Cheese, Please!

On Christmas, I served homemade pate’ de campagne– a chunky flavorful pork-fest.  By pork-fest, I mean ground pork, finely minced bacon, and strips of ham steak, all mixed together with seasonings and a good glug of cognac, then packed into a loaf pan, lined with– what else?– strips of bacon.  Baked in a water bath then weighted down with pans and cans to compress the texture.  What’s not to love?  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of slicing the loaf too thick for the Mommy Dinner trial Christmas dinner; I had let the pate’ come close to room temperature, so it was difficult to slice thin.  This time, I had that loaf fully chilled down and was able to slice thin 1/4-inch slices.

For my family, I had one wooden board loaded with a few slices of pate’ and the traditional garnishes of cornichons and mustard.  My other wooden tray was laden with CHEESE!  Mmm, mmm, good.  I bought a Maytag (yes, the same family as in the home appliances people) blue which, in my opinion, is way better than its overseas counterparts of Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton.   Maytag is not so salty and has a touch of creamy sweetness that helps round out the characteristic sharpness of the blues.  Blue cheeses are my favorite!  (As in the very traditional iceberg wedge– the only time I ever eat iceberg lettuce– with homemade blue cheese dressing, crumbled crisp local bacon and finely diced local summer tomatoes).

I also bought Kurt and Ken’s absolute favorite goat cheese, Humboldt Fog, a California cheese whose name I never forget because I have acoustically associated it to Nabokov’s pedophile protagonist Humbert (that’s the English major in me).  The cheese is easily identifiable by the black line of ash through the center– even Ken knows when there’s a slice of Humboldt before him!  Give them some Humboldt and baguette and that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner for them!

The last cheese on my board was an aged Beemster from Holland   This Dutch cheese is a recent addition to our cheese repertoire; Kurt and I had it at a restaurant in Rehoboth beach this summer.  It’s aged over two years and has a deep nutty taste and what I can only describe as the “hard” taste of liquor.  Kurt has fallen in love with this cheese so I bought a big slice!

Of course we had leftovers after Christmas and we all agreed to a charcuterie plus cold Beef Wellington dinner last night– mostly due to the fact that Ken had a violin lesson (I always seem to be writing about these violin lessons); in addition, it was so cold and wet and icy that NO one wanted to go out to dinner.  Unfortunately we no longer had any baguette left, so we improvised with water crackers.  It was a winter picnic!

Yeah, that's a sugar cookie-- must have dessert!

Yeah, that’s a sugar cookie– must have dessert!

It’s cold and windy today as well, so I’m extending the cheese fest (as well as my cooking “break”) by preparing fondue for dinner.  I say “prepare” because it’s not really cooking, although there is a technique.  It’s everyone’s favorite (cheese!) and so easy to make– even easier for me because my sister Tina gave me an electric fondue pot a few years back for Christmas.  Making fondue is fairly easy if you understand and follow a few basic rules:

  • Use the best cheese you can find/afford; you need a pound, half of which should be gruyere.
  • Use cornstarch and a little lemon juice to prevent the melted cheese from separating (“breaking”).
  • Use a white wine as the primary liquid for melting the cheese (its acidity also helps to keep the fondue creamy).
  • Add the cheese a handful at a time and let that melt completely before adding the next batch, then let the mixture just sit for a while to thicken and come together.  I use a whisk or something with holes– if the fondue stretches across the hole(s), then it’s ready for dipping.
  • Add the kirsch at the end after all the cheese has been incorporated.
  • Try not to stir the fondue too much as you’re making it– again, to lower the risk of breaking the fondue.
  • A fondue pot makes it really easy to control the heat level.
  • If the fondue does break, you can repair it!  Add a little lemon juice or white wine and stir well to bring it back together.

Cheese Fondue

for the fondue:

  • 1 lb cheese (at least half gruyere– I use 8 oz gruyere, 4 oz emmenthaler, 4 oz fontina or comte’)
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 1/4 c white wine plus more if needed to thin fondue to proper consistency
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 tsp kirschwasser (optional if you don’t like the flavor)

suggestions for dippers:

  • sliced/cubed baguette
  • sliced kielbasa
  • mushrooms
  • cooked chicken, cubed
  • carrots
My cheese trifecta

My cheese trifecta: Gruyere, Comte’, Emmenthaler

Prep your dippers and find your skewers. Prepare the cheese by removing the rinds, then grating.

You really don't want to use the rind!

You really don’t want to use the rind!

Toss the grated cheese with the cornstarch and mustard.  Set aside.

Sometimes the mustard clumps, so make sure you break it up when you toss the cheese

Sometimes the mustard clumps, so make sure you break it up when you toss the cheese

Take the garlic clove halves and use them to rub the bottom and sides of the fondue pot.  Discard the cloves; do NOT leave them in the pot.

The garlic rub is a traditional step.

The garlic rub is a traditional step.

Bring the wine (I used leftover Riesling from Christmas) and lemon juice to a fast simmer (almost boiling),

Wine/lemon must be bubbling in order to melt the cheese

Wine/lemon must be bubbling in order to melt the cheese

then add in no more than a handful of cheese.  Let this melt, stirring as needed (do not over-stir).  Adjust the heat if the mixture begins to boil (simmer is OK); heat will break down the cheese, giving you stringy fondue, not the smooth velvety cheese robe you want for your dippers!

First handful.  Whisk as little as possible to melt to avoid breaking the cheese.

First handful. Whisk as little as possible to melt to avoid breaking the cheese.

Once the cheese is melted, continue adding cheese by the handfuls, letting each handful melt thoroughly into fondue before adding the next handful.  Once all the cheese has been added, stir in the kirschwasser.

Kirsh or Kirshwasser is cherry liqueur (clear)

Kirsh or Kirshwasser is cherry liqueur (clear)

Start dipping ASAP.

Shrooms, red peppers, turkey kielbasa, poached chicken breast cubes

Shrooms, red peppers, turkey kielbasa, poached chicken breast cubes

If you get the bottom of the pot, congratulations!  The crust at the bottom of the pot is called la religieuse and is considered a delicacy.  It is delicious!  If you have extra fondue, pour it into a container and reheat it later.  We rarely have any leftover…

Bread is still the best dipper-- nothing to mask the gruyere, wine and kirsch!  YUM

Bread is still the best dipper– nothing to interfere with the flavors of the gruyere, wine and kirsch! YUM

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