After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the relative quiet of January can be a welcome relief. The chill and early twilight also provide an ideal setting to gather with friends, particularly if holiday scheduling conflicts made that impossible.
Following a day of downhill or Nordic skiing, gathering around Swan’s Nest’s 123-year-old hearth for an apres ski fondue party is an especially fun way to be with friends.
While my husband Randy builds a fire in the hearth, I gently stir grated Gruyere and other cheeses in an electric fondue pot with chopped garlic, Dijon mustard, and white wine.
As the cheeses slowly melt, I place a basket of cubed rustic bread and a large platter of bite-size vegetables and sliced fruit on the coffee table within easy reach of our guests. Once the fondue is ready, the real fun begins as everyone uses long, slender forks to dip their bread and veggies into the silky, smooth mixture.
Fondue, which comes from the French word meaning “to melt,” originated in Switzerland in the 18th century as a way of stretching limited foodstuffs during the long winters. Farmers melted whatever cheese was on hand, added a splash of wine, and dipped stale bread into the mixture. From these humble ingredients came a proud Swiss comfort food tradition that was introduced to Americans in the Swiss pavilion during the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Today, fondue continues to be a popular, family-style winter tradition in Switzerland.
Fondue parties are fun for all ages, interactive, super easy – and no snow is required! That’s why they’re ideal for winter gatherings no matter where you live.
While chocolate fondue and chocolate fountains gained popularity over the last 20 years, I’ve found most adults prefer the traditional savory version, and children love it, too.
Every parent knows kids like anything they can dip, so fondue is a clever way to get them to eat more vegetables.
For large gatherings, or to transform the fondue party into a hearty dinner, add platters of rolled prosciutto, small meatballs, or cubes of summer sausage or cooked chicken breast.
½ pound Gruyere cheese
½ pound Fontina cheese
¼ pound white cheddar or pepper jack cheese
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 ¼ cup Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Blanched broccoli and cauliflower florets
Apple slices, sprinkled with lemon juice
1 baguette or rustic bread loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes
Grate the cheeses into a large bowl (Freezing the cheese for 15 minutes before grating makes it easier to grate). Sprinkle the cheese mixture with cornstarch and toss with your hands to coat.
Preheat an electric fondue pot to medium heat, add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute until it is fragrant. Add the wine and mustard, stir well to mix, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the cheese, a little at a time, stirring well until it melts before adding additional cheese. Stir in chile flakes, if desired.
Heat until the cheese is creamy and smooth, stirring often.
To serve, arrange broccoli and cauliflower florets, asparagus, apple slices, and bread cubes on a platter. For large groups, serve the bread cubes in a basket. Place the fondue pot, small plates, fondue forks, and the vegetable platter in the center of the table.
Yield: 6 servings