Table for Two

Cooking Fondue

Somewhere it is cold outside. Not here in Napa Valley, but somewhere. This balmy winter has all the plants confused; someone just told me they saw a pomegranate blooming, which is about four months early.
 
But I’m ignoring this wacky weather because the calendar says it’s time for fondue. With Valentine’s Day on a Saturday night this year, you can just forget about a restaurant reservation. Why don’t you stay at home instead, open some Champagne and make fondue?
 
I spent a week last June in France’s Jura Mountains and tasted an amazing fondue made in an alpine chalet by a gentleman who is a chef and shepherd in summer and a ski instructor in winter. I’ve been waiting for months to repeat the experience at home. Chef Norbert used Comté alone and said he preferred 13- to 18-month-old wheels. If you can’t find such mature Comté, or don’t want that expense, use a younger one and add some stronger cheese, like Appenzeller or Raclette.

Auberge La Petite Echelle

Auberge La Petite Echelle, where I had the fondue, is one of the few remaining alpage chalets in the Haut Jura. In times past, shepherds made cheese in these rustic huts—Vacherin Mont d’Or and Morbier in winter, Comté and Gruyère-style wheels in summer—but now the cheese making has moved to modern cooperative creameries. Cheese was made in Norbert’s chalet, which he now runs as a restaurant, from 1680 to 1930. Like a handful of others in these scenic mountains, Norbert is balancing agriculture with agritourism to create an economic rationale for preserving the chalet.
 
Serve the fondue with chunks of bread for dipping, of course. Steamed waxy potatoes, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts also appeal to me with fondue. A tart white wine is the typical accompaniment; it helps cut through the fat. But at my house, we’re chilling the Champagne.

Fondue My Way

Fondue Ingredients
  • 2/3 pound coarsely grated aged Comté
  • 1/3 pound coarsely grated Appenzeller
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch, or more to taste
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Coarsely cracked black, pink or green peppercorns, or a combination

 In a bowl, toss the grated cheeses with the potato starch.
 
Rub your fondue pot all over with the cut sides of the garlic. Add the white wine and place the pot over the heat source. When the wine begins to simmer, add the cheese a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts. When you have added all the cheese and it has all melted, add the kirsch. Taste for salt. Scatter the peppercorns on top and serve immediately.
 
Serves 4 to 6