TASTEFOOD: Fondue — it’s more than a ’70s-style party

Alpine Cheese Fondue (Photo by Lynda Balslev for TasteFood)

It perplexes me when the subject of cheese fondue comes up, and it’s often accompanied by a smile and a reference to the ’70s. This quintessential alpine dish should not be relegated to that bygone era evoking images of shag rugs, shaggier hair and textured bell-bottoms. This was certainly not intended when the rural inhabitants of Swiss and French mountainous villages devised a warming winter dish incorporating their local cheese and winter staples.

Switzerland will always be considered home to our family. I lived there for 10 years following my stint at cooking school in Paris. My husband and I were married in Switzerland, and our children were born there. As an expat in Geneva, it was a delicious pleasure to embrace Swiss specialties, namely cheese, which we enjoyed in all of its forms. The Swiss tradition of melting cheese in deep pots with wine and spirits quickly became a family favorite. When we eventually moved away from Switzerland, I became more reliant on making my own version of fondue for wintry family dinners to satisfy our cravings.

This recipe has been tweaked and fine-tuned over the years, influenced by taste and available ingredients. In addition to serving it with the usual bread, I like to pass around bowls of parboiled baby potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets for dipping. Do not skimp on the cheese. Purchase the best-quality, cave-aged Swiss or French alpine cheese you can find, such as Gruyere, Emmental, Comte or Beaufort, and feel free to blend them to your taste. I like to use a blend of two-thirds Gruyere to one-third Emmental.

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Alpine Cheese Fondue

Active time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

1/4 cup Calvados or Poire Williams brandy

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

1 garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 pounds alpine cheese, such as Gruyere and Emmental, coarsely grated

1 loaf country style or sourdough bread, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

(Note: Have all of your ingredients ready before you begin. Once you start, the fondue will come together quickly, and during this time it must be constantly stirred. The fondue must not come to a boil during this time.)

Whisk the brandy, cornstarch, salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and the nutmeg in a small bowl, until smooth. Set aside.

Combine the wine and garlic in a large heavy saucepan or fondue pot. Heat over medium until tiny bubbles form, giving the wine a fizzy appearance without bringing to a boil. Add the cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly, until each handful is melted before adding the next — do not let the fondue boil.

Once the cheese is added, continue stirring 1 minute — do not let the fondue boil.

Stir in the cornstarch mixture and continue stirring until it thickens to a fondue consistency. (Some cornstarch brands thicken more easily than others. If your fondue remains thin, whisk 1 more tablespoon cornstarch with 2 tablespoons white wine and stir into the cheese.)

When the fondue is ready, remove from the heat. Pour cheese into a warm fondue pot if necessary and place over a fondue burner. Serve immediately with extra ground pepper, the bread, and parboiled vegetables such as small potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets.