This winter, we’re thinking of ways to bring an element of travel and a sense of shared fun to our tables. The unlikely answer perhaps is that cheesy throwback, fondue. That bubbling pot of Gruyère — or whatever combination of cheeses your region or cheesemonger dictates — at the center of the table evokes Alpine slopes and friends and family bearing long forks. More than a meal, it’s an activity — one that happens to be a great way to use up some of that stale sourdough.
Forms of this après-ski staple appeared in the Iliad and a 17th-century Swiss cookbook. (The basics: cheese + wine + flour.) But it is the fondue of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that resonates today: Flame-orange pots surrounded by trays of everything from tomatoes to Vienna sausages, eaten by men in turtlenecks and women in floral caftans. (Though some associate it with the swingers’ parties of that era, the combination of molten cheese and open flames with bare flesh and anything other than hardcore napping is hard to fathom today.)
With its kitschily crowded, overhead-shot-friendly setup and irresistible strings of melted cheese as they stretch away from the pot (the original food porn), fondue always feels transportive and festive, no matter how many are dipping in. Its wintry coziness and aforementioned activity factor make it feel as close to a party as your pod can get: the culinary equivalent of puzzling. Just don’t forget the bottle of Jura.
There are plenty of excellent vintage fondue sets to be found on Etsy. Then all you need to do is rub the inside of the warm pot with a cut garlic clove before stirring together a 50-50 mix of grated Gruyère and Emmenthaler, white wine and cornstarch, dashing in some kirsch once the cheese has melted. But why stop there? Thoughts of fondue led us to other glorious cold-weather ways that the French and Swiss have with melted cheese — dishes that have us looking into booking next year’s ski trip. For now, with this season’s beach vacation on hold, we can enjoy all of them.
If you don’t have enough people in your pod for a fondue party, raclette is certainly worth celebrating. This Alpine dish — first popular in the Valais, Fribourg and Haute Savoie regions of Switzerland and France — is essentially roasted cheese. Mimicking the cow herders during the Middle Ages who allegedly set cheese near a campfire, scraping off the melty bits to spread onto bread, the round of raclette is placed near a fireplace — or, as at New York’s King restaurant on weekends this winter, speared under a special melter. Once sufficiently blistered and gooey, it is served with boiled potatoes and accompanied by cornichons, charcuterie such as salami or jambon cru and pickled onion. To drink, think crisp Savoyard white like Apremont or a high-octane kirsch.
This heart-stopping preparation from France’s Auvergne region combines potatoes and fondue into one silky, stretchy, slightly obscene dish. Potatoes are pureed with cream, butter and garlic. Then an outrageous amount of grated fresh tomme de l’Aubrac or Cantal cheese (or, if you’re traditional, cheese curd) is stirred in, the mixture becoming elastic — making for a dramatic tableside preparation as the strings are pulled far from the pot. Sometimes served alongside grilled sausages, it’s also indulgent with steak. (At Le Suquet, Sébastien Bras’ restaurant in Laguiole, it is served alongside almost every main dish.) Try an adaptation of Joël Robuchon’s recipe here. Pair with a light red, such as a gamay or pinot noir — grapes grown in the Auvergne — or go off-piste with an oxidized white from the Jura.
Death by cheese — with a bacon cameo — once again courtesy of the French. The Savoyard casserole wasn’t invented until the 1980s (again by another cheese board, in this case the Interprofessional Reblochon Syndicat), but became a staple dish. Maybe that’s because it layers potatoes, lardons, sautéed onion, white wine and creamy Reblochon cheese. (Reblochon is banned in the U.S.; our Savoyard sources recommend Chablochon Chabert.) Served with a simple salad and a white wine from Savoie — François-Regis Gaudry, the author of the excellent book Let’s Eat France, recommends a Chignin-Bergeron.
Cheese in a box
Perhaps you heard it here first, but baked cheese is having a comeback. Yes, you can wrap a wheel of something triple-crème-y in puff pastry and bake until golden. Or you can take a whole Camembert or, if you’re able to get one in the winter months, Vacherin Mont d’Or — still in its box, placing the lid underneath it — scoop a hole in the center, fill it with a few tablespoons of white wine from the Jura and sprinkle in a little minced garlic before baking at 375 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes. (If your cheese box looks to have been glued rather than stapled, clip it together so the cheese doesn’t escape everywhere.) Or skip that bit, too, and simply warm up the cheese, serving it with bread, sausage, thinly sliced apples and lots of white wine.
The PRIOR editorial team, overseen by David Prior, works together to write and produce stories that inspire curiosity about, and the desire to connect to, places and people across the world.