Next to chocolate and fine Argentinean Asado, cheese has made it to my list of top 5 culinary seductions. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I can admit that my edible life would be meaningless without cheese. My rule of thumb: the stinker, the better. Mold? bring it on.
However, it hasn’t always been like this. When I was 8 years old I had a traumatic incident which involved cheese fondue. Long story short, I was stuck in an alpine hut somewhere in Switzerland, on vacation with my family. My mom had just gotten in a day of skiing; a sport I would grow to despise vehemently, and now it was time for supper. Like any good 8 year old on a family vacation, I was grumpy and miserable. Skiing added to my misery, as did the snow. To the time we were living in Australia, so I was clearly out of my element and too young to enjoy it.
When it came down to answering the sacred question “what do you want to eat?” I just pointed to every other table in this alpine hut, all of whom had people huddled over little burning pots with long rods.
A short while later, out came the cheese fondue, as it was called. A dish that was completely foreign to an 8 year old kid from Australia. Gracing our table, I took one glance into this burning pot. Forget the visuals. At the time, all I cared about was the fact that it smelled like stinky feet, and at that magic moment, I decided I no longer wanted it. I engaged in a rebellious, arm-crossing, head-shaking “no”. I proceeded to throw a mild temper tantrum. I was solidly of the belief that it was not ok to eat anything that smelled like stinky feet.
Fortunately for me now, but unfortunately for me at the time, I came from a family that ate everything that came on the table. There were starving children in Africa, you know, and Jesus clearly did not like it when I personally wasted food.
I will leave out Scene 3 to 5 of this story, which resulted in me being taken outside for a good word on behavior. It was so bloody cold and snowy and I was so bloody miserable that I gave in. I admitted defeat. I was left with one choice and one choice only: to eat the damn fondue. And when your mother is armed with a fondue fork, then there are some things in life which take perspective.
And there I was. While all my friends down under were enjoying 40 degrees and sunshine in their backyard pools, and maccas for lunch, I was stuck in some alpine hut in the middle of Swiss winter, eating cheese fondue. A story which would later make to my classes Show-and-Tell.
These are the kind of experiences that leave a mark… I digress… since that day I have spent my entire life to-date resenting both skiing and cheese fondue.
Ironically, 20 years later, I sit here and write this story from my apartment in Switzerland. Of all places. I still hate skiing, which makes me an outcast in this country, but I compensate by having grown to love cheese fondue.
I have to admit however, that the traditional cheese fondue, served with bread (crumbs?) strikes me as being a bit boring. It’s too simple. It’s too bland. I’d rather have a grilled cheese. (ew, that is so american of me?) (Unless of course my fear of fondue is talking?). At first glance, there was nothing romantic about dipping pieces of bread into a pot of cheese…
Last winter, I was skiing (yep, you just read that right) (let me clarify, I was trying to learn how to ski, which resulted in a temper tantrum (perhaps there is a theme here?) and I gave up. I later went on to learn snowboarding. So far, so good) in the Canton of Valais, and I learned of all the wonderful fondue varieties. Boring cheese fondue? not so much. There is fondue with beer, auhm, tomatoes, and ah… that’s about it. But look, the best fondue of all is definitely the Tomato Fondue, native to the canton of Valais.
Below, it’s recipe for you to enjoy!
What you’ll need:
Fendant (White Fondue Wine)
Baby Pickled onions
Baby pickles (Cornichons)
Bündnerfleisch (dried beef)
A Caquelon (ceramic fondue pot) and burner
Traditionally, there are two kinds of fondue pots: the ceramic fondue pot, or Caquelon, which is used for cheese fondue, and the stainless steel fondue pot used for “bouillon” and meats. This recipe will then of course call for a ceramic fondue pot. Since cheese fondue is a highly respected national dish, don’t even think about using anything else! Invest in a nice caquelon. I guarantee that after trying this tomato fondue, you will make great use of your new caquelon!
* Grate your cheeses and set the mix aside in a bowl
* Bring the small potatoes to a boil. Depending on the size, they should take about the same amount of time to cook as the cheese will. If not, place them in a serving dish with a lid to keep them warm
* Place your ceramic caquelon on the stove top on medium high heat
* Add butter to your caquelon and brown some pressed garlic
* Add a splash of fendant
* Add tomato paste
* Then add the cheese mixture and stir occasionally until melted. It can help to add only half at first and add the rest little by little in the melted mixture
* Take about 3 teaspoons of corn starch and mix with about a shot glass of cherry liquor. This will help stabilize the cheese fondue. Set it aside and add it in at the end when the cheese is properly melted
* Add a dash of nutmeg and some fresh cracked pepper and you are ready to enjoy
To serve, simply transfer the caquelon from your stove top to the burner on your table. Tomato fondue is traditionally eaten with potatoes rather than bread. I like to add some baby pickled onions and cornichons on the side to snack on as you eat. Although not traditional and from another Canton entirely, a nice side of Bündnerfleisch, which is a dried beef (native to the canton of Graubünden), also compliments the cheese very well.
One last word of advice, as a parting tip: do not drink water with tomato fondue. Serve up a nice white wine known as Fendant. Your stomach will thank you later (and so will your dinner date).