When the temperature starts to plummet and the nights to draw in around mid-afternoon, it’s time to lay down some fat for the winter months ahead. Some might call it greed; I call it an evolutionary imperative. Mince pies and chocolate coins are a good start but fondues take some beating in the ‘optimum intake of calories in one sitting’ stakes.
Fondue is a cold weather food, born of necessity. In the isolated villages of Alpine regions, 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 could provide a valuable fat-laden meal. Traditional recipes call for Swiss and French mountain cheeses like Emmental and Gruyère but if a cheese melts, you can fondue it. For a previous fondue event, I had used Bermondsey Hard-Pressed, Sussex Farmhouse and Westcombe Cheddar, all with delicious results. This time, I decided to try some different cheeses but first I needed – absolutely NEEDED – to buy this vintage fondue set off Ebay:
With a few friends expecting a feed, I decided to make two fondues. For the first, I stuck with a vaguely Alpine vibe but instead looked to the soaring peaks of the Yorkshire Moors for the requisite cheeses, Summerfield and Moorland Tomme. Both cheeses are produced by Botton Village Creamery, near Whitby in North Yorkshire. Botton is home to a Camphill Community, a social enterprise where adults with learning disabilities or mental health issues live and work as part of a community. The model ensures that everyone has a purpose and the opportunity to develop their potential, and no-one becomes socially-isolated. Around eight people work in the Creamery, which uses the milk from its own herd of some 50 Dairy Shorthorn cows.
Summerfield is an unpasteurised, cow’s milk, Alpine-style cheese, made to a Gruyère recipe. It’s tricky to make this sort of cheese from cows fed on silage in the winter and so Botton only produces it in the summer months, when the cows are out at pasture. Sweet and nutty, but with a slight farmyardy edge, it’s a perfect fondue filler. Moorland Tomme is an unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese, also produced at Botton. Tomme is a generic term for a round, flat farmer’s cheese, traditionally made in France and Switzerland. Usually made by heating the curds at a low temperature, the result is a creamy, pliable texture, perfect for melting.
When fondue season first began to dawn, I asked people on Twitter what British cheese they would use. The inspiration for my next recipe came from the fabulously-monikered @kaesenova, otherwise known as Michael Jones or ‘The Zurich cheeseman’. His suggestion was ‘Scottish fondue. Isle of Mull with Imp’ Stout and Whisky.’ I couldn’t track down Isle of Mull in time and so instead plumped for Barwhey’s Cheddar, made from the milk of pedigree Ayrshire cattle and aged for between twelve to fourteen months. Tricia Bey turned her back on a city career to start her cheese-making business in 2007. Based just a few miles from the west coast of Scotland, her aim was to resurrect the old Ayrshire tradition of cheesemaking. The result is a rich, punchy cheese. Let the evening commence!
1 garlic clove, halved
150ml dry white wine
1 tsp lemon juice
300g Summerfield cheese, grated
300g Moorland Tomme, grated
1 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsps Kirsch
Pinches of pepper, ground nutmeg and smoked paprika to season
1 garlic clove, halved
400g Barwhey’s Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp whisky
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper
Both fondues were made in essentially the same way. First, rub the inside of your pot with the cut garlic then add your wine or stout, 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.
Stir the cheese, traditionally in a figure of eight motion, until the cheese has melted. Blend the cornflour with the Kirsch or whisky, and the Worcestershire Sauce if required. When the cheese is bubbling, add it to the pot and continue to cook and stir for a couple more minutes. Season to taste.
Choose your dipping weapons of choice. Cubed bread is always great, as are vegetables like carrots, cooked baby potatoes and gherkins. Traditionally, if a woman drops a bread cube into the pot, she has to kiss all the men present, but that sounded suspiciously swappy amongst neighbours so we all agreed to just tut in a typically British manner.
Both fondues were delicious and there was no clear winner amongst the guests. The Scottish one was rich and sweet, whilst the Alpine one had a smoother flavour. The pots were dipped dry. Proof again that British cheese makes for perfect fondue.