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Cheese Fondue

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Being a quintessential Swiss dish, cheese fondue conjures up images for me of alpine ski huts, deep snow and 20°F weather. Well, we don't get much snow or cold weather in the California central valley, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a good fondue party.

The trick to a successful fondue (other than the obvious one of having wonderful people around with whom to share it) is to ensure that the cheese dipping sauce stays smooth. Cheese has a propensity to get stringy or to "seize up" into clumps, the fat separating from the proteins. Food science authorHarold McGeesuggests several things in his bookOn Food and Cookingto ensure a perfect fondue.

Well-aged or moist grating cheeses work well in sauces. Don't heat the cheese beyond its melting point, cheese tends to ball up at higher temps, and don't let the cheese cool down too much before serving, as it tends to get stringier and tougher as it cools. Don't over stir the cheese, doing so will encourage stringiness. Coating the grated cheese with a starch such as flour or corn starch will help stabilize the sauce. Also,

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound Swiss-style cheese such asJarlsbergorEmmenthaler, shredded
  • 1/2 poundGruyere cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, halved crosswise
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoonkirsch(cherry brandy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Assorted dippers - cubed ham (skip for vegetarian option), blanched broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, chopped green bell peppers, cubed French bread (skip for wheat-free version), peeled and chopped apples or pears

1 Place the shredded cheese and cornstarch in a plastic freezer bag. Seal, shake to coat the cheese with cornstarch. Set aside.

2 Rub the inside of a 4-quart pot with the garlic, then discard. Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the wine. Stir constantly in a zig-zag pattern to prevent the cheese from seizing and balling up. Cook until the cheese is just melted and creamy. Do not let boil. Once smooth, stir in kirsch, mustard and nutmeg.

3 Transfer the cheese to a fondue serving pot, set over a flame to keep warm. If your pot is thin-bottomed, a lit candle will probably do. If thick-bottomed, you can use a small Sterno.

4 Arrange an assortment of bite-sized dipping foods on a lazy Susan around fondue pot.

5 Spear dipping foods with fondue forks or wooden skewers. Dip to coat with the cheese, and eat.

Quesadilla

I grew up making quesadillas, the benefit of having a Hispanic mother who is a great cook. "Queso" is cheese in Spanish. And a quesadilla is a toasted tortil...

Ultra-Thin-Crust Pizza with Onions, Mushrooms, and Ricotta

When I first encountered a recipe for a thin-crust pizza using a flour tortilla as a base I was indignant. "That's not a pizza! That's aquesadilla!" But I so...

How to Prepare a Cheese Board

Whether served as an elegant appetizer, a palate cleansing course between courses, an impressive tray at a holiday party, or as a sophisticated dessert the c...

Oven-toasted Sonoran Quesadilla

My mother grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and remembers fondly what she calls "Sonoran Quesadillas" - large, thin, flour tortillas, toasted with butter and chees...

Cheesy Bread

My friend Michelle loves to throw big parties, with plenty of food and plenty of friends. I think it must be the large Italian family thing, one is never at ...

Cheese Tacos

Most kids grow up learning how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so they can help themselves in the kitchen when they want some lunch. In our family...