It is lovely to go for an outdoor holiday in the Alps. The mountain air is crisp and clean, and affords an unparalleled view, without all that oxygen to get in the way. Truthfully, the heights can be more than a bit dizzying and it may be desirable to steady oneself with a solid foundation of hot, melted cheese (especially if a bibulous evening is planned). A diet of fondue is what gives intrepid explorers the gumption necessary to scale the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc. Of course, one might enjoy this dairy-laden appetizer with a glass of Riesling or hard cider, whether or not one has plans to mountaineer. One will find it eminently satisfying, even when consumed preparatory to sedentary plans.
A word to those who wish, like the Swiss, to express neutrality: German Kirschwasser (a subtle cherry brandy) is added to traditionally prepared Swiss fondue. If one desires an Italian Piedmontese-style dish, add shaved white truffles or a drop or two of truffle oil to the cheese.
Yield: Provides 6 to 8 servings
1 small garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 bottle dry white wine
¾ pound Gruyere cheese, grated (3 cups)
¾ pound Emmanthaler or raclette cheese, grated (3 cups)
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
Freshly milled black pepper, to taste
Splash kirsch, optional
Crusty bread, chunks of crisp apple and pear, blanched asparagus or broccoli, for dipping
1. Prepare a medium-high-heat fire, with the flames occasionally licking the grill grate. Let it burn steadily for 30 minutes.
2. Rub the inside of a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan with the garlic; discard the garlic (tossing it into the flame is a pleasantly fragrant way to do this). Place the pot upon the grill grate. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the pot; divvy the remainder among one's party (or keep for oneself). Bring the wine in the pot to a simmer.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the cheeses with the cornstarch. Add the cheese to the simmering wine; reduce the heat to medium and stir constantly until the cheese is completely melted. Heat until bubbling, about 5 minutes. Season with pepper and kirsch. Transfer the Dutch oven to the resting place to cool slightly, then serve it with crusty bread, chunks of crisp apple and pear, or a platter of blanched asparagus or broccoli for dipping.
Although in life it is often necessary to choose between two evils, in the world of fondue, this is fortunately not the case. Having reached the bottom of the fondue pot, one has two blessed choices: One can allow the remaining cheese to bake onto the bottom of the pan until it forms 10 religeuse, a delicious, savory, crackerlike crust. Or, if one wishes to stretch the cheesy remains just a bit further, one can adopt the French custom of scrambling an egg or two into the bottom of the pot when the cheese dwindles. Consume as one would any cheesy scrambled egg.