Fondue Is for (Wine) Lovers

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There are perks to working with the good folks at K&L Hollywood. Namely: they feed me. On Sunday, in honor of Valentine’s Day, Keith had us over for a fondue soirée fit for kings, and Clarissa brought not one but three desserts, including a cake made from aged Moët & Chandon. The others came bearing phenomenal libations. It was a decadent lovefest of the very best kind: one celebrating our long-term romance with cheese and wine.

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Somehow, the Swiss took these two foodstuffs—perhaps the two best on the planet—and made them even better by cooking them together. God bless the Swiss. Fondue—melty, creamy, savory goodness—was probably invented in the Alps as a way to prolong the use of stale bread. When the Swiss Cheese Union came onto the scene in the 20th century, they helped declare fondue the country’s national dish and launched a campaign to get people to eat it at home and abroad. As if we needed convincing!

It worked, and soon every avocado-colored kitchen in midcentury America had a fondue set. Alas, the health fads of the 70s and 80s diminished fondue’s popularity Stateside. What fools we were! At least we still have Valentine’s Day. This miraculous concoction still gets its due respect as the perfect food to share with your beloved. So we propose the following game plan for your Valentine’s Day. It’s 100% guaranteed to be a homerun (pun intended!). Your sweetheart will thank you. You’re welcome.

The Food
Keith cooked David’s family recipe using 2017 Henri Cruchon "Au Clos Grand Cru" La Cote and Etter Zuger Kirsch Eau de Vie. Don’t worry, Keith saved plenty for drinking. Crisp and aromatic, the Swiss white was perfect, and the Kirsch was all cherries and spice. The fresh loaves of bread came from McCall’s Meat and Fish.

Fondue à la Othenin-Girardoise
1 cup cheese per person, using the following proportions:
2/3 cave-aged Gruyere, 1/3 Bagnes or Vacherin des Alpes (or a cheese that is fattier and more bitter than Gruyere)
4 large garlic cloves
1 bottle dry flinty white wine, such as a Savoie
375ml Kirsch
fresh whole nutmeg
fresh black pepper
2 tsp cornstarch

Cut garlic in half, rub the pot with the garlic, then chop and reserve for the cheese mixture.  Grate cheese at medium size. In a big bowl mix the cheeses with one teaspoon of cornstarch and chopped garlic. Transfer cheese mixture to pot. Mix in wine (at room temp!). 100ml of wine per person, 100 for the pot. Mix 100ml kirsch with 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Put pot on low-to-medium heat. Stir incessantly. As soon as cheese begins to separate, slowly add Kirsch mixture and keep stirring. Grate nutmeg. Add nutmeg and pepper to taste keep stirring until molten.

Drink with sides of Kirsch.

As a nod to vegetables, I made a salad. I wanted something light and crunchy with a hint of bitterness to serve as a counterpoint to the heavier items on the menu. This did the trick.

10-12 oz baby spinach
2 heads of fennel, cores removed then thinly sliced, fronds reserved
8 oz pomegranate seeds
1 pear, cored and thinly sliced
1 pink grapefruit, sectioned with seeds, peel, and pith removed
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Dressing
Juice of 1 grapefruit
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp pomegranate syrup
Fennel fronds, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Emulsify the dressing in a blender or with a whisk until light but creamy.
Toss the salad ingredients with the dressing until just lightly coated.

Clarissa’s Champagne cake worked in the same vein—bright and buoyant, not at all heavy. She says, “For the citrus, I did a mix of lemon, Meyer lemon, navel orange, blood orange, and tangerine. I also candied citrus slices for the garnish. The Champagne I used was aged Moët & Chandon Brut.”

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 Tbsp fresh citrus zest
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup Champagne or Prosecco
1/4 cup freshly squeezed citrus juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray a 10-cup bundt pan generously with nonstick spray. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine sugar and citrus zest in a food processor and pulse for 1 minute; combine with butter in a large mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add eggs one at a time. Mix in flour mixture on low speed until almost incorporated. Add champagne, citrus juice, and vanilla; mix on low speed just until combined.

Spoon batter into prepared bundt pan and smooth with an offset spatula. Tap pan sharply to reduce air bubbles. Bake for 40 to 44 minutes, until cake is golden, springs back to the touch, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes; carefully invert onto rack and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

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The Wines
Our inspiration for the wines, per the master of ceremonies (Keith): Champagnes, steely whites, nutty whites with acidity, and fruity reds. With charcuterie and lemon-cream-lox canapés, we drank a bubbly from Jean-Louis Denois in Limoux and a rosé Champagne from Henriot that Keith  artfully sabered. In addition to the Swiss white and Kirsh, our excellent Jura section at K&L was well represented. We drank 2016 Domaine des Carlines Chardonnay/Savagnin "La Vouivre" Côtes du Jura Blanc—a vivid white with stony, pear cider notes; 2010 Jean-Francois Ganevat “Cuvée Julien” Pinot Noir—an ethereal, dry Pinot with a sultry smokiness; and a Jura classic: 2002 Jean Bourdy Château-Chalon, made in the semi-oxidative nutty style with crystal-clear acidity—this was great with cheese, but carried well into the dessert course.

Tom brought a beautifully aged 2002 Daniel Ginsburg "Cuvée Rene Millesime" Brut Champagne, with succulent lemon meringue and sherry/nutty notes. He says, “Not having paired many wines with FUNdue before, I went with the flavor profiles provided by our host. I immediately thought of this wine for is complex toasty qualities and of course my love of Champagne. I was also very interested to see where the 2002 was in its life and who better to explore that with than our great team.”

He’s right—it’s a great team of people, and it was truly a pleasurable night. Many thanks to our host with the most, and to all who joined the fun. And to readers, may your Valentine’s Day be spent with full bellies and warm hearts. We’re here for you if you need suggestions, and you can’t go wrong with FUNdue!

- Kate Soto