My God I love fondue. Everything about it is good. Incredibly rich gooey cheese swaddling a crunchy bite of bakery fresh baguette, what could be better than that? It’s an easy to prepare and casual meal, that’s inherently social and fun. It’s horrible for you, which makes it even better to share with close friends you don’t mind relaxing around. Its got traditions, like the communal kirsch shot that’s taken half way through (one for each participant, and one goes into the pot to keep things from thickening), and inventive punishments for the poor soul whose bread falls off their fork. Better yet, there’s a special surprise at the bottom of the pot where the sterno bakes a perfect little cheese crisp. Just in case it wasn’t enough fun, it involves alcohol and an open flame.
Fondue enjoyed wild popularity in the ’60’s and ’70’s and has since slipped from vogue. I feel privileged to have my mother’s fondue pot as a relic of that renaissance. I’m not sure what caused this fall from grace for this near perfect food. Maybe people just got tired of it, maybe it got watered down with poor packaged versions and less than stellar bread. I can’t say, but I think it’s ready for a comeback. I wonder sometimes if sushi will go down the same road. Now that almost every grocery store has a sushi counter, how long can it remain a hip thing to eat? And, when sushi goes, what will come next?
This particular cheese fondue recipe worked out wonderfully. It has a couple of nice touches, like a mixture of emental and GruyÃ¨re, the occasionally overlooked rubbing of the pot with a clove of garlic, and directions for a zig zag stirring method that keeps the cheese from clumping or breaking on you. It lived up to the standards set for me by a Swiss friend, and great fondue aficionado.
I was lucky to be able to find good quality cheeses at reasonable prices, and as Montreal is overrun with good quality french bakeries a beautiful baguette was no trouble to obtain. On a recent visit out west I was introduced to the French stick. My understanding of this term is that it’s a baguette, only bad. I’ve started calling the grocery store fluffy interior mushy exterior baguettes French sticks, and reserving the term baguette for a loaf with a crisp crust, and a chewy interior, made with baguette flour. I’m not sure if the term French stick came about because people don’t like food with weird French names, and the only baguettes in those places happen to be bad. Or, if the French stick is an entirely different animal, and the standards for judging what makes a good one are just different. I find the division useful, if a bit snobby. But I’m certainly not above a bit of francophilic food snobbery.
I don’t have enough good things to say about fondue in general, and this fondue in particular. Make it, love it, share it.