Cheesemonster
Alice Bergen Phillips
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Adventures in Cheese

Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. Sometimes wine.

To Fondue or Not to Fondue?

Is that even a question?

A veritable amalgam of coziness – fire, friends, and hearty, stick-to-your ribs food – fondue is perfect during the short days and long nights of winter..

 Yuuuurrrrmmmmm

Yuuuurrrrmmmmm

So first off, let me get one thing out in the open – I didn’t always have such warm and fuzzy feelings about fondue. How can that be, you might well ask? Isn’t it just melty, cheesy goodness? Well, my friends, let me just say that fondue taught me the “too much of a good thing” lesson the hard way.

When I was in high school, my family took an epic trip around Switzerland. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow weren’t aware of this already, Switzerland makes absolutely fabulous cheese. For the Swiss, cheese is one of the central pillars of their cuisine, culture, and identity. If you think about it, this makes sense – with Switzerland’s high, alpine meadows full of lush green grass and herbs, raising dairy cows is a natural choice. From these cows, the world has been graced with cheeses like Appenzeller, Raclette, Gruyere, and Comte, to name just a few. And believe me, these are not the presliced, plastic sealed “baby swiss” that you’ll find in supermarkets across the US. Ranging from sweet, nutty, and milky to zesty, piquant, and punchy, these cheeses run the gambit of flavor, while also showcasing terroir and age-old technique.

 That's a lot of cheese...

That's a lot of cheese...

Anyway, back to my story: From Geneva to Bern, Mont Blanc to Montreux, we saw the sites, hiked the hills, and ate and ate and ate. Our first stop on this grand adventure was the town of Gruyere, where, as you can imagine, the cheese of the same name comes from. The first night we were there, we had a fantastic dinner comprised of a giant pot of fondue and lots and lots of fresh bread.

Okay, hold up – let’s talk for a second. What actually is fondue? Fondue – from the french word fondre, “to melt” – is the national dish of Switzerland. The earliest fondue recipe dates back to 1699 – basically, it advises the reader to melt grated cheese with wine and dip bread into it. To this day, that’s basically what fondue continues to be: cheese, wine, and various seasonings melted down together and then poured into a communal pot which has been placed over a flame (to keep it nice and melty). Long forks are used to dip bread or vegetables into the cheese mixture. Deliciousness and happiness ensue.

So there we were: my parents, my sisters, and me, all gorging ourselves on Switzerland’s national, and most popular, dish. The bread and cheese kept flowing for hours, and, you can rest assured that I kept going well after everyone else had reached their limit. It was absolute heaven… Until, later that night, it absolutely wasn’t. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that I must have eaten at least my weight, if not more, in melted cheese and good lord, did I regret it. Way, way, way too much of a good thing.

 See, that's what I thought too

See, that's what I thought too

It took me awhile to be able to look a fondue pot in the face again, but through hard work and perseverance, I can happily say that fondue and I are good friends again. And during the cold, dark winter nights, there's just nothing better. Next time you have your friends round, consider serving up some hot, melty goodness with your favorite dip-able accoutrements. Just don’t pull an Alice – pacing yourself is the name of the game.

Toodles!

Alice

Alice Bergen Phillips