheese.

These days, it is an après-ski staple: hungry snowboarders and skiers dip pieces of bread stuck on the end of a long fork into a pot of melted cheese.

Fondue is a great food to dunk, swirl and savour, as one cookbook put it, and experts say it is simple to make.

No bubbling

Christian and Renate Hofer offer winter classes to fondue aficionados at their cheese shop, the Chäs-Stube, in Etzelkofen, in central Switzerland.

Their "golden rules" for excellent fondue begin with the right ingredients. "To start, a good white wine should be selected, one that is on the acid side, not a sweet wine," said their assistant, Eugen Koller.

"Then you should use Maizena which is a flour made out of corn or potatoes and this should always be fresh. You should heat the mixture up slowly and never allow it to bubble," he continued.

The star ingredient is, naturally, cheese, and one hot tip from the Hofer kitchen is that when it comes to selecting the cheese, there are no hard or fast rules.

Cauliflower and cheese?

While Fribourg cheeses Gruyère and Vacherin might form the basis of a fondue, add cheeses of your own choice to taste.

"A good base includes about 50 per cent of Gruyère, maybe 25 per cent of Vacherin, and then add a different types of cheese be it Gorgonzola, Appenzeller or Tilsitter depending on the taste you would like to have at the end," Koller suggested. Other fondue experts prefer Emmentaler.

Don't be shy about personalising the dish, says Renate Hofer. Another way to impress the guests is to be inventive with the food chosen to dip and swirl in the cheese.

Potatoes, cauliflower or even pineapples go well with the heavy cheese.

Presto! It's ready

Hofer believes sharing fondue is social dining at its best and should be prepared in front of the guests.

So, take the fondue pot, its stand and rechaud (burner) out to the dining table. Add all the ingredients and stir before heating the mixture.

"I add the wine, cloves of garlic and the grated cheese mix. Then take the Maizena and add a little, as well as some Kirsch," explains Hofer. She stirs the mixture well to blend the ingredients.

The next step is to set the fondue pot on its stand, with a lighted burner, and stir the mixture continuously in a figure of eight movement, until it looks smooth and flows freely.

To speed up the process, some cooks heat the mixture first on the kitchen stove, before transferring the pot to the fondue stand.

Fans say fondue is very "gemütlich" -fun - especially when someone drops a piece of bread in the pot.

Persecution by yodelling

Fondue etiquette dictates that the culprit should pay for a round of drinks, Hofer says. More sinister punishments may be exacted like yodelling.

While there are golden rules for making and eating cheese fondue, one tip not included in the Hofer manuel is to ventilate the dining room well after the meal. The cheese gives off a strong smell that gets into clothes and curtains. Scented candles should help to neutralise the smell.

Fondue is an interactive meal that merits being eaten with those you care for. Koller suggests a glass of schnapps to help digest the cheese and a walk in the fresh air "with your loved one" to top off an excellent meal.

by Samantha Tonkin

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