My last indulgence of fondue, at a New York restaurant that will remain nameless, proved unremarkable. The flavors were flat, and if there was any cheese-related epiphany to be had, my taste buds were certainly not at the receiving end.
But just last weekend, redemption was found in a humble gathering of good friends and the best pot of melted cheese I've had yet, thanks to my cheese-loving host, pictured here, happily stirring away.
Herein lie some secrets to a sure-fire fondue, including a formula to follow each and every time, guaranteed to convert even the disenchanted.
Keep in mind that the most important element of a memorable batch of fondue is the cheese itself. Use great cheese from a reputable cheesemonger.
The Winning Fondue Formula
1 garlic clove, halved 1 pound cheese of your choice (the combination of Gruyere, Cantal, Raclette, Emmenthaler, and Fontina Val D'Aosta was especially transcendent), roughly chopped into large pieces 2 cups dry white wine (or a full-bodied beer works well, too, like a nutty brown ale) with good acidity 2 ounces Kirschwasser (or more, to taste) 2 tablespoons cornstarch salt and pepper, to taste
Rub the inside of a medium saucepan with one half of the garlic clove. Use the other half for the inside of the fondue pot. Heat the cheese and wine in the saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. It's important to heat the cheese and wine slowly so it does not burn. When it starts to bubble and thicken slightly, mix the kirschwasser and the corn starch, and then add that mixture to the pot. Stir to combine and let cook, stirring, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a fondue pot set over a low flame.
Mix and match-- The greater the number of cheeses you combine, the more interesting the flavor of your fondue will be. Generally speaking, most fondue-friendly (that is, meltable) cheeses have complementary flavors. Generally speaking, these cheeses will be mountain cheeses, which are aged, hard cheeses, the most famous of which come from the Alpine regions of France or Switzerland. Don't be afraid to throw in some old cheeses that may have been sitting around for awhile. It's a great way to get rid of scraps that have likely matured and become sharper.
Some great cheese options include: Gruyere, Appenzeller, Comte, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Farmhouse or English-style cheddar, Fontina, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Cantalet/Cantal, Hoch Ybrig, Salers, Raclette, and Emmenthaler.
Don't rush it! Melt down the cheeses over low heat, and keep them in large blocks rather than grating them. We found that this yielded a superior texture: smooth and creamy throughout, with no lumps.
Experiment with spices and herbs. Adding a sprig of fresh thyme, a grating of raw garlic, some cayenne, paprika, nutmeg, or white pepper. Other add-ins to try: sauteed leeks, sweet pimenton, smoked salt, or chives.
Play around with different bread offerings. In addition to plain baguette, try loaves of fruit and nut breads. Walnut bread is especially great, as are seeded, grainy loaves.
Drink! Nothing goes better with fondue than some great wine or beer. The experience isn't complete without it.
For more fondue tips, check out our Tips for a Fondue Party, and be sure to read the reader comments, which have some great suggestions, too!