Thursday, December 30, 2010

VOIRON & beyond: chien de fondue


I’ve been preparing for my European travels for most of my life. Essential reading for anyone negotiating this part of the world is Asterix in Switzerland (that country being but a menhir’s throw away). At an early age it introduced me to a very fascinating pastime that I knew I would have to indulge in when I was a little older and further away from rural NSW. That is of course  the Roman orgy  cheese fondue.

After the monastic and sacred excursions of the morning, it was time for an orgy good lunch. More or less at random we selected a brasserie by the road as we descended into the valley on the other side of the mountain. Even with snow all about, many people were sitting outside in the bright sunshine, so Munson, myself and our friend Olivier found a spare table. The waitress was none-too-bright; I suspect she was hired for her ability to put on some cute boots and not for reading comprehension or table-service ability. Even the manager seemed to struggle to identify what the daily specials might be. We settled on a shared fondue and a bottle of what turned out to be quite awful Savoyard wine. The wine had to keep us going for an hour or so while we waited for any sign of food to arrive at any of the tables around us. I hoped my visa would be valid until that time came.

The fondue heating base (rechaud) and some bread chunks came first, and then the actual pan trailed along almost as an afterthought. The flame had gone out on the base by that time, so the manager took it and the fondue back inside to get it going again. He returned with the base, and then realised he’d misplaced the fondue and had to go back inside to hunt for it. Eventually it all came together on our table.

Sappey-en-Chartreuse (lunch)

I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that the eating experience wasn’t exactly as depicted in Asterix in Switzerland but at least I wasn’t hauled off to be thrown into a cold lake each time I lost the bread in the pan. Munson sat by the table straining for an opportunity to intervene between pan and mouth as I alternately attempted to knit a cheese scarf in mid-air and to extricate myself from a reverse frommage-fishing manoeuvre.

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The Savoyard version of fondue mixes grated Comté, beaufort and a third cheese like Emmental or Fribourg in a local wine, poured into a garlic-rubbed pot. Some starch thickener is added towards the end. The last thin crust of cheese at the bottom of the pot is known as la religieuse – “the nun”. I’m not sure of the reasoning for that, but it’s easy to attack a pot of fondue until there’s none left.

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