Cheesy delights

Despite its kitschy reputation, fondue remains a staple of the winter-sports class

Robert and Kathleen Butler of Reno celebrate their 5-year wedding anniversary with some fondue.

Robert and Kathleen Butler of Reno celebrate their 5-year wedding anniversary with some fondue.

Photo By David Robert

What’s better than a hot dip after a cold schuss? Fondue’s warm, it’s fun, and it’s even a little kitschy. But has this cheesy dish always been a winter essential? Yep, pretty much.

If you were a Swiss winter sports lover or shepherd long ago, chances are you lived in an isolated mountain town. Finding fresh vittles in the winter was a real challenge when the mountain passes were, well, impassable. Bread hardened into inedible bricks, and cheese, freshly made during the summer months, was now a little rough around the edges.

Rather than toss the old and moldy, these hardy skiers and mountain folk came up with a way to turn these unpleasant ingredients into quite the flavorful dish. Melt the hardened cheese so it’s edible, dip the tough bread in the warm cheese to make it palatable, add a little cherry brandy (kirsch) and wine to give it a kick, and you have a meal that’s fit for a cold-weather king. Presto, fondue was born! Now, skiers could enjoy the mountain runs all day and come home to a fresh meal, no matter how aged their Swiss cheese got.

Today, fondue is de rigeur in most alpine dining rooms, and you’ll find it hiding out on menus all around the shores of Lake Tahoe. Several restaurants offer the tasty hot dip as an appetizer or main course, and one restaurant in Incline Village, La Fondue, offers it almost exclusively on their menu. There’s just something about spending the day in the brisk mountain air that makes you crave hearty food, and fondue surely fills that hole in the soul.

Luckily, fondue is equally easy to whip up at home.

Traditionally, the Swiss used Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses, which were both produced in the region where fondue originated, the Canton of Neuchatel. Today, just about any high-quality melting cheese is used in fondue and mixed up with liquor and spices. You can find hundreds of yummy recipes by searching the Internet.

It was the French who started using hot-oil fondues to cook meat and added sugar and spice to create dessert fondues—but that’s another story. No one knows why the name comes from the French word “melted,” instead of a Swiss nom de plume—perhaps because French is one of the official Swiss languages—but foodies do know that a good fondue will still warm your innards after a long day on the slopes.