The delirious wonderlands of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France all hold one thing in common: The four countries make up half of the Alpine territories, parts of Europe that surround the soaring Alps. This area is known for its mountains, a world-famous ski season, and most importantly here at Chowhound, a legendary food scene.
Related Reading: 11 Surprising Foods to Dip in Chocolate Fondue
A new book, “Alpine Cooking,” tracks the food, stories, and recipes found in these four countries, helmed by food writer Meredith Erickson. This Alpine tome features 80 recipes—everything from wiener schnitzel to cheesy spaetzle—accompanied by hundreds of photographs and stories told through the lens of locals and Meredith’s own experiences. The book serves as both a cookbook and a travel guide, and sits in perfect company with cooking lovers, travelers, skiers, and anyone who simply likes to curl up by the fire and nosh on cheese.
Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe's Grand Mountaintops, $33 on Amazon
Here, Meredith shares a recipe for perhaps the most Swiss dish around: cheese fondue. This classic dish is just begging to be made on a cold winter night, ready to be mopped up with crusty baguette, cornichons, and pickled onions. This version calls for a heaping of emmental and gruyere cheeses, which are melted along with white wine, kirsch, and a grinding of nutmeg and white pepper. It comes together easily in a caquelon (a traditional cast iron fondue pot), but if you don’t have one, a slow cooker or double boiler will do in a pinch.
Reprinted with permission from Alpine Cooking, by Meredith Erickson, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Photographs copyright © 2019 by Christina Holmes.
I’m not sure when a Swiss person first dipped into flavorsome, melted cheese, but wedding registries haven’t been the same since. Relatively speaking, fondue is still fairly new in North America. As the story goes, fondue was first marketed to Americans during the 1964 World’s Fair in New York via the Swiss Pavilion’s Alpine restaurant. From there, North Americans embraced the caquelon (fondue pot), especially in the 1970s when sharing food (and your partner) became more popular.
But let’s get to the cheese. Fondue can be as highbrow (see variation) or as casual as you want. This is our baseline fondue; if someone says fondue, assume this is what they’re talking about. Neuchâtel is a city in the Vaud region, which covers a teeny-tiny area between France’s Jura and the larger Valais canton. The cheese in a Neuchâtel is a mix of Gruyère and Emmental.
In Switzerland, boutique cheeses are often used as a stamp of quality. For example, at Chesery restaurant in Gstaad, the cheese fondue is made from L’Etivaz and Vacherin Fribourgeois. L’Etivaz is made by a small cheese co-op in a town of 150 people; it’s essentially a Gruyère made as it was 100 years ago: a creamier, less sharp version of its newer self. Vacherin Fribourgeois is produced by a very small number of cheese artisans and, consequently, is very difficult to find. There is fun to be had tasting fondues around Switzerland, because you’re likely to come across cheeses from local dairies that are rare and fresh from the alpage (high mountain pasture), reflecting local flavors.
Staub Cast Iron Mini Fondue Set, $94.95 on Amazon
In France, you’re more likely to come across either Fondue Savoyarde (half Beaufort or Comté, half Emmental) or Fondue Jurassienne (100 percent Comté). In the French chapter, I included a “take-away” fondue housed in a brioche. Apologies to my terre d’adoption (adopted land), but I’m not including Montreal-favorite Fondue Chinoise here (nor a Bourguignonne); neither dish is Alpine, and I’ve never loved the idea of dipping meat into an open vat of hot oil on my dining-room tablecloth.
Notes: Fondue sets are more versatile than you think—they are the perfect vessel, in fact, for any kind of low-and-slow melting or tempered sauce making. I like to whip up a béarnaise sauce in mine, while pan-frying sirloin steaks for two. Bring the pot to the table and dip your steak directly in the warm sauce.
Just because you are gluten-sensitive doesn’t mean you should miss out. Replace the bread with slices of apple (I sometimes prefer this to bread).
I like to begin cooking the fondue on the stove top until a bit of the liquid has evaporated and then move to the set above the fuel burner.
Fondue Neuchâtel Recipe
- 1 garlic clove
- 11⁄2 cups (360ml) dry white wine, such as Chablis or dry Riesling
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons kirsch
- 2 cups (230g) grated Emmental cheese
- 2 cups (230g) grated Gruyère cheese
- Freshly ground white pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Sweet paprika
- Day-old French bread or country loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes, or apple slices for serving
- Cornichon pickles for serving
- Pickled onions for serving
- Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic. With the caquelon over stove-top medium heat, warm the wine with the lemon juice.
- In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk the cornstarch and kirsch until smooth.
- Gradually add both cheeses to the pot, stirring continuously in a figure-eight motion. When the mixture begins to bubble, stir in the kirsch-cornstarch paste. Continue to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, and season with a little white pepper, nutmeg, and paprika.
- Should your melted cheese begin to separate, increase the heat and whisk or stir the mixture quickly to bring it together again.
- Carefully light the flame on your fondue set, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Turn off the stove-top heat and carefully transfer the pot to your fondue set.
- Serve the fondue with bread cubes or sliced apples, cornichon pickles, and pickled onions.
Header image courtesy of Christina Holmes.