British Cheese Fondue Night

british cheese fondue

I’d made fondue before but this was back in the days when I was under the illusion that all British cheese was good for was toast topping and jacket potatoes, so I’d used traditional Swiss cheeses such as Emmental and Gruyère. Having garnered a reputation as the local ‘mad cheese woman’, I’d been promising some neighbours a fondue knees-up for a while. Once the date was sealed, I decided to try and create a menu from British cheeses, now that I know what a great variety of styles there are available. So, I set off for Borough Market on a cheese-quest (ensuring that I had only a limited amount of cash and no card in my wallet so I didn’t get the Borough Market red mist and end up spending £120 on partridges, quinces and kangaroo salami).

I’d tried Bermondsey Hardpressed at a cheese tasting and it sounded perfect. Made by Bill Oglethorpe of Kappacasein under a South London railway arch, it’s an Alpine style cheese. Alas, I couldn’t find Bill’s stall and rumour had it that he wasn’t there on that day of the week. So I was wandering rather forlornly when I came across Alsop and Walker’s stall. Their Sussex Farmhouse cheese declared itself to be ‘ideal for raclettes and fondues’ and on nibbling tasted a bit like a nutty Gruyère so a couple of wedges of that went into my bag and I continued on my way. I haven’t been able to find out much about this cheese, other than it’s apparently ‘a very rare Dutch type cheese, only made by a few cheese makers in Holland and now in the UK’, which is all a bit intriguing.

I moseyed on through the market and was ‘sampling’ some expensive chocolate near the cathedral when my nose twitched and I turned around to – hurrah! – find the Kappacasein stall (they sell raclettes from the stall which smell of melted cheese heaven). Bill let me try three different Bermondsey Hardpresseds, all of different maturity and I chose the youngest, at just six months. Alpine cheeses are traditionally shaped by both environment and necessity. Cows would be taken high into the mountains to graze during the summer months when pastures were lush, accompanied by one or two herders. Cheeses were made in big durable wheels to make them easier to transport back down the mountains and also because the cheeses needed to feed the family all winter when milk was scarce and so large, dry cheeses would last longer. One chunk of Hardpressed in the bag. One fondue sorted.

The second planned fondue was based on Cheddar and Cider and so I went to Neal’s Yard Dairy because they always have a great selection of Cheddars and also let you eat a large amount before kicking you out. (I’ve also noticed that the cheesemongers there also have a taste of whatever you’re tasting and I have no idea how they all stay so slim; perhaps there’s a giant hamster wheel in the staff room where they have to run it all off before they can clock off). Anyway, true to form, they let me snaffle several Cheddars and this time round I plumped for Westcombe Cheddar, which I hadn’t tried before. Westcombe Dairy is based down in Somerset. The farm’s been making Cheddar since the late nineteenth century and these days uses unpasteurised milk and time-honoured techniques such as cheddaring the curds by hand. So that was it; my hat-trick of great British cheeses was in the bag. And here they are:

Sussex Farmhouse Cheese, Westcombe Cheddar, Bermondsey Hardpressed

l-r Sussex Farmhouse Cheese, Westcombe Cheddar (hiding underneath) Bermondsey Hardpressed

The word fondue comes from the French fondre, meaning ‘to melt’ or ‘to blend’. It’s believed that the dish has its origins in the isolated villages of Alpine regions, where food was scarce in the harsh winter months; bread became stale and cheese became hard but people worked out that if they melted the cheese with wine, herbs and other flavourings and dipped the bread into it, it wasn’t half bad. Fondue parties were very popular in the 1960s and 1970s in Britain but then went out of fashion and acquired a bit of a pampas-grass-and-car-keys-in-the-fruit-bowl reputation, if you know what I mean (if you don’t, ask your Mum, not that I’m suggesting she went in for any of that). Anyway, moving swiftly on, here are my two British cheese fondue recipes…

But first, I accidentally did buy a huge amount of salami and also some olives. Yummm:


Swiss-esque Fondue Ingredients

1 garlic clove, halved
150ml dry white wine
1 tsp lemon juice
300g Bermondsey Hard Pressed Cheese, grated
300g Sussex Farmhouse Cheese, grated
1 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsps Kirsch
Pinches of pepper, ground nutmeg and smoked paprika to season

Somerset Cheddar and Cider Fondue Ingredients

1 garlic clove, halved
200ml dry cider
350g Westcombe Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp cornflour
Pinch of dry mustard powder
2 tbsp brandy or calvados
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper

Both fondues were made in essentially the same way. First, rub the inside of your fondue pot with the cut garlic then add your wine or cider, plus lemon juice if the recipe calls for it. Heat it gently and then start to add your cheese. There will be a lot of cheese.

pile of fondue cheese

Stir the cheese in, in a figure of eight motion, until the cheese has melted. Blend the cornflour with the Kirsch or with the brandy, mustard powder and Worcestershire Sauce. When the cheese is bubbling, add it to the fondue and continue to cook and stir for a couple more minutes. Season to taste.

mixing the fondue

Now comes the fun bit (well, not as much fun as the car-keys-in-the-fruit-bowl-bit obviously, arf!) Choose your dipping weapons of choice. Cubed bread is always great and we had some rosemary focaccia that went down a treat. Some vegetables are good too, to make you vaguely feel you’re getting your five-a-day in the face of a cheese-lake. The definite winners of the evening were the gherkins:

fondue dippers

Let the dipping commence!

british cheese fondue

There are lots of traditions around fondue, for instance if a woman drops a bread cube into the fondue she has to kiss all the men and if a man drops a bread cube, he has to buy a bottle of wine for each guest. When you have snaffled all the cheese, you may be left with a crusty layer at the bottom, thus:

fondue la religieuse

To me, this tastes like a manky old bit of cheese on toast but this is the prized la religieuse, which means ‘the Nun’. There are several theories about why it’s called The Nun; it could be that it supposedly resembles the caps that nuns used to wear or because nuns used to wear several layers of clothing called crusts (I’m not making this up). Anyway, everyone’s meant to fight over it but you’re welcome to it at my gaff.

So, did the British cheeses cut the mustard? Well, both fondues were delicious and I think as long as you used a good quality cheese, you would get great results. There are lots of other cheeses I’d love to try and fondue, current list-toppers being Lincolnshire Poacher, Teifi, Mayfield and St Gall, as well as a touch of a washed rind like Ardrahan. Have you ever fondued with a native cheese? What would you fancy?

I certainly think this qualifies as a comfort food and so I’m linking it up with this month’s Cheese, Please! Challenge.

Fromage Homage


Filed under Cheese Recipes

26 responses to “British Cheese Fondue Night

  1. Pingback: January’s Cheese, Please! Recipe Blog Challenge – Comfort Food and Winter Warmers | Fromage Homage

  2. Yum Yum! Gherkins and cheese are one of my favourite combinations. Especially if you throw a bit of pastrami into the mix as well!

    • Yes, the gherkins were a big hit – everyone looked at them at first like I’d gone mad but once they started dipping they couldn’t stop. Mmm, pastrami…the salamis above were lovely, especially the black ones just out of focus at the back.

      • I think gherkins are one of those foods that people secretly love but shun when in public because no one likes gherkins, right?! They are a bit weird looking and you could say slightly phallic when whole so how could one possibly like them. But at night they are secretly eating them straight from the jar that they keep hidden at the back of the fridge . . .

  3. Sadly our fondue set took itself off to the charity shop after suffering years of neglect… if I’d known about Cheddar and cider fondue, I’d have made more of an effort to convince it to stay!

    • Yes, they do seem to be up there with juicers and breadmakers in terms of sitting in the back of the cupboard for seven years. I’m pretty sure you could achieve the same effect in a saucepan, just not quite as much fun 😉

  4. Oh my that looks awesome. Do you know Ive never had a cheese fondue, need to rectify that this weekend, I have a spare can of cider in the fridge that needs used up!!

    • Do it! Fondues always look like just too much cheese but they are really nice once in a while. I’d go for some Isle of Mull Cheddar from up your way. Let me know how it goes 🙂

  5. I’d heard about the car keys in the fruit bowl but I only found out about pampas grass recently. Now I can’t drive past any house with a clump of it in the garden without wondering – and there’s an awful lot of it around here. We make our own entertainment in the country (apparently). I don’t know whether to be relieved or insulted that we haven’t been invited to any fondue parties.
    I’m deeply impressed that you appear to be a two-fondue-pot-household. Please don’t take that as a comment on how you spend your leisure time, the fondues and cheeses sound delicious. 😀

    • Oh yes, definitely pampas grass! Rumour has it that in my village there was an awful lot of ‘making your own entertainment’ going on, some of which sounded a bit jaw-dropping. Alas, we are not a ‘two-fondue-pot household’; our friends brought one round. Then ours cracked down the middle (you can see the start of the chasm in one of the photos) so now we are a zero-fondue-pot household. So leisure time severely restricted from now on… 😉

  6. I can dive into that cheese lake! Makes me think I had rackette in the French Alps last year, took the photo’s and never blogged.I hope fondues will be all the rage like it used to, with our without the keys in the fruitbowl….
    Love your recipes.

  7. I have never heard of pampas grass till now, nor the link between fondue and car keys in the fruit bowl. Fascinating. I mean, the fondue looks delicious, too. 😛

  8. How scrumptious-sounding! And I loved the fondue history lesson – quite intriguing. Not sure about the pampas grass bit – will have to ask my elderly parent. If I come to the UK this summer, will you give me a tour of Borough Market? It didn’t exist in its current incarnation when I lived there….a great post, thank you 🙂

    • Surely you’ve heard of car keys in the fruit bowl?! Would be a pleasure to tour Borough Market with you – any excuse for some cheese scoffing. You’ll have to make sure I don’t spend £75 in there like I usually manage to though 😉

  9. I’ve been thinking about buying a new fondue set lately, but have been holding myself back, and honestly? I have absolutely no idea why I haven’t bought one yet. You have just convinced me that I definitely need one. I’m going shopping tomorrow. Lovely post. Lovely photos. 🙂

    • You must! They’re not something you would want to eat all the time but good fun once in a while, especially with friends. Ours split down the middle so I need to go shopping too 😦

  10. Made me laugh, arf! Too funny. How awful it must’ve been.
    Gherkins I love, especially cornichons. Had never thought of pairing them with melted cheese. Must try.

  11. Pingback: Fromage Friday: Ogleshield | Fromage Homage

  12. Pingback: Cheese Fondue | goodfoodseeking

  13. Pingback: January’s Cheese, Please! Recipe Round Up – Comfort Food and Winter Warmers | Fromage Homage

  14. Pingback: January’s Cheese, Please! Challenge Round-up – Comfort Food and Winter Warmers | Fromage Homage

  15. I have only discovered the joys of a good fondue since moving over here. We have entire restaurants devoted to the art!

    Your tale of the shape of the Alpine cheeses puts me in mind of the Annual Cheese Roll that takes place in Gloucester every year. It’s a bit crazy, but great fun. Have you ever been?

  16. Pingback: Fromage Friday: Mayfield | Fromage Homage

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