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Contrary to popular belief, the Swiss invention of fondue does not just entail melted cheese used to cook various meats and vegetables. Cheddar fondue, for instance, is often a complex blend of not just cheese but also additives like butter, beer, wine, garlic and other seasonings. These combine to coat ingredients added via skewer with a rich and distinctive flavor.
The type of cheese used to make a cheddar fondue varies according to taste. Some use a sharp cheddar to develop a saltier and tangier final product. Others prefer a milder cheddar or even a blend with other cheeses like Swiss, gruyere or fontina.
Cheddar fondue often provides a sound foundation for adding beer to the mix. This is a German tradition that bucks the trends of Swiss and French fondues, which customarily include wine or a sweet-and-sour brandy called kirsch instead. According to celebrity chef Rachel Ray, a sharp cheddar pairs well with the mushroom-tinged gruyere, which is melted over medium heat with a lager beer, along with some flour, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and even a touch of hot sauce. The cheese is added slowly to the simmering beer — not the other way around.
Fondue is considered the national dish of Switzerland. Historically, cheddar fondue does not enter into the equation. Instead, the dish usually includes some blend of Swiss gruyere, and a French or Italian alpine style like comte or fontina, respectively. These are melted into a base of white wine and/or kirsch, along with garlic and occasionally herbs like thyme or rosemary. A little flour or corn starch also is added to maintain the melted consistency.
The heat for the melting pot, or caquelon, is carefully monitored. If it is too hot the cheese will burn. When the heat is not hot enough the cheese will not maintain the proper texture.
A three-course caquelon meal is customary in many fondue restaurants. This usually starts with a gruyere, Swiss or cheddar fondue, into which skewered bread and vegetables are dipped. Then oil is heated in another caquelon for skewered meats like chicken, beef or shellfish to be cooked by diners at the table, along with other vegetables. These are then dipped into a variety of accompanying sauces. Afterward, for dessert, diners often are offered a caquelon of melted chocolate for the final dipping of cakes and fruits.
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