Lauren Lyon, Tag Christof, Eric Gilkey
July 18 2016
The crown jewels of respectable postwar cuisine were the Jell-O mold and its kissing cousin, the aspic. These wibbly-wobbly gelatin contrivances formed into baroque shapes are a pretty perfect analogy for the times: outwardly polished and orderly, their fussy, symmetric forms masked volatile and unstable structures beneath. Once cut, your painstakingly prepared aspic invariably crumbled to tawdry mush. In much the same way, all it took was 1968 to kill polite society dead forevermore.
The liberated, pluralistic rush of the 1970s that followed was a radical break from the everything-in-its-place past. The aspic clung to relevance for a few years longer, a last hurrah thanks largely to sweet old Julia Child’s popularization of French . But it was a staple from neutral, multilingual Switzerland that ultimately stole the aspic’s cultural throne: formless, feel-good fondue.
The dish had existed in earnest in America for some time, but it was the Swiss Pavilion at the ’64 World’s Fair in New York that introduced it to the masses. Inside a temporary restaurant called Le Chalet in a replica of a Swiss village, millions of visitors first encountered the heavy caquelon and its delicious melted contents. They were offered their first tastes of Gruyère, Raclette and Emmental fondues, as well as the clear wine broth bourguignonne style—essentially Alpline hot pot, in which meat and vegetables are dipped to cook.
Though the cheese variant is certainly rooted in Alpine peasant traditions, its history was never as clear-cut as the bucolic branding that helped to first popularize it around Europe. The spin on fondue as The Sound of Music in food form came courtesy of the Schweizer Käseunion, a powerful cartel in charge of slinging Swiss cheese to the world. The outfit nefariously pressured restaurants and markets around the region to promote the cheese-heavy dish as an everyman staple, in order to profit handsomely from its own overproduced product. The union no doubt had a hand in promoting fondue abroad at that fateful World’s Fair.
Despite the old-world veneer, by the time fondue hit the big time in America, fondue was more Milwaukee than Mont Blanc. The dish’s popularity in the 1970s grew faster than the Käseunion could supply Krogers and Safeways with cheap cheese, and so Emmental and wine were often swapped for yellow cheddar and lager in suburbia.
In any case, fondue appealed to a new, post-Space Age generation eager to play politically correct, cosmopolitan aficionados. These were the modern Mary Tyler Moores to the old meat and potatoes Bunkers, cruising their Monte Carlo and Chrysler Cordoba coupés to dinner parties where politics, foreign films, wine and pollution were discussed over the hi-fi stylings of the Carpenters and Carole King. Fondue was every bit as bourgeois as the aspic, but it was a nice, self-conscious step toward open-mindedness.
Partake in the orgy of four, five, six or more forks dipped liberally, steaming into a common pot.
Fondue’s highly communal nature made it the swingingest of foods around. With its warm, welcoming caquelon to be gathered ‘round like a campfire, and the bourguignonne’s long cook times, fondue made space for getting better acquainted. Sexual tensions surely simmered just beneath the silky surface of all that cheese, wine, and chocolate. Fondue beckoned partygoers to partake in an orgy of four, five, six or more forks dipped liberally, steaming into a common pot. And of course, experimentation was key: one had to at least try all possible combinations of sweet, salty, and savory before deciding upon a favorite. Serendipitous meetings of apples, rye, meat, strawberries, and little weenies surely set the tone for many a memorable evening.
Alas, fondue’s greatest party ended abruptly with the rise of the uptight 80s. Those low-fat glory days of Dexatrim, Diet Coke and cocaine, and the stingy all-for-me ethos of Reaganomics put a moralistic end to any conspicuous, collectivist indulgence. To this day, fondue pots curiously remain a choice gift among friends and neighbors. Yet they invariably sit, gathering dust…
The versatile cheesy archetype sure to make a splash at your next swingers bash.
1 cup/240grams of saison or farmhouse style ale
1 tablespoon/30grams of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon/7grams of all-purpose flour
1 cup/200grams gruyere cheese
1 cup/200grams sharp cheddar
1 cup/200grams emmentaler cheese
1 teaspoon/2grams dried nutmeg
1. Bring the beer to a slow boil in a small saucepan. While you are waiting for the beer to boil, cube all the cheese into approximately ½ inch squares.
2. In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat.
3. Pass the flour through a strainer over the butter and use a whisk to slowly work in the flour to avoid clumping or burning.
4. Add the beer to the butter and flour mixture, reduce heat and stir until smooth.
5. Add the cheese a ¼ cup at a time and continue stirring until completely melted.
6. Transfer mixture to fondue pot, garnish with nutmeg and serve with crusty bread and apple slices.
White Chocolate Coffee Fondue
Double decadence with caffeine. End your evening sweet.
½ pound/225grams of white chocolate roughly chopped
½ cup/230grams of water
2 tablespoons/30grams of heavy cream
1 tablespoon/15grams of instant coffee
1 teaspoon of maldon or other finishing salt
1. Bring water to a low simmer in a medium sauce pan.
2. Arrange a heat safe mixing bowl over the sauce pan to create a double-boiler.
3. Add the heavy cream, 2 additional tablespoons of water, and the instant coffee to the double-boiler and mix until combined.
4. Add the chocolate ⅓ cup at a time until completely melted, transfer to fondue pot, garnish with salt, and serve with orange slices and graham crackers.