My wife Yvonne has a wide-spread family. She was born in Weimar, in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany (before the foundation of the so-called „Deutsche Demokratische Republik“ or “German Democratic Republic”). Like many, her family escaped to the West in the 1950s and went initially to join relatives in the Canton of St Gallen in Switzerland. Yvonne has maintained contact with that side of the family. All this is a rather long-winded way of explaining her relationship with the Swiss fondue de fromage, usually half-translated into English as cheese fondue.
First, it should be clear from the name that fondue comes from the West of Switzerland, where they speak French. Yvonne's family is in Buchs SG, on the border with Liechtenstein and Austria. In this part of Switzerland, they speak German.
I first tried to make fondue (several times) before I met Yvonne. They resulted in limited success to abject failure. Frequently the fondue curdled, and we had to throw it away. When I met Yvonne and she told me how easy it was, I wasn't inclined to believe her. Since then, though, it's worked well every time. My previous failures were due mainly to inappropriate choice of cheese, about which more below.
In October 2004 we revisited Europe after years of absence. In Switzerland, two of our friends served us a fondue on two successive nights, one in Zürich, the other in Buchs, giving us a good idea of to what extent our own efforts relate to Swiss tradition. It's interesting to note that the fondue served in Zürich is noticeably thinner than the one served in Buchs, which is closer to our own (presumably because Yvonne learnt it there). All the fondues I've had in Zürich seemed a little watery.
On 29 December 2005, Daniel Demuth (from Zürich, and our host for the first of the October 2004 fondues) visited us, so we had nothing better to offer him than a fondue. In the process, we compared notes. He uses less of just about every adjunct than we do. Here's a rough comparison. The original was for four servings, but since I mainly make two servings, I'm including that too. Finally, we didn't talk about lemon juice or Kirsch, which both belong in there. I've added it for my versions.
Initially we were agreed that we needed 200 g cheese per person, but in the course of time we've found this to be too much. I've modified the quantities below based on our experience on 20 April 2013. In the process I've changed the proportions too: there are proportionally more other ingredients.
|(2 portions)||(4 portions)||(4 portions)|
|Garlic||5 g||10 g||trace|
|Wine||150 ml||300 ml||250 ml|
|Lemon juice||10 ml||20 ml|
|Kirsch||30 ml||60 ml|
Fondue consists almost entirely of cheese, so obviously the choice is important. My experience is that the majority of the cheese should be Gruyère, and that only Swiss (i.e. cheese from Switzerland) cheese is satisfactory. Even copies of Swiss cheese made in other countries are not the same, not even from the nearby cheese producing areas of France and Germany. In July 2007, out of desperation, my wife Yvonne and I bought an Australian “Gruyère” made by a company with the incongruous name Heidi. The cheese tasted remarkably authentic, and I would be happy to eat it as a substitute for real Gruyère; but in a fondue, it was a catastrophe. The fondue should be very smooth, but for some reason this one tasted lumpy. It also lacked the typical fondue aroma.
What about other cheeses? It's perfectly possible to make a fondue just with Gruyère, the older the better; the best I ever had was a very old one which I bought at Zürich airport decades ago. Yes, you might think that you wouldn't be able to get a really good cheese at an airport shop, and that was exactly the prejudice I had when they offered it to me; but in this case the cheese was really excellent. I was told the name was “Gläes”, though I can't be sure of the spelling. I was never able to find it again.
Most Swiss fondues, though, add other cheeses, notably
One Swiss cheese you shouldn't use for fondue is Emmental: it leaves threads behind, making a mess reminiscent of the orgy scene in Astérix chez les Helvètes.
Shortly before serving, you should add Kirsch to the fondue. It doesn't have to be the best quality. That's easier said than done in Australia, where (particularly in Victoria) Kirsch appears to be unknown. You can also use other fruit spirits, such as plum (Slivovitz comes to mind). But the spirits we get here seem to be more influenced by Italian traditions, and they taste significantly different. We've tried various things, including even brandy; that's acceptable, but it clearly doesn't have the fruit aroma. Maybe vodka would be a better choice.
We choose firm white bread. Darker breads have too much flavour, and English-speaking concertina bread is too soft, and risks having you thrown into Lac Léman with weights on your feet.
And the size? I've seen various sizes, but on 24 December 2019 I tried to quantify it: the cubes should weigh between 3 and 4 g. And it should weigh about ⅔ to ¾ the weight of cheese.
The majority of French texts call the dish “fondue au fromage” (fondue with cheese) instead of “fondue de fromage”. It's not so much as to make the latter name wrong, and to me it seems to shift the emphasis. For me, the cheese is the fondue, not just an ingredient, so I'll stick to calling it “fondue de fromage”.
We moved to the Ballarat, Victoria area in July 2007. To our surprise—I'd almost say shock— the choice of good foods is very limited, and there's only one shop in town where you can get good cheese, Campana's Stockade Cellars, on the SW corner of Mair and Armstrong Streets. This isn't the fault of the vendors: the population of Ballarat seem to be more old-style Australians than most, and they're not interested.
Campana's have gruyère, but no other Swiss cheeses. As I've noted above, it must be cheese from Switzerland. On the other hand, they have a raclette cheese which is not really typical: raclette is usually quite mild, but this has a bite to it which makes it taste more like Appenzell. We've found that a mixture of 75% gruyère and 25% raclette makes quite a good fondue—but this only relates to the cheeses available at Campana's.
Melbourne is a whole different kettle of fish, right? Well, yes, but so far I haven't found anything spectacular. There's a stall in the delicatessen section of the Victoria Market which sells good Gruyère and also Appenzeller. I forget the name, but it's almost exactly in the middle of the building, on the north side of the short middle passage. There's another cheese shop opposite on the south side, but in my experience they don't have cheeses as good for fondue. Unfortunately the map on the QVM web site is pretty useless for locating the stalls.
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