I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but my cold weather tolerance is not built for the Northeast. Alas, here I am – a southerner with a surplus of scarves and mittens – prepping my mental sanity for the cold, dark months to come. Thank God for the onslaught of rich, warm recipes of the season – meaty stews, creamy soups, rich casseroles, etc. Tis the season for eating (no regrets!) and spending time with friends and family enjoying it! Thus my good friend Sev (a clarinetist) unearthed his cast-iron caquelon to melt a ridiculous amount of cheese for a Swiss Fondue that is to die for!
As a native Swiss, Sev’s approach to fondue is far more serious than what most American households have become accustomed to (i.e. prepackaged fondues and queso look-alikes). He only uses quality ingredients, has specific standards on cookware and utensils, and prepares the dish by sight and feel. Gruyère (NOT Swiss Cheese) is the key to this dish. To demonstrate how much the Swiss value their Gruyère, it was recently given the certification Appellation d’origine contrôlée (French for “controlled designation of origin”). As a result, Gruyère from Switzerland (and France, to some degree) must meet certain standards of production and “affinage” (French for “maturation”). Locations for this aging must be cellars with climates similar to natural caves (obviously caves being the ideal) – this ensures control over the levels of temperature and humidity. The affinage can take anywhere from 2 to 10 months, with the flavor and color achieving greater depths the longer it ages.
Derived from the French term “fonder” (meaning “to melt,” in French), the earliest recipe for fondue dates back to 1875 as a national dish of Switzerland. It was a classic peasant dish as a way to use up leftover cheese during the cold, winter months. Fondue was a way for friends and family to come together and enjoy a single dish, and it has since come to serve as a symbol of unity to the Swiss. Bread is the traditional accompaniment, but I love to include fruits and vegetables. At the end of the day, the art of fondue is not by precision but by feel – knowing the right consistency, temperature, and adjustments to make are all part of the technique. That being said, this recipe is a great place to start (and will be ten times better than those prepackaged varieties, trust me) – click HERE for Sev’s authentic approach to making a great fondue.
Fondue, as an export of Switzerland, is adequately associated with the rustic mountain life of its native consumers. This led Sev to recommend the following: Richard Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Op. 64. This work illustrates an eleven-hour journey, from dusk till dawn, spent trekking an Alpine mountain. It is the largest and last of Strauss’ tone poems; it is also considered to be his most popular. The composer had a great passion for nature, and took inspiration for the work from his own experiences as a boy. This past summer, Sev and I drove to New Hampshire with our good friend Danny to hike Mount Washington – out of necessity, we listened to this piece on the drive home. The recording I’ve included below is with Andrè Previn & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (the movements of the “journey” are listed in the video’s description) – I hope you enjoy!
“An Alpine Symphony” Wikipedia.com