Several years ago, my mother compiled all of my grandmother’s recipes into a little red book. It was a gift for my 35th birthday. She titled it “Swiss Recipes from Alice Pfister,” but she might as well have called it “Alice’s Fondue Recipe” because that’s the only recipe I ever look up.
My grandmother made fondue every winter when we visited her in Cleveland. She gathered all her leftover hunks of Alpine cheese, grated them, reached far back into her cupboard for her one bottle of kirsch, and then snapped a garlic clove in half to rub down the inside of the fondue pot. That, I learned, was the key. A good scouring of garlic.
Alice Pfister still lives in Cleveland. She wears wooden jewelry and speaks in a thick, guttural accent. If you were in her kitchen right now, you would feel like you were in Switzerland – picture lace curtains embroidered with mountain scenes, cowbells hanging over doorways, and big copper pots on the stove. Most certainly, you would hear Alice say, “Ach, Benny!” to her husband, my grandfather, as he came in from shoveling the sidewalk for the thirteenth time.
The Swiss are fastidious folk. I have not inherited that gene – my cupboards are cluttered and my kitchen floor isn’t spotless (my family always says that you could eat off the floor behind my grandmother’s refrigerator), but I have inherited Grandma Alice’s fondue recipe.
Alice’s Fondue calls for Gruyere and Appenzeller – robust Swiss cheeses. During my lean days, I used to substitute sharp cheddar and supermarket Swiss along with a little hunk of the best Gruyere I could afford. The nutty, rocket-t0-the-moon strength of Gruyere is essential, I think.
This Saturday, January 22, I’m co-hosting a fondue tasting here in Philadelphia at Quince, at 4 p.m. If you want to join, you can make a reservation at the store by calling (215) 232-3425. It costs $12.
In case you can’t join us, I’m offering Alice’s recipe for authentic Swiss fondue. I know that she'd be delighted for you to have it.
Alice Pfister’s Fondue
1 ½ cup grated Emmanthaler
1 ½ cup grated Gruyere
1 teaspoon flour
1 clove garlic, halved
dash ground pepper
3 Tablespoons brandy, sherry, or kirsch
2 crusty baguettes, cubed
Grate cheese and toss with flour in a large mixing bowl. Rub inside of fondue pot with halved garlic – give it a good scouring so the garlic oil covers the inside of the pot. Add the wine to the fondue pot and bring it to a boil on the stove.
Lower the heat and add cheese slowly, a pinch at a time; you should let each pinch melt before adding the next. Use a wooden spoon and stir in figure eights. Keep the mixture moving so the fondu doesn’t separate.
When all of the cheese has melted, move the fondue pot from the stove to a heating element in the middle of the table. Add a dash of pepper, nutmeg, and 3 tablespoons (about one shot) of brandy, sherry, or kirsch.
Serve with a lightly dressed salad, cornichons, and cubed bread. Remember, if you lose your bread in the pot, you have to kiss the person who fishes it out for you.