When the rural inhabitants of Swiss and French mountainous villages devised a warming winter dish incorporating their local cheese and white wine, little did they know it would become an international dinner party hit. This recipe takes inspiration from the traditional Swiss method with a few tweaks. For instance, fruity Calvados is substituted for the traditional kirsch. And, in addition to serving the fondue with bread, try passing bowls of parboiled baby potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower florets for dipping. What should not be tweaked, however, is the provenance of the cheese: purchase the best quality, cave-aged Swiss or French alpine cheese you can find, such as Gruyère, Emmental, Comté, or Beaufort, and feel free to blend them to your taste. I like to use a blend of 2/3 Gruyère and 1/3 Emmental. Savor on a cold day with a glass of Julien Baillard Chablis 1er Cru Montmains.
1/4 cup Calvados 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, un-oaked white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pounds alpine cheese, such as Gruyère and Emmental, coarsely grated
1 loaf country style or levain bread, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Note: Have all of your ingredients ready before you begin. Once you begin, 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 Calvados, cornstarch, salt, black pepper, and 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 heat until tiny bubbles form, giving the wine a fizzy appearance, without coming to a boil.
Add the cheese, one handful at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until each handful is melted before adding the next. Once all of the cheese is added, continue stirring one minute – do not let the fondue boil during this entire process.
Stir in the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir until the cheese 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 the 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.
Lynda Balslev is an award winning writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author currently based in the San Francisco Bay area. She studied cooking in Paris and remained in Europe for 16 years, while living in Switzerland, England, and Denmark, where she learned that the best way to immerse oneself in a new culture was at the kitchen table. When she is not writing about food and wine through the lens of the travel, she writes about travel and culture through the lens of food and wine. Either way, it’s a win-win, and she looks forward to her next trip.