A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Nuts ( & Schlossed) Over Melted Cheese
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday night was Hilary's birthday. She is Rebecca and Lauren's mother and my youngest daughter. We had a cheese fondue. For dessert Rosemary prepared a Mexican flan served with whipped cream. Our drink was fresh-squeezed mandarin orange juice. The event brought to mind another years before.

The Swiss gentleman and his son sat at my table in Burnaby some 29 years ago to partake of my Swiss fondue. Rosemary thought I was crazy and predicted a disaster. I did point out to her that when my father had moonlighted as a translator for the Indian Embassy in Buenos Aires he had invited the embassy staff to our home for curry.

I was 8 or 9 and I had never seen Bombays before as my mother, and Filipinos, call all Hindus. Hindu with a t at the end is a terrible four letter word in Tagalog so that's why Indians from India are Bombays in the Philippines.

The Swiss gentleman, Mr. Broennimann had been the CEO of Nestlé in Mexico when both my wife and I had taught his son André at an American private school around 1970. Andre (Andy) had decided to study at UBC and his father was visiting.

For once I was able to prove my wife wrong as Broennimann père and Broenniman fils argued on only one of the ingredients. It seemed that the father objected to my use of nutmeg while his son argued that in some Swiss cantons nutmeg was the norm!

My adventure and taste for cheese fondue had begun in 1970 when my daughter Ale's godfather, Andrew Taylor gave us a fondue set for Christmas. In Mexico I was hampered by the strict Mexican prohibition on imported cheeses. I had to make do with whatever I could find. At first I had several disasters where the mixture would curdle until I started mixing a tablespoon of corn starch with the white wine and poured the mixture into the aluminum caquelon (my pot was not an authentic Swiss earthenware pot).

Only once did we try the other variety of fondue, a meat one. We accidentally knocked over the pot on our dining room table and we were lucky not to have been burned.

Andrew's fondue set was made in Mexico and it is a combination of copper and brass. There is no insulation between the alcohol burner and the fondue frame so the whole setup gets incredibly hot. Every once in a while I forget. I touch to move it at the table and suffer from the experience with temporary loss of the finger prints of my right or left hand. Every time this happens I swear to throw the set away and buy a modern one. I remember Andrew and his kind gift, and I renege.

For many years we had pleasant fondues in our Burnaby home. My eldest daughter Ale and I had a routine. The routine was that I was going to everything possible to prevent her from putting out the flame at the end of our meal with the special damper (seen here). Sometimes my daughter would smarten up and she would hide the damper. I would send her off to the kitchen to fetch something and when she returned I would pull out a soup spoon from my back pocket and would do the honours to her dismay. Strangely, Rebecca has not been interested in extending this tradition even though she and Lauren love my fondue.

By the time we moved to Athlone in 1986 Rosemary started cutting carrots, green onions, red peppers, mushrooms and even brocoli for the fondue. We also enjoyed poppy seed bagels instead of a cut up French baguette. Our favorite bread for fondue, besides those bagels is a Georgian baguette we get at Stongs.

Recipe for Swiss Fondue

350 grams Emmenthaler
350 grams Gruyère
222 grams Appenzeller
1 clove garlic
dry white wine
corn starch
fresh ground black pepper

I rub my pot with a garlic clove and then I add a bit more than half a glass of dry white wine mixed with a tablespoon of corn starch into the pot at a middle to low heat. Once the mixture thickens I begin to add, little by little, the finely chopped cheese (I used to shred it). I add a lot of freshly ground black pepper and half a couple of pinches of nutmeg. When I am ready to take the pot to the table I add a couple of shots of kirsch. The only brand I have been able to find in Vancouver is the Austrian SchlossKirsch. There are some who say that this is the product singly responsible for the term to be schlossed. This recipe serves four to five guests.

I generally don't reduce the alcohol flame for two reasons. The first is that Andrew's fondue set gets so hot I cannot regulate the flame much. The second is that at the end of the meal there a delicious brown crust on the bottom called la religieuse (a none nicer nun?) which Rebecca and I fight to not share.


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