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~ Melted Cheese Please: A Swiss Cheese Fondue (aka: Bill Clarke's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue) ~

IMG_4180In September, 1974, I arrived in State College, PA, a new bride of one day.  I gleefully spent my first two weeks setting up our household and unpacking bridal shower and wedding gifts.  One such gift was a chic, avocado green fondue pot.  About a month later, I decided to try out this trendy wedding gift and made the cheese fondue recipe that was included with the instructions that came with it.  It was a disaster:  the cheese sank to the bottom in clumps while the liquids separated out and bubbled to the top.  I was pleased to find out it was the recipe and not me:

Q1Yk2aDqojGQZf 091110_cheeseshopAt just about this same time in my life, a specialty store, The Cheese Shoppe, opened its doors in downtown State College on Calder Way.  I wandered into the store one afternoon and met the owner, Bill Clarke, a real-deal cheese monger extraordinaire!  

In the course of this, our first conversation, I told Bill my sad tale of failed fondue.  Bill was kind enough to share his personal fondue recipe with me.  Thirty-nine years later, his recipe remains the same, The Cheese Shoppe still remains the same, I remain a loyal Cheese Shoppe customer, and, Bill and I remain "cheesy" friends!

IMG_3996A bit about fondue:  Fondue (fahn-doo) is the French word for "melt", which comes from the verb "fondre", meaning "to melt.  The dish is said to have originated in Switzerland as a way for the peasants to use up hardened cheese, which they did by melting it and eating it out of a communal dish.  The traditional cooking vessel for fondue is called a caquelon:  a glazed-ceramic, lidded pot with a squat, broad shape and a thick handle.  It is designed so the bottom and sides of the pot conduct and distribute heat evenly, which helps to prevent the melting cheese mixture from scorching!

IMG_4000During the 1960's and early 1970's a fondue fad swept through the United States.  It spawned an entire industry based upon selling a "must have" piece of trendy cookware that reflected the atmosphere and taste of the era.  Designs of that time were all brightly-colored (avocado green, burnt orange and harvest gold to be exact) enamel-coated fondue pots that were perched atop a stand, with a can of sterno housed underneath, for keeping the fondue warm.  Each pot also came equipped with a set of color-coded forks.  More elaborate versions even had a lazy-Susan carousel-type mechanism slung around the sides with bowls for placing various ingredients in for dipping!

6a0120a8551282970b016300c99344970d-320wiAs small, electric, time-saving, "must have" countertop appliances started to find their way into American home kitchens everywhere (crockpots, hot-dog cookers, electric skillets, toaster ovens, etc.), many companies decided to make their fondue pots electric too.  From my perspective, that was a good thing. As you can see, I have several fondue pots, but, this type is my favorite.  I bought three a few years ago from a cooking catalog.  It works just like an electric skillet, which means I can, at all times, control the temperature perfectly!

IMG_4007Want to throw a fondue party?  Serve three kinds:

Mm_Since the 1950's, fondue has been generalized to include any food that is cooked in and/or eaten out of a communal pot of hot liquid.  When I throw a fondue party, the cheese fondue is the appetizer, the bourguignonne fondue is the main course, and, last but not least, the chocolate fondue is the dessert!

Thanks to the TV show Mad Men, "what's old seems to be new" and in vogue again.  Get your fondue pot down from the attic, out of the box, and:  cook retro.  It's more than fun, it is a trip back to what I consider to be to a kinder, gentler more innocent time, and, fondue parties were the talk-of-the town back then!

IMG_42241)  Fondue au fromage:  This the classic Swiss dish consisting of melted Swiss cheeses (Gruyere, Emmentaler and sometimes Appenzeller), lemon juice, white wine, Kirsch and seasonings.  The melted cheese is eaten by dipping crackers or cubes of firm-textured bread (toasted or untoasted) into the oh so ooey-gooey melted mixture.  Other countries have their own versions, but, I like Swiss best!

6a0120a8551282970b016761d01141970b-320wi2)  Fondue bourguignonne:  Is a variation where raw cubes or thin slices of high-quality beef are dipped into a savory oil-based sauce mixture and cooked to the desired degree of doneness.  The beef is then served on toasts as an appetizer, small rolls for a snack, or, even atop a bit of steamed rice with a vegetable or two for a small meal. You can find my recipe for ~ Asian Whiskey-Beef Fondue Sliders ~ in Categories 1, 2, 11, 17 or 20!

IMG_42533)  Chocolate fondue:  Is chocolate, cream and liqueur melted together. It's eaten by dipping pieces of fresh fruit, macaroons, cake and/or marshmallows into the decadent dessert.  The most famous is the Toblerone (Swiss milk chocolate made with honey and almond nougat) fondue.  I have not posted my recipe for this one yet, I'm saving it for this years Mad Men party post!

Bill Clarke's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue Recipe:

IMG_40148  ounces grated Gruyere*

8  ounces grated Emmentaler**

4  ounces grated Appenzeller***

2  tablespoons cornstarch

1/4-1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2-3/4  teaspoon white pepper

2  cloves garlic

1  cup white wine, dry or sweet

1/2  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4  cup Kirsch (a clear, Dutch, cherry-flavored brandy)

1/4  cup additional white wine, more or less, only if necessary

IMG_40171  1-pound loaf firm-textured bread, cut into 3/4"-1" cubes

(Note:  My preference is a French baguette or two French batards, which are slightly shorter and plumper.  Why?  Because when you cube them, each piece of bread will have some crust on it.  If you use a traditional, round or elongated loaf of bread, that will not be the case. Whatever you choose, just make sure it is firm-textured.)


Please take a moment to read some Swiss cheese info:

260px-Gruyère* Gruyere Cheese (groo-YEHR or gree-YEHR):  Perhaps the most spohisticated of Switzerland's cheeses, it is often compared with Emmentaler because it is made with raw cow's milk from cows that have only been grass and hay fed.  It's named for the Gruyere Valley in the canton (state) of Fribourg, Switzerland.  Gruyere has a hard to semi-hard texture that is dense, yet supple.  It has a golden brown rind and an ivory to yellow interior with occasional small, pea-sized holes.  Its flavor is notably complex:  creamy, fruity, nutty, earthy and mushroomy.  There are three types of Gruyere:  Classic (minimum 5 months ripening), Reserve (10-16 months ripening), and, d'Alpage (made only from April through October from cows that graze in high Alpine pastures). Even though the Swiss now have AOC "appellation status" to claim the name Gruyere, the word is still used for cheese made in other countries.  If and when the Swiss obtain the European Union's "protected origin status", other countries will be required to stop using the name. 

200px-Emmentaler** Emmental/Emmentaler Cheese (EM-mawn-tahl): Produced since the 13th century, this is Switzerlands oldest cheese.  It's named for the Emme Valley and the river which runs through the heart of the country.  It is the Swiss cheese from which all others have been patterned. Swiss Emmentaler is made from raw cow's milk that have been grass and hay fed.  The giant 900 pound, 45" round wheels have a thin, hard rind that ranges in color from pale yellow to brown and the smooth, ivory-yellow interior is scattered with cherry-sized holes.  It's buttery, sweet and earthy in flavor, with a minimum ripening time of 4 months and a maximum ripening time of 12 months.  Because the name is not protected, to ensure you are actually buying the authentic Swiss version, look for the the words "Emental" and "Switzerland" stamped on the rind.

200px-Appenzeller*** Appenzeller Cheese (AP-pent-tsehl-ler):  This smooth, firm, whole-milk pasteurized cow's cheese is named for its eastern Swiss canton (state).  It has a hard rind that ranges in color from pale to golden yellow and the ivory interior is scattered with tiny holes.  It's spicy, fruity and tangy flavor results from Sulz, which the cheese is soaked in then brushed with during the curing process.  Sulz is a complex mixture of wine, cider, yeast, herbs, spices and salt.  Appenzeller is sold at/after three ripening levels: Classic (silver label), 3-6 months; Surchoix (gold label), 4-6 months, and, Extra (black label), minimum 6 months.


IMG_4021~ Step 1.  Cut the bread cubes into 3/4"-1" pieces, placing them, in a single layer, on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper as you work....

IMG_4024...Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven until very lightly toasted, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not over toast.  You do not want to dry out the bread, meaning: it should be slightly crunchy on the outside with soft centers.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely. Transfer cooled cubes to a food storage bag until serving time.

Note:  If you're making the fondue immediately, you won't need the food storage bag, just proceed.

IMG_4032~ Step 2.  Trim the rinds from the cheeses, and, using a hand-held cheese grater and a kitchen scale as a measure, shred each one, placing all of them in a 2-gallon food storage bag as you work.

IMG_4036~ Step 3. Add cornstarch, nutmeg and pepper to bag.  Toss until cheese is coated with the cornstarch mixture.

Note:  This can be done 4-6 hours in advance and stored in refrigerator until preparing fondue. For best results, remove cheese from refrigerator 45-60 minutes prior to preparing the fondue.

IMG_4044~ Step 4.  Slice the garlic in half lengthwise and rub the open sides over the bottom and lower third of a 4-quart stockpot.  Place the garlic halves in the bottom of the stockpot and add the wine.  Place over medium heat just until bubbles appear across the surface.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.  Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the garlic.  Add the lemon juice.

IMG_4068 IMG_4080~ Step 5.  By hand, gradually start sprinkling in the grated cheeses.  When the last of the cheese has been added, stir constantly until completely melted and has a rich, thick and creamy appearance.  Stir in the Kirsch. Do not allow to simmer or boil!

IMG_4107To serve, transfer desired amount of fondue into any type of preheated fondue pot.  With fondue forks, dip the bread cubes into the fondue.  

Note:  Keep any remaining fondue covered, in stockpot, over very very low heat.  Additional wine may be added to either pot, in small amounts, to maintain desired consistency.  Once again, do not allow mixture to simmer or boil!

IMG_4196Melted Cheese Please:  A Swiss Cheese Fondue (aka:  Bill Clarke's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue):  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 1-2, 2-gallon food storage bags; cheese grater; kitchen scale; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; slotted spoon;  fondue pot; fondue forks; sterno, if applicable

IMG_4512 IMG_4501 IMG_4494 IMG_4498Cook's Note:  Fondue can be prepared a day ahead, covered and refrigerated overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1 1/2-2 hours prior to reheating in the microwave, for 4-5 minutes, stopping to uncover and stir about every 1-1 1/2 minutes, until restored to original consistency. Do not simmer.  I do not recommend doing this on the stovetop, even if using a double boiler.  

6a0120a8551282970b01630343a027970d-320wiExtra Cook's Note:  Last year, I hosted a party for the premier of Mad Men's fifth season.  To get that entire menu, ~ Mel's Mad Men Premier Night Menu Revealed ~ can be found in Category 11!

Additionally, my recipe for ~ Think Spring:  The Classic & Elegant Deviled Egg ~ can be found in Categories 1, 2, 4, 10, 11 or 12!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


Mel, I love Bill's story! What a wonderful artisan shop! When you describe it, I imagine so many of the small village boutique shops (negozi) that I loved in Italy. I wondered what the dollar bills were for! :)

Teresa! He really does have a wonderful, unique, charming, store. My friends from The Food Network were duly impressed when I took them there. He roasts his own coffee beans in the wee hours of each morning -- the entire street smells wonderful. He sells the beans and cups of coffee too. In the photo of Bill, notice all those dollar bills? The locals just saunter into "The Shoppe", fill their coffee cups with whatever kind of coffee they like, leave their money on the counter and get on with the rest of their day. It's the honor system. (Imagine that!?!) It's small town living at its best!!! ~ Mel.

Another beautiful retro blog. What's not to love about melted cheese! Bless Bill the cheese monger! :P

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