Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cheese Fondue in Switzerland

A cheesemaker carries a wheel of Gruyère cheese to a cool cellar, where it will mature over 6–10 months
Ensconced in fleecy falls of snow, or lit up by the clear spring sunshine, the walled and castletopped town of Gruyères has a fairy-tale aura. It sits on a hill amid Alpine peaks, gently tinkling with the sound of cowbells as the animals graze on surrounding slopes. This is dairy paradise and the cradle of Gruyère cheese – one of the staples of a luscious, bubbling pot of fondue.
The tiny town of Gruyères sits high on a hill in the Fribourg pre-Alps, dominated by its medieval castle. Its name is said to come from the French word for crane, grue, because the bird adorned the heraldry of the counts of Gruyères, who lived here from the 11th to the 16th centuries. The town consists of little more than one pedestrianized, cobblestoned street, lined with beautifully maintained, centuries-old shopfronts, many bearing ornate wrought-iron signs. This is fairy-tale country, where geraniums tumble from every window box in summer, and twinkling lights shine on the cobbles at Christmas. Visitors come for two reasons: to see the chocolate-box town and to sample its more famous ware – Gruyère cheese – especially in the form of fondue, a pot of hot, melted cheese made for communal dipping.

Cheese has been made in the Gruyère region for centuries, and the apocryphal tale of fondue is that it was created by cowherds who had nothing to eat but stale bread and cheese, and discovered that the combination was better if the cheese was melted. Sadly, Swiss food historians dispute this, pointing out that cheese was too expensive for cowherds. They claim that fondue was a bourgeois dish invented just a few hundred years ago in Neuchâtel – once ruled by the French Dukes of Burgundy, but now part of Switzerland – and its fame later spread into Vaud, Fribourg, and beyond.
Fondue is simple to make: the cook rubs a heavy casserole dish (a caquelon) with garlic, adds and heats either white wine or water, then stirs in lots of cheese, sometimes with a little cornstarch, nutmeg, and Kirsch. The fondue is carried to the table and eaten communally from its pot, by diners who dip in small cubes of crusty bread held on long forks. The most popular fondue cheeses are Gruyère and the slightly softer Vacherin Fribourgeois. Sometimes Vacherin is used alone (as in fondue Fribourgeoise), but the most common form in Gruyères is the Swiss favorite, moitié-moitié: half-and-half Gruyère and Vacherin. Fondue is traditionally a winter dish, but in Gruyères its sheer popularity is such that it is served year-round.
Diners enjoy spectacular views while eating alfresco on Gruyères’ cobbled main street

 The Best Places to Eat Cheese Fondue
Café-Restaurant des Remparts ( inexpensive–moderate )
Locals and tourists blend at the no-frills Remparts as cozily as a good pot of fondue. Two types of fondue are served here: moitié-moitié (‘’half-and-half’’), combining Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois, garlic, and white wine; and fondue au Vacherin – a fondue of Vacherin Fribourgeois with garlic and water. Spear a piece of crusty bread or potato on your fondue fork and dip it into the cheese. As the pot begins to empty, ask the waitress to explain how best to get a good crust of cheese at the bottom that you can chip off and eat – it’s delicious. The perfect accompaniments to fondue are viande séchée (air-dried beef, cut sliver-thin), pickles, and a cool glass of white Chasselas wine. Berries are ideal for dessert, but you’ll probably feel overwhelmingly tempted to have them with Gruyère double cream, so you might as well add in some good meringues too. 19 rue du Bourg, Gruyères; open 9 AM–9:30 PM daily;
Cheese fondue is kept hot on the table so diners can dip their bread chunks

Also in Gruyères
Try moitié-moitié at Auberge de la Halle ( or Hôtel de Ville (www. Le Chalet (www.chaletgruyeres. ch) has both good moitié-moitié and fondue au Vacherin, as does La Fleur de Lys (, which also serves fondue with boletus mushrooms (aux bolets). Prices at these restaurants are inexpensive to moderate, varying only marginally.
Also in Switzerland
 Many eateries around Switzerland offer their own takes on cheese fondue. In Geneva, try fondue au Crémant (made with sparkling wine), a winter-only, dinner specialty at the Buvette des Bains (; inexpensive). Zurich’s Le Dézaley (www.; moderate) makes fondue using a good but secret “grandma’s recipe.’’ In the Swiss capital of Bern, Restaurant Harmonie (www.; expensive) is renowned far and wide for its cheese fondue, which is served with morels, or truffles and Champagne.
Around the World
 The St. Moritz (www.stmoritz-restaurant.; moderate) in London offers several kinds of fondue besides that perennial favorite, moitié-moitié. They also serve cheese fondue Valais-style (with tomatoes); Neuchâtel-style (Gruyère and Emmenthal); and forestière (with wild mushrooms). In New York, Trestle on Tenth (; moderate) has Fondue Sundays, when a trio of Gruyère, Emmenthal, and Vacherin go into the pot.
 Swiss Food Festivals
In late September the cowherds of Charmey don traditional jackets embroidered with edelweiss for Désalpe, a traditional festival when cows are led through the streets wearing headdresses of flowers. There are lots of food and craft stands too ( Every village in the region holds a kind of Thanksgiving festival in September or October known as Bénichon, a feast that includes saffron-flavored cuchaule bread and moutarde de Bénichon, a jellylike sweet-and-sour spread (

Also in October, the town of Bulle holds a huge event known as the Salon Suisse des Goûts et Terroirs – a veritable tumble of sausages, cheeses, baked goods, pickles, honeys, sweets, wines, and spirits, together with demonstrations by top-notch chefs – and you get to taste the results (
  Three Days in Gruyères
 Gruyères – a château-crowned, hilltop medieval town surrounded by snow-capped peaks – is in La Gruyère: rolling, cow-studded countryside in western Switzerland’s French-speaking canton of Fribourg. It is the home of Gruyère, the most popular fondue cheese.
 Head to La Maison du Gruyère (opposite the train station) to see Gruyère being made, then visit the 13th-century castle. On your way back down, see some exceptional Himalayan art at the Musée Tibétain, and then call in at the H. R. Giger Museum, which displays work by an Oscar-winning, Surrealist artist and designer.
 Drive to Bulle, where folk art at the Musée Gruérien charmingly demonstrates the traditional life of dairy farmers. Take a tour of Maison Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. Wind down with a soak in the warm baths at Les Bains de la Gruyère in Charmey.
From May to September, high up in Moléson-Village, you can see cheese-making the old-fashioned way. After lunch, walk the two-hour Cheese Trail down to Gruyères–Gare.
 GETTING TO Gruyères
 Fly to Geneva or Zurich airports and then either take a train to Gruyères via Palézieux (one change); or take a train to Bulle and then catch a bus to “Gruyères-Ville.”
La Ferme du Bourgoz (inexpensive), outside the town walls, has three cozy guest rooms. Breakfast includes the farm’s own cheese.
 Hostellerie St-Georges (moderate) is a charming hotel in the town with a good restaurant.
Romantik Hôtel Broc’aulit (expensive) in nearby Broc-en-Gruyère offers stylish rooms in a renovated 1830s building.
1 rue du Bourg; +41 848 424 424

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