July 23, 2012

How do you do? I'm fond of Fondue. How about you? Do you like fondue? (props to Dr. Seuss!)

Good friends, sitting around a table laughing, creating memories and enjoying the communal bond that comes with sharing a meal. It's special.

Though this was not the impetus for the creation of fondue, when introduced to America, that is indeed what happened. In the Sixties and Seventies, fondue parties were all the rage.In the Eighties and Nineties, we 'Boomers' became 'too cool' to do fondue.That was our mother's and father's generation. Beehive hairdos, polyester leisure suits, platform shoes.

Happily though, in recent years, in America, fondue is making a comeback. There is even a restaurant chain dedicated to the concept. In its country of origin, Switzerland, it remains a staple of Swiss cuisine and throughout the world there are many different forms and versions.. From traditional cheese fondue, to the chocolate decadence of dessert fondue, to the actual cooking of meats in a pot of oil or broth, fondue continues to be a fun way to share a meal with friends and family. Personally I am very fond of fondue. I have been known to make it just for myself. Come along with me as we take a look at fondue and its origins, then go out get yourself a fondue set and have a party. Just don't forget to invite me. I can never get enough!

This warm cheese dish originated in Switzerland and more specifically, in the Canton of Neuchatel. The dish consists of at least two varieties of cheeses that are melted with wine and a bit of flour and served communally out of pot called a "caquelon." Long forks are used by each guest to spear a cube of bread then the bread is dipped into the cheese and eaten.

Fondue dates back to the 18th century when both cheese and wine were important industries in Switzerland. This simple to prepare meal utilized ingredients that were found in most average homes. French gastronome Brillat-Savarin mentioned fondue in his 19th century writings. However, fondue really hit its heyday in 1952, when Chef Konrad Egli, of New York's Chalet Swiss Restaurant, introduced a fondue method of cooking meat cubes in hot oil.

Swiss communal fondue arose many centuries ago as a result of food preservation methods. The Swiss food staples bread and raclette-like cheese made in summer and fall were meant to last throughout the winter months. The bread aged, dried out and became so tough it was sometimes chopped with an axe. The stored cheese also became very hard, but when mixed with wine (You see! Everything is better with wine!) and heated, it softened into a thick sauce. During Switzerland's long, cold winters, some families and extended roups would gather about a large pot of cheese set over the fire and dip wood-hard bits of bread, which quickly became edible.

As Switzerland industrialized, wine and cheese producers encouraged the dish's popularity. By the 20th century, many Swiss cantons and even towns had their own local varieties and recipes based on locally available cheeses, wines and other ingredients. During the 1950s, a slowing cheese industry in Switzerland widely promoted fondue, since one person could easily eat half a pound of melted cheese in one sitting. In 1955 the first pre-mixed "instant" fondue was brought to market. Fondue became very popular in the United States during the mid-1960s after American tourists discovered it in Switzerland and through Chef Egli.

The Swiss Tradition
Each component of a traditional Swiss fondue plays an important role. "Traditional" Swiss style fondue is a combination of two cheeses, Gruyere and Emmenthaler. These two cheeses are combined because each cheese alone would produce a mixture that was either too sharp or too bland. The cheeses are most commonly melted in a dry white wine which helps to keep the cheese from the direct heat as it melts as well as to add flavor. Anyone from Switzerland will tell you, "Making fondue without wine is not actually fondue, it's just melted cheese." The Kirsch (a clear cherry brandy) was added if the cheese itself was too young to produce the desired tartness. The garlic was for additional flavoring, while the flour or cornstarch assists in keeping the cheese from separating.

The Traditional Pot (Caquelon)
The traditional fondue pot is called a "caquelon" or "câclon" and is made of a heavy earthenware. Other variations include glazed, ceramic or enameled iron. All variations are heavy, to help promote even heat distribution and heat retention. The fondue is heated on your cook-top in the caquelon over low to medium heat then transferred to the table and placed over an alcohol burner or a hot plate.

Given fondue is a "communal" meal, there are a few basic guidelines to follow. To eat cheese fondue, spear a piece of bread using a fondue fork and dip it into the pot. Twirl the bread cube gently in the cheese to coat it. You'll want to let the bread drip a bit before you put it in your mouth. This will allow the excess to drip back in the pot and also allow time for cooling. When you put the bread in your mouth try not to touch the fork with your lips or tongue because the fork does go back in the pot. We suggest always using a dining fork to slide the bread off the fondue fork then eating it with the dining fork. To eat meat fondue, spear a piece of meat and plunge it in the hot oil. Allow it to sit until the meat is cooked to your liking. Remove the fork and place it on your plate. Use your dining fork to slide the meat off the fondue fork. Also use your dining fork to dip the meat in the sauce as desired.

A "no double-dipping" rule also has sway: After a dipped morsel has been tasted it should never be returned to the pot or dipping sauce. In longstanding Swiss tradition, if a nugget of bread is lost in the cheese by a man, he buys a bottle of wine and if such a thing happens to befall a woman, she kisses the man on her left. Lately, rather more humorous twists on this have shown up in Switzerland such as young diners diving into the snow whilst clad only in underwear. Children will sometimes fight over the cracker-like la religieuse left at the bottom of the emptied caquelon.

The Bread
A baguette works very well although any crusty French or Italian style breads will do. When you slice the bread, make sure that each piece includes a bit of the crust. This crust helps keep the bread on the fork after it is placed in the cheese.


Three-Cheese Fondue with Champagne
Yield: Makes 2 servings
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 7 ounces)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups dry (brut) Champagne
1 large shallot, chopped 1/3 cups grated Emmenthal cheese (about 5 ounces)
1/2 cup diced rind-less Brie or Camembert cheese (about 3 ounces)
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground white pepper
1 French-bread baguette, crust left on, bread cut into 1-inch cubes

Stir cornstarch and lemon juice in small bowl until cornstarch dissolves; set aside. Combine Champagne and shallot in fondue pot or heavy medium saucepan; simmer over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add all cheeses and stir to combine. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Return fondue pot to medium heat and stir until cheeses are melted and smooth and fondue thickens and boils, about 12 minutes. Season fondue with nutmeg and white pepper. Place over candle or canned heat burner to keep warm. Serve with bread cubes.

Dessert Fondue
Dessert fondues became very popular in the 1970's. Chocolate fondue was a favorite used for dipping ripe fruits such as bananas, strawberries and tangerines. Some recipes suggest dipping some cubes of angel food cake as well. Other dessert fondues include caramel, coconut and marshmallow.

White Chocolate Fondue
Serves 6

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 packages (12 ounces each) premier white morsels,

Fresh fruits - bananas, strawberries, grapes, tangerines, pears, apples, raspberries. Fresh fruit should be ripe but still firm enough to not dissolve while dipping.
Dried fruit - apricots, dates, figs
Cakes or cookies - Bite sized pieces of angel food cake, pound cake, lady fingers or crisp biscotti

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cream and butter. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat. Add white morsels. Stir until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Transfer to a fondue pot, chafing dish, or ceramic bowl. Serve with apples, bananas, strawberries, cookies, pretzels, and pound cake.

Other Fondue Styles

Broth or Bouillon
Shabu Shabu is the Japanese version of fondue using vegetable broth or boullion. This makes a lighter, less caloric meal than the cheese or hot oil versions. Potatoes as well as other vegetables or small bits of seafood are cooked in the simmering pot of broth.


Fonduta is an Italian dish similar to Fondue made with Fontina cheese and egg yolks.

Fondue Bourguignonne
Also referred to as Beef Fondue. A mixture of half butter and half cooking oil is combined and heated in a cast iron or enamel fondue pot. Small pieces of lean meat and vegetables are speared and cooked in the hot oil. It is particularly important to use a stable fondue pot for this type of fondue.

Bagna Cauda
This is a wonderful dish from the Piedmonte region of Italy. The name comes from bagno caldo which means "hot bath". It is made by combining butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. The mixture is heated and guests use wooden skewers or fondue forks to spear a variety of fresh vegetables, meats and seafood which are dipped and warmed.

This is a Dutch dish (cheese dip) similar to the Italian style fonduta.

I've only one more suggestion: If you decide to have your own Fondue party....make sure I get an invite!!! Thanks for taking the dip into Fondue with me...

Bon Appetit,


July 03, 2012

Spanish Wines

Most people are quite surprised to hear that Spain has the largest amount of wine producing acreage of any country in the world. I know I was. My guess as to why this fact might not be so well known is probably because, when we measure the total volume of actual wine produced per country, it ranks third on the list behind Italy and France. Most experts are inclined to agree that this is most likely due to the geography. As we discovered in another article here this month, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe behind Switzerland, another thing most might not know. Don't you just love it when you learn something at the same time you' re enjoying yourself?

The History
Because the culture of Spain is such that it has been influenced by centuries of invasion and the subsequent insertion of foreign customs, Txomin Etxaniz Vineyard in Getaria foods and beliefs, today's Spain is a vibrant and alive country with many diverse sides.

That said, I'd like to give you a brief glimpse into how Spain came to be the wine producer it is. Keep in mind though, that a good many things we understand about the culinary side of this nation are intertwined. For example, cheeses are developed specifically to go with age old wine traditions and the same can be said in in the opposite order.

First, let's talk grapes. Some were cultivated between 4000 and 3000 BC, long before the wine culture of the Phoenicians came to Cadiz around 1100 BC. After that it was the Carthaginians. When the Greeks came in 700 BC, they introduced the culture of extensive vineyards. A few centuries later the Romans developed viticulture in the country further and following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoth invaded Spain and wine production went into decline. Later, the Arab conquerors tolerated wine production without actually encouraging it. That is eight, uniquely disparate countries and cultures over a 4000 year span, if you count the indigenous population. But wait... there's more..

The Moors were subsequently defeated and Christians took over. With colonization, Spain developed markets in its South American colonies, as well as, wine trade with England. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the growth of popularity with Sherry, Malaga and Rioja wine. The end of the 19th century saw the emergence of Spanish sparkling wines, with Cava in Cataloña. Then came the beginning of the Denominación de Origen system (D.O.) first developed in Rioja in 1926.

The Spanish Civil War in the 50s, saw many vineyards neglected or destroyed, but the final political stability created new export opportunities for bulk wine. This facilitated the creation of many cooperatives. Sherry was rediscovered in the 60s, while Rioja wines were again in demand from foreign markets. Gradually, Spain has moved from producing low quality bulk wines, to focusing on top shelf, quality wines.

The D.O. system was revised in 1970 and now has similarities with the French and Italian systems. In 2007, there were 67 D.O.'s. in Spain. The Spanish have also addeed a top class of D.O., the Denominación de Origen Calificada. This status is given only to D.O.'s that have a consistent track record of quality. There are two D.O.C.; Rioja and Priorat.

So as you can see, Spain's food, wines and attitude have all been shaped over the centuries into a melding of the culture you have today. It explains quite a bit as you start to delve into the nation, its culture and its cuisine. To really get an understanding of a country and its people, you have to think, eat and drink like they do. I wholeheartedly agree. To find out more about the regions and culinary history of Spain, check out Spain...A Culinary Day in the Life. Lastly, no discussion about wine in Spain would be complete without talking about the time honored tradition of drinking out of the Porron.

El Porron
From Wikpedia: "Porron (Catalan: porró) is a traditional glass wine pitcher, typical of Catalonia, but famous throughout Spain. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. The top of the bottle is narrow and can be sealed off with a cork. Stemming upwards from the bottom of the pitcher is a spout that gradually tapers off to a small opening. It is shaped such that the wine stored inside it will have minimal contact with the air, while being ready to be used at all times. The idea originated as a replacement to Bota bags. Porrons are most commonly filled with regular wines, either white or red, but are also used to drink Cava. A smaller version, filled with dessert sweet wine, is common in Catalan restaurants."

Now that we have covered a brief history of the country's wine making origins, rather than give you a huge list of wines, I have chosen three outstanding D.O.'s for you to try and enjoy.

Bodegas Bleda, Murcia
The Winery
Bodegas Bleda is a family owned bodega that was established in 1935. It was one of the very first bodegas to individually bottle wine in this region, where until the 1980's was primarily used to produce bulk table wines. It is also one of the most important and historic Bodegas. Its ever-increasing presence in various reference guides and awards in international competitions are Christopher Gilar of Bodegas Bleda testimony to the quality and focus of this bodega, and the success of their extensive regional grape varietals - primarily the Monastrell (or Mourvédre in French). Their wines are bottled and aged under the most modern and technologically advanced conditions in line with the new Jumilla, while maintaining the long traditions of the bodega.

The Wine
Current Vintage: 2005
Grapes: 95% Monastrell, 5% Merlot
The grapes come from 50 year-old vineyards of Monastrell 95% and Merlot 5%, hand selected and harvested during the first week of October 2005. There is a long maceration of the skin for 21 days. Crianza of the wine: in new French oak barrels (Allier) during nine months.
Very intense and deep cherry red color. Nose of intense blackberry, blackcurrant and light anis, with a pleasant vanilla note of elegant Allier wood. In the mouth it is tasty, rich and with balsamic notes. Meaty, fresh and balanced structure, very powerful with good acidity and noble with well-joined tannins integrated with wood. Ample and persistent finish with tobacco & toasted notes and bright retro nasal aroma.

The Bodegas Berceo of Rioja
The Winery
Bodegas Gurpegui Muga was formed nearly one and a half centuries ago, where the first member of the Gurpegui family inspired the creation of what is today, one of the most important wine producing grupos in Spain. The respect for inherited tradition and a deep love of wine are still recognized as the prominent features of their identity.

Bodegas Berceo is the oldest and most historical bodega of the group located in Haro (Rioja Alavesa) on the historical street of Cuevas de Haro, and was established in 1872. One of two bodegas located within the actual municipality, they originally located the bodega on the side of town with the steepest incline, as it was one of the first to use the gravitation process advantage to produce wine, which at the time, was considered a revolutionary technology. It is still functional to this day (but not used for production). In the old cellars and ancient facilities of Bodegas Berceo, the traditions of old live side-by-side with the most innovative wine production systems, such as the new Luis Gurpegui Muga Bodega, a splendid 21st century building incorporating the latest wine-making technologies, located at the edge of the Navarra region which borders Rioja Alavesa. Today, they are part of a Riojan group called Grupo Gurpegui Muga, which utilize a wide variety of wine-producing estates in a number of areas. The Bodegas Berceo of Rioja and Luis Gurpegui Muga of Navarra wines are highly respected and well established in the Spanish and international markets, along with continuing international accolades and recognition.
The Wine
Current Vintage: 2001
Grapes: Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo
The bunches were hand picked, whole, clean and leaf free. Vinification was carried out with the traditional fermentation method, not exceeding 28 °C during the first fermentation. After a very light sulphite process, skins were cleared from the must at a denisty of 995 gr/L, completing afterwards malolactic fermentation. Once completed, a further sulphite process was carried out at 2 fr/hl, after which the aging process began, keeping the wine in oak barrels (both French and American) for at least 1 year. The wine was then filtered and cold stabilized at -5 °C, prior to bottling.
Clean and brilliant ruby red color.
Perfect balance between the vanilla and spices from the oak and plumy, red berry fruit aromas. Smooth, well rounded, good backbone and a long, persistent finish, with nice, well integrated acidity which will help keep the wine, improving for a further 3 to 4 years.

Adega Almirante, Rias Baixas
The Winery
The birth of Albariño and its relation to Portas dates historically back to the XII Century above the river Umia, which ends in Portas, about one-third of the way between Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela. Adega Almirante in a very short time, has become one of the most important bodegas (Adegas) in Rias Baixas. Located in the borough of Portas within the province of Caldas de Reis, which is located in the northern portion of Val de Salnés. This is the closest Albariño region to the Atlantic west, allowing for a later harvest and increased grape maturity. The over 35 hectares of vines are owned by the five principal owners of Adegas Almirante. Therefore the quality of the grapes and reputation of the wines are controlled by the owners. This quality is evident as reflected in the new state of the art facility and growing techniques, which is resulting in the rapid success of their Albariños locally, and now, internationally. The late harvest maceration provides the wines with brilliant color, freshness, elegance, and intense flavors.
The Wine
Current Vintage: 2006
Grape: 100% Albariño
A nose that is surprisingly complex, elegant ripe fruit - apricot, banana, apple, giving way to delicate floral tones and a subtle herbal background.
Clear, brilliant, intense straw color with golden reflections.
A flavorsome Albariño, which stands out for its body and complexity, due to the second, temperature controlled Maceration process. This elevates the fruity overtones, while at the same time, Maccerato is characterized by its finish, rounded quality and acidity. Through the retro-nasal passage, there is a balanced structure that makes this an especially unique Albariño.

Bon Appetit,