Ask Chef Phyllis:
Every year just before Christmas Eve, I begin to think of my grandmother’s cheese fondue. I thought it was very special, and the memory brings joy to my heart. I’ve tried to duplicate it several times, but I wasn’t successful. It was an expensive experiment. Since then, I’ve purchased the supermarket Swiss fondue box for years. Pricey, and they all pretty much taste the same… cheese with wine added. My grandmother came from the Lake Constance area somewhere in Austria. Her fondue had eggs and I think butter in it—not just Swiss cheese. It was served with vegetable crudités, apples, ham, and sometimes roasted potatoes, not bread. I’ve looked up fondue on the internet and came up with nothing. Is there another kind of cheese fondue? Do you think you can help?
—Wallace LeMaster, Lexington, TX
I hope this Christmas tradition will be carried on in your family for many years to come.
Here’s what I found:
Fondue comes from the French word fondre, which means “to melt.” And you’re correct—cheese fondue is not exclusively Swiss, although that particular recipe has become the most famous.
Lake Constance lies within and is surrounded by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at the northern foot of the Alps. Since your grandmother was Austrian, her fondue would have been influenced by regional cheeses and what was available seasonally. Below I’ve listed some of the local cheeses from that area of Europe.
Although I found many recipes online for cheese fondue, most of them were versions of the recipe we acquaint with Switzerland. It wasn’t until I looked in old cookbooks that I found fondue recipes from Germany, Austria, and France, as well as some from Italy. I hope this is the fondue you remember from your beloved grandmother’s kitchen. I wish you and yours a happy holiday.
Austrian Style Christmas Cheese Fondue
The cheeses I recommend for this fondue are popular in Austria, Germany, and Italy. You should feel free to experiment and combine your favorites.
- ¾ pound Emmentaler, baby Swiss, Gruyère, Appenzeller, Tilsit, Cambozola, fontina, fresh mozzarella, or farmstead cheese, in any combination, cubed into ½-inch dices
- 2 cups whole milk or half & half
- 3 egg yolks, whisked
- 6 tablespoons butter
- Grated black truffle (optional)
- 2 large garlic cloves
Suggested Accompaniments: red and green pepper strips, carrot sticks, celery root, fennel, roasted potatoes, apple slices or chunks, ham chunks, salami slices, cooked bacon.
*Keep extra cheese, milk, and vegetables on hand.
Special equipment: fondue pot and forks, Sterno for heating.
- Place cheese cubes in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan set over low heat. Pour in milk or half & half to cover. Heat ingredients, stirring constantly. The cheese may appear stringy, but it will become more liquid over time.
- Take the pan off the burner for 3 minutes. Add the beaten egg yolks and butter, then stir with a large wooden spoon using a figure eight motion until smooth.
- Rub the fondue pot with garlic cloves. Discard the cloves, then transfer the cheese mixture to the fondue pot. If desired, grate black truffle over the fondue.
- Serve immediately with the prepared vegetables, meats, or apple slices for dipping.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products