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So Swiss: Eat Fondue & Raclette

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La fondue crée la bonne humeur.
Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Luune (figugegl).
‘fondue creates a good mood’
– a promotional slogan created for Swiss cheese fondue

Cheese fondue is more popular as a national dish of Switzerland. I’ve been here for more than a year so I would commit a crime only if I haven’t had a taste of it.  Yet fortunately enough, it’s also at this month last year when I enjoyed not only cheese fondue but also raclette, for the first time.

Fondue and raclette are both Swiss and French dishes. Nonetheless cheese fondue in particular, is claimed to be as a Swiss national food during the 1930s by the league of Swiss cheesemakers as a way to increase cheese consumption in the country.

Fondue has also been generalized to other dishes such as chocolate fondue and fondue bourguignonne, where food pieces are dipped into a shared pot of hot liquid. Both terms fondue and raclette are derived from French verbs: fondre meaning ‘to melt’ and racler ‘to scrape.’ From these words, it’s already giving you an idea how these dishes are done.

Fondue, raclette and moi

I was formally introduced to Swiss cheese fondue and raclette when my friends and I went to Hotel Edelweiss restaurant to have Swiss food for dinner.  Inside this restaurant you get the feel of a typical Swiss life through its chalet-like interiors, tourist-friendly musical entertainment, and of course, their offer of classic Swiss food – cheese fondue and raclette.

I appreciated raclette immediately, but the fondue in this restaurant unfortunately, didn’t please me much. So my friend recommended that we visit Café du Soleil for a better-tasting fondue next time. Then that opportune time came and the next thing I knew, I was already relishing a piece of bread deeply coated with creamy ooze of melted cheese.

By the time I moved out from Geneva, the attraction to cheese has just gotten stronger. I am now in the place where cheeses, as well as fondue and raclette, are regular food stuff served on the table.

Recently, we went up to Creux du Van and there I ate another cheese fondue for lunch in Le Soliat. Because the restaurant is used to be a typical Swiss barnhouse, you’d most likely get a closer experience of the rustic life in Switzerland. Unluckily, the quality of cheese fondue of Le Soliat didn’t go at par with the good first impressions I had with this resto.

The cheese fondue with mushrooms is terribly oily. We assume the bread is thawed because it easily breaks apart. The Neuchatel white wine is boring for my taste.

In the end, nothing beats the best-tasting fondue and raclette made and eaten at home.  Officially I fell in love with Swiss cheeses and the dishes that go with it. I’m stuffed!

Eat fondue & raclette like a Swiss

Long time ago, the Swiss cow herders would bring cheese with them as they move the cows from low pastures up to the mountains and in the evenings, they’d place the cheese near to the fire until the cheese gets the softness they desire and they’d scrape it on top of the bread. Nowadays, an electric table-top grill with small pans known as coupelles, which is normally placed on the center of the table, are essentially used to heat slices of raclette cheese in. Then the melted cheese is poured over the accompanying ingredients. The raclette cheese now typically goes with small potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and dried meat.

It takes around 2 minutes for the cheese to meet its creamy consistency and 3 minutes for crispier top. The side dishes can also be heated under the grill together with the cheeses. It’s also nice to add minced garlic on top of the melted cheese and heat up the cheese a bit more before scraping it off.

Fondue is a popular dish for dinner parties in the lates 60s and 70s in the US and it had been known later on to be originated from Switzerland.  During its heyday, a Swiss restaurateur, who had popularized cheese fondue, introduced a fondue method of cooking meat cubes in hot oil, known as fondue bourguignonne. Later he invented chocolate fondue  as an attempt to promote Toblerone chocolate.

Cheese fondue is made with a mixture of cheeses (traditionally, Emmenthal and Gruyère) and wine, melted in a communal pot called caquelon. A small amount of cornstarch is added for more stable emulsion, while kirsch (cherry water) is an optional add-on. The melted cheese blend becomes a dip for pieces of bread speared on a long fondue fork.

Using the traditional fondue pot, keep the temperature moderate enough by not letting the flame get too close to the bottom of the pot, to avoid burning the cheese. Dunking the fondue fork with bread deeply into the mixture and swirling it longer within the pot will also help keep the fondue smooth and fluid.

Once the fondue is finished, a thin crust of toasted cheese is left at the bottom of caquelon. In French, it is called la religieuse (the nun), somewhat connoting that this piece is extra special. It appears to be the highlight, a finale. Almost the entire piece is lifted out and is offered for everyone to eat. There’s also a tradition that when a man loses his bread in the pot, he buys drink for everyone and if a woman does, she must kiss her neighbors.

Local people would highly suggest to drink tea or other warm beverages while eating fondue or raclette. White wine is also another option.  It’s claimed that taking in other drinks, (cold) water in particular, is a no-no because it will lead to indigestion. Someone I know drinks iced tea instead every time she eats these cheese dishes and she’s been doing fine (a Swiss she is too), so this is considerably another old wive’s tale. Yet then again, at the back of my mind I hear myself saying, “There’s nothing much to lose anyway, so, drink the wine (oh, or warm tea, too)!”

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