Fondue Family lunch in France: Dont drop the bread!
Our cousin is a chef at a fondue restaurant in Le Havre so naturally our first big family lunch in France was a fondue lunch. I can’t tell you how much I love cheese fondue, texture, taste and aroma. Honestly, I could swim in the stuff. I also love that it’s interactive and served family-style, our little nieces and nephews relished in sitting at the adults’ table and dipping in their own little pieces of bread and cubes of potato.
Here are the tools necessary: a big fondue pot, long metal skewers and wooden spoon for stirring. As for the cheese fondue ingredients, we mixed together three types of cheeses: Beaufort, a hard French cheese with sharp taste, Comte, a semi-hard French cheese with slight tinges of sweet aftertaste and a Swiss hard cheese, Emmental, yes, the one with the trademark holes.
We also discovered that the French like to mix ham into their cheese fondue, making it more of a substantial meal. A generous splash of Vin de Savoie, French white wine made from grapes grown in the foothills of the French Alps, is added to the pot of cheeses and ham and away we go to melted cheese heaven.
The key to making smooth, creamy and gooey fondue is that it has to be constantly stirred otherwise, the cheese will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. Occasionally more shredded cheese is added to the pot.
The smell wafting from the pot of melting cheese is incredible, rich, buttery with some smokiness from the ham. As the boiling cheese gurgles and bubbles, the consistency to watch for is a thick, sticky and stretchy texture, when I pulled the wooden spoon out of the pot, it was as if the cheese was fighting back, pulling the spoon back in.
The dipping ingredients on the table included French baguettes, toasted and cut up. Dehydrating the bread first by toasting allows it to soak up the cheese better. Other ingredients included boiled potatoes, a spread of cold cuts: sliced sausage, prosciutto and ham. Little cut up pieces of hot dog were set out for the children.
Now, here’s the trick: spear the bread so it’s on your skewer nice and tight, make sure it’s sturdy, then take one sweeping dip into the pot, and balance the skewer on the side of the pot and twirl it so that all the goopy, drips of cheesy goodness are all on the bread, then take your cheese-soaked bread, blow on it (don’t burn your tongue) and pop it into your mouth! Here’s what they didn’t tell us until mid-meal, you can’t drop your piece of bread into the fondue pot, if you do, you have to buy the next meal for everyone at the table. So make sure you skewer that little piece of bread good!
The wine our cousin served at lunch was a 2009 Les Beatines, a fruity organic white wine. The name of the centuries old winery is Les Beates, it means ‘the Blessed,’ this is what a group of nuns in the 18th century called themselves when they established this winery. Yes, this was a winery established by nuns in Provence. One thing’s for sure, the refreshing, light and sweet tones in the Les Beatines went extremely well with our cheese fondue bringing out the tangy tastes of the Beaufort cheese and the sweet aftertastes of the Comte cheese.
The sweet wine was also the perfect balance to the salty cold cuts. I could really just eat these delectable ribbons of prosciutto rolled up and on their own sans cheese, I love prosciutto that much.
I had initially thought that the bowl of boiled potatoes looked so out of place on the table, still in their brown skins and looking rather drab next to that amazing platter of cold cuts. But to my surprise after being peeled and sliced, these potatoes became the perfect canvas for generous scoops of melted cheese. I have no idea why but French potatoes have a sweet aftertaste, I don’t know if this was further enhanced by the salty cheese.
The best stuff is at the bottom of the fondue pot, giant globs of ooey, gooey cheese sink to the bottom when everyone is almost finished eating. The cheese at the bottom is so thick and rich, it sticks to the back of the spoon. It’s the best time to grab what’s left of the bread to scoop up as much of the fondue as possible. Just don’t drop the bread! And it’s hard too since the cheese at the bottom of the pot is so thick and heavy, it’s like it’s fighting with you, pulling the little piece of bread off the skewer as you yank upwards. But it’s worth the tug a war, the incredibly rich, salty, glob of cheese melded onto the little piece of bread is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
This was easily one of the best meals I ate in France with our energetic little nieces and nephews running, laughing and squealing all around us, our cousin educating us on French wine, cheeses and architecture, with a hot and bubbling pot of cheese fondue filling the air with aromatic goodness.