The last time we had fondue in its original context – that is, in a northern-hemisphere, in winter, in a German family home, amist the general festiveness of Christmastime – we were warned about an unusual danger accompanying this dish. Don’t drink water while you’re eating the meal, they said, or you’ll get a cheese baby. While grotesquely evocative of the sensation of all that molten cheese sitting heavily in one’s belly, we were unsure about whether the warning had any sound basis in science or experience, or whether it was simply an exhortation to drink a more appropriate beverage with the meal, such as wine or schnapps!

And so it was with that warning in our minds that we, cautiously but with anticipation, decided it was high time we attempted to recreate the fondue night in the south. One friend brought the cheeses and her gorgeous orange fondue pot and cuisenaire-coloured forks, others brought the breads and accompaniments. We set the pot on our trusty camping stove, and also made a steaming pot of glühwein (mulled wine) to try to capture some of that wintry christmas-markets kind of cosiness. It was a fun, hands-on meal and everone pitched in.

We haven’t been brave enough to properly test whether the perils of a cheese baby are true. In Germany, we drank wine with the meal out of respect for the wisdom of our northern hosts, and back home, we simply drank glühwein for fun. Cautiously, we had some tepid water after the meal, and I think we all survived. Let me know how you go.

Traditional Cheese Fondue
From Delicious

1 large garlic clove, halved
400mL dry white wine
400g gruyere and Emmental cheeses, coarsely grated
2 tbsp cornflour
1/4 cup kirsch
Your choice of accompaniments

Rub the garlic clove around the inside of the fondue pot (if using), or if not the insude of a heavy based saucepan. Discard the garlic and set aside the fondue pot.

Add wine to a heavy-based saucepan and bring to boil over a high heat. Reduce heat to medium, then add cheese in handfuls, stirring constantly until all the cheese is in and has melted. Don’t worry if at this stage the mixture looks like it has separated. The important thing is to keep stirring so it doesn’t stick, and that the cheese melts evenly.

In a small bowl, mix the kirsch and cornflour until smooth. When all the cheese has melted in the pan, tip in the kirsch mixture and stir through. Take off the heat and keep stirring: the mixture should thicken and become uniformly viscous. Season well with salt and pepper. Pour into the fondue pot (or simply use the same saucepan), and pop on a low heat on your fondue burner on the table.

Here are some suggestions for accompaniments: we had a green salad, a plate of cold cuts, pieces of cucumber and cherry tomato, and diced crusty bread (some sourdough and some baguette). Blanched vegies such as broccoli and cauliflower could be good, as could some steamed potatoes and pickles. Please let me know if you have other good ideas for the accompaniments.

Yield: serves 6 (or less, depending on hunger)

Traditional Glühwein
[It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo above, but you might be able to spy one of the little chinese tea cups we served this in as we didn’t have the customary small mugs.]

2L dry red wine (we used cask)
1 3/4 cup raw sugar (this is plenty – you could reduce to 1 1/4 cup or to taste)
juice and peelings of 3 lemons
6 cardamom pods
12 cloves
6 bay leaves
6 small cinnamon sticks

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and slowly bring up to a gentle simmer. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat until the wine’s surface is barely moving, and leave on this low heat setting for about an hour. (If you have time, then turn the heat off and leave it to sit for a while – a couple of hours would be good.) If needed, gently return the wine to a warm drinking temperature, and serve out into small cups or mugs.

Yield: serves 6 (or less, depending on what kind of a night you have in mind)