Cheese is one of my favourite foods, especially if we are talking about table cheeses, the kind you buy in a French market, which have been carefully crafted by some farmer or cheese maker and matured in a cellar. All you need is some crusty bread and a glass or two of a good red wine, and off we go, a completely satisfying meal. However, this kind of experience doesn’t come along too often for most of us. And, in India, we have had to be content with mainly processed cheese, with the exception of some good but un-travel worthy cheddars.
Now even Indian dairy companies have started experimenting with emmental, gouda and cheddar. And, of course, we have some select outlets in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai selling a host of imported cheeses from Europe.
For the French, cheese comes generally at the end of the meal, before dessert and after the main course, or instead of dessert. The French do cook with some cheese, but these are mainly gratins or baked dishes and some cheese toasty things known as croque monsieur and croque madame. It is the Swiss who have really perfected the art of cooking with cheese in the form of raclette and fondue. Raclette is actually made from a cheese known previously as valais, which today is known familiarly as raclette. The word means “to scrape” and the cut side is placed facing a fire. As the cheese melts, it is scraped off onto boiled potatoes. Just the right thing when you are nursing a broken ankle after a bit of exhaustive skiing. Fondue is another version of this melted cheese. It is traditionally made from a mixture of gruyere and emmental. The first is firmer and more meadowy in aroma, while emmental is more stringy, melts quickly and has a more nutty, hay-like flavour, which is also sweeter. Along with the addition of some white wine and kirsch, the cheeses are melted in a pot and every person sitting around the table dips cubes of crusty bread into the hot, melted cheese sauce. It is devilishly good and is guaranteed to add a few inches to the waistline if you have it on a regular basis.
Since it was difficult to find gruyere and emmental in India until recently, I developed my version of this Swiss dish using cheese spread. It is more acceptable to all palates (some people find that Swiss cheeses have a bitter aftertaste) and my version is more affordable, easier to make and more accessible in terms of ingredients. And since the word fondue means “to melt” in French, in theory any cheese can be melted. (This dish has nothing to do with meat fondue, which is a pot of hot oil into which beef chunks are dipped).
1 garlic clove, crushed
400gm plain cheese spread
50gm cheddar cheese
1½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp lemon juice
A dash of vodka (since kirsch is not available in India)
1½ cup water
Rub the inside of a heat-resistant, ceramic or fondue pot with the garlic clove. Add the cheese spread and water. Heat gently to get a smooth consistency. Add the cheddar cheese, vodka, white wine and lime juice. Cook the cheese until it is smooth and creamy, and then put it over an alcohol lamp at the table. Let the fondue continue to bubble during the meal and stir it from time to time so that it stays creamy. Serve with bread cubes, gherkins and cherry tomatoes.
Tip: If the fondue is too thin, add more grated cheese; if it is too thick, thin it with water.