Fondue is a truly fun foodie experience. Originating in Switzerland, Italy and France, the Swiss Cheese Union promoted it as a Swiss national dish in the 1930s. It began as a dish of melted cheese served in a shared pot, eaten by dipping long-stemmed forks with bread into the cheese. Two decades later began to be generalized into a cooking style in which food is dipped into a pot of hot liquid, be it melted cheese, hot wine or boiling water. It spread spread further to include fruits and sweet breads dipped into chocolate, and fondue bouguignonne where bites of meat are cooked in hot oil.
Fondue as a style was popularized in the United States sometime in the 60’s and has been with us ever since. There is so much more information available on this fun and tasty method that I may blog on it again later.
In this article, we will be looking at two commercially available cheese based offerings that were, surprisingly enough, found at a local chain grocery rather than a specialty store. Neither of these are intended to be prepared in a caquelon over a mild flame, but to be oven baked or heated in a microwave. In both cases reheating in the microwave was required – we didn’t consume it fast enough in a 62F room to keep it from hardening.
We chose beef summer sausage, crimini (baby Portabella), a white Italian bread, and sliced apples for our dipping pleasure. This was a nicely varied group of textures and flavors with which to test and enjoy the fondues.
Paul Dischamp Fondue Saint-Nectaire
INGREDIENTS: cultured pasteurized milk, salt, rennet, calcium chloride (probably as a brine)
Interestingly, Saint-Nectaire has a “protected designation of origin” in France, where it is produced and package for export to the United States. You might think all this sounds a bit self-important and expensive. The truth is that it ensures consistency of texture and flavor, and quality production and packaging. While Saint-Nectaire may be a little expensive when imported here in the States, in it’s home region it is considered to be a modestly priced local offering.
The cheese came out a little goopy. It didn’t melt into a smooth texture in the middle. I didn’t count that against it after I tasted it. It had excellent flavor! There was a delicate hint of hazelnut in every bite.
It crusted nicely on the top and sides, offering a more substantial mouthfeel. The flavor was slightly stronger than the more fluid cheese in the middle of the crock. Where the cheese oils bubbled along the edges of the dish there was a crispy residue. This is crisp, sweeter, and less salty, with hints of caramel.
Lovely serving size (9.8oz) as an appetizer for two, or as a light snack with bread, potatoes, smoked sausage and/or crimini, with wine for a party of 4 or 6 people. Pairing a wine is simple: the field is wide open. In our case it was a Merlot to accentuate the smoky flavors of the sausage and crimini we dipped into the cheese.
The package was about $13.00 at the grocery, which includes both the vacuum sealed cheese and the reusable glazed terra cotta crock to prepare it in. The crock handled both the oven temperature and the microwave well.
Alouette Brie Fondue
INGREDIENTS: Brie cheese (pasteurized cultured milk and cream, salt, enzymes), water, Chabils wine reduction (contains sulfites), sodium phosphates, milk protein concentrate, casein, spices, lactic acid, garlic, sorbic acid, beta-carotine (for color), stabilizers (guar and/or carob bean gum
This is a different style of fondue, as we discovered after we got it home. The ingredients include cheese, wine and spices making this more of a Swiss style fondue. It also contains a lot of other stuff that may or may not have made it better or worse than the Saint-Nectaire’s simpler ingredients.
As a follow up to the Saint-Nectaire, the Alouette was a bit of a letdown. It had a more bitter edge to it, likely due to the spices chosen for the dish. There was a waxy feel to the tongue. The flavor was not bad, but probably better for a taste that appreciates astringent flavors above creamy ones.
The package is 11oz, making it a good size appetizer for two or three. As it contains a white wine, pairing it for a tasting should be done selectively. We preferred a dryer white to match the flavors in the cheese.
Alouette is available for about $6 at the grocery, sealed in a plastic microwavable dish. It also comes in a garlic variety. While not listed on the website, but available at both Kroger and Spec’s in Conroe.
Overall, the concencus of our tasters went with the Saint-Nectaire for flavor, richness, creamy texture, acceptance of all the items we chose for dipping, and our wine pairing. We even felt it would pair with a hearty brown ale for those who do not favor wine.
Don’t wait for the holidays to try these fondues! They are still available on the market as this blog is posted. Don’t see them? Ask for them by name and give them a try for yourself.