Fondue lunch is a Fromagination winter tradition, and our communal table is still set this week for more fans of Swiss culture!

Aside from the great tastes – our three-cheese fondue recipe, roasted vegetables, bread and cornichons – the dipping, eating and communing is part of the fun of fondue.  We talk to guests about the tradition that came from poor people in Switzerland, and how the best part of the meal is sometimes at the end when you get to clean the fondue pot.  And we explain the various cheeses we use to create such a fabulous taste….well, those and the wine that goes in, too!

The Wikipedia “fondue” reference list 1699 as the first time cooking/melting cheese with wine was listed in a book, published in Zurich.  From there, it took on the French passive past participle for melt (fondre) in 1735 as a noun, and voila!…fondue.  It was promoted as a Swiss national dish beginning in the 1800s.

You may not feel very Swiss today, but we’ll bet you feel happier after a fondue lunch with friends.  Frigid weather and hot cheese seem to go well together.  Come in, get your fondue fork pointed toward the pot, and let your winter stress melt away.

See our fondue schedule to make a date for lunch!

In this third edition of The Wandering Cheesemonger, our intrepid blogger, Grace, begins to explain how the wandering started…

I got off the train in Quimper, 24 hours in to my trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Treguennec, France, half asleep and half scared, and realized that I had somehow forgotten to write down the address of the farm where I was spending the next two and a half months. I had spent the two hour ride there trading between trying not to nod off and miss my stop, and struggling to comprehend the garbled French coming out of the overhead speakers—after seven years of French classes, I was pretty sure they had chosen this day to announce the stops in some other language.

An American expat, John Tevis, was supposed to meet me at the station and drive me the rest of the way to the farm, called Chèvrerie de la Baie. I realized, however, that not only had I not brought along any contact information for the Chèvrerie, but I also in my tired state had completely forgotten what John looked like, having only met him once via Skype.

Thankfully, John recognized me, probably because I was the only deliriously tired person at the rural train stop lugging a giant suitcase and looking around frantically. We got in his car and made the trip to the Chèvrerie, while John told me more details about the family, who I had never met. John had generously helped me find this job, and I was the first person outside of the family (other than John) who had ever worked on the farm.

John introduced me to the family, and promptly drove off to his house, leaving me to struggle to communicate in French that, yes, I did want to stay awake and help out, and yes, I would love to help get the cobwebs off of the roof of the barn! Meanwhile, I was having a small internal panic attack that the one person who spoke English had just left me alone and wasn’t coming back to visit for another week. Marisa and Fred, the owners of the farm and two of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, hid their smiles as I forced my way through an afternoon of work while my eyes drooped and I stifled a yawn. And then, right before dinner, Marisa took me in to the laboratoire.

If you worship good cheese like I do, getting in to the laboratoire on the first day of my visit was like St. Peter handing over the golden key to heaven. We tasted each cheese, and she told me about what she was working on and how she made each cheese. I watched everything she did and tried to understand the French—but, what I understood the most was the taste. Oh, that cheese…her rounds of fresh, raw milk fromage de chèvre melted softly on your tongue, while the more aged cheeses had a tangy, creamy paste and a slightly chewy, soft rind. Marisa’s super dry crotin were immensely salty, tiny, crunchy rounds that tasted like nothing I’d ever had before. As we left the laboratoire to go make dinner, I made a mental note to go through my French dictionary that night for a few more vocabulary words for “delicious.”

Grace will be in Europe to study cheese-making this summer, and has an Indiegogo campaign going to help her fund her trip!  Can you help?

Need a good recipe for a fondue dinner?

We have it!

This month’s Fromagination Cheese of the Month Subscription shipment is titled “The Fondue Dinner.”  February is cold in Wisconsin, and people need a better reason than beer to gather around the table and commiserate!  So we’ve sent three great cheeses to our Cheese of the Month subscribers for them to create a superb fondue sauce: Emmentaler (Edelweiss Creamery, Monroe, WI), Grand Cru Surchoix (Emmi Roth USA, Monroe, WI) and Baby Swiss (Chalet Cheese Cooperative, Monroe, WI).

Did you notice a certain geographic similarity among these great fondue cheeses?  Monroe must be Fondue City about this time of year.

Below, we tell you how to employ those cheeses at your dinner table to entertain guests, use up your stale bread, avoid drunkenness, and create some great “Shepherd’s Underwear”!*

Dairyland Fondue

You don’t need to own a fondue pot to create fondue cheese sauce – any heavy pan will work. (Fromagination carries a heavy, cast iron fondue pot ) A cast iron crock is especially convenient as it can be heated on the stove and transferred to the table for service.

  • kosher salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 cup Edelweiss Emmentaler, grated
  • 1 cup Emmi Roth Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix, grated
  • 1 cup Chalet Cheese Cooperative Baby Swiss, grated
  • 1-1/2 cup dry white wine (recommended: Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • black pepper, freshly ground

In a medium bowl, mix the cheeses and combine with one cup of wine and the lemon juice. Let the cheese mixture soak for at least 45 minutes (Fromagination soaks its overnight). When ready to prepare the fondue, add a pinch or two of salt to the pot. Starting in the salt, vigorously rub the cut end of the garlic over the entire interior surface of the pot. Discard garlic.

Add 1/2 cup wine into the prepared fondue pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Slowly add the cheese mixture, whisking continuously.

The fondue is ready to serve when the cheese is completely melted and the fondue takes on a smooth consistency. Serve with bread, roasted or fresh vegetables, cured and smoked meats and/or pickles.  Serves 6 people.

*Underwear references always get people to keep reading…it must be engrained from 2nd grade.  “What IS Shepherd’s Underwear?” we heard you ask.  Well, it’s the cheese baked to the bottom of the fondue pot when most of the fondue dinner is over, and only this crust remains.

Even if you think the guy should really go to the Alpine Laundromat and deal with his dirty clothes more often, we think you find the Shepherd’s Underwear a truly divine part of your fondue meal.

Have a great fondue dinner before the snow melts!  And if you don’t want to do it at home, you can come and have some fondue at our shop.

The Wandering Cheesemonger is our friend Grace, who will go to Europe this summer to learn more about cheese, and describe her adventures for Fromagination’s Blog!  Here is Grace’s second post:

In 2012, I applied for a job at Fromagination, an innovative local cheese store in downtown Madison, Wisconsin that focuses on creating a relationship between local cheesemakers and Madisonian customers. Wisconsin is known for its cheese. We’ve all had a good Wisconsin cheddar, some cheese curds, maybe a little brick cheese. But, if we want a cheese that will impress a guest, most people go for something imported (and probably French); a Camembert, some Roquefort, or perhaps Tallegio.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with imported cheeses. Importing cheese is a good way to get the culinary experiences of the world without having to travel to the cheeses countries of origin. However, in the U.S., people tend to miss a lot of what this country has to offer, cheese-wise.

The French concept of terroir is the understanding that a food created in a certain region embodies some of the characteristics of that region. When you taste an artisanal cheese, you can also taste the place where it was made. I really believe that one should try to experience the terroir of the region that you are in by tasting its local delicacies. What better way is there to acquaint yourself with a place than through your taste buds?

It makes sense environmentally and economically to eat locally made cheese (cheeses that don’t have to travel have less of an environmental impact, and are generally less expensive). It also makes sense taste-wise. The closer you are to a cheese’s place of production, the better it will taste; cheeses that don’t have to travel hold up more of the delicate flavor that the farmer works to create. Supporting local cheese producers is also extremely economically important in the U.S., where artisanal cheese production is in tough competition with government subsidized industrial agriculture.

Some regions have more varieties of interesting cheeses to offer than others (ahem, Wisconsin), but there are incredible cheeses being made all over the U.S. At Fromagination, about three-quarters of the cheeses available are Wisconsin originals. One of my favorites is Pleasant Ridge Reserve made by Uplands Cheese. This nutty, buttery, Alpine-style cheese (i.e. like a gruyere) is a crowd pleaser. It’s not too strong to put off cautious cheese eaters, but still full-flavored enough that it can be paired with a good jam or a full-bodied wine.

Next time you go in to your local cheese shop, instead of asking for something with a recognizable name, try tasting a few cheeses that are made in the region of your store! When you discover something like Pleasant Ridge Reserve, your taste buds will thank you.

Grace will be in Europe to study cheese-making this summer, and has an Indiegogo campaign going to help her fund her trip!  Can you help?

The Wandering Cheesemonger – sometime Fromagination employee Grace Mooney – will be blogging for Fromagination weekly throughout 2015.  She begins her blog this week with a story about her introduction to a seminal figure in local cheese-making:

It all started with a ghost.
Or was it a goat?

In 1982, Anne Topham and Judy Borree, two University of Wisconsin professors, were on the phone with their friend from France, asking for advice. They had just started milking their first goat, a big step in their career change from professeurs to fromagères. They were getting ready to start selling the fromage de chèvre that they had taught themselves to make, but still needed a name for their farm. So, they asked their friend for a quick translation into French.

Their friend got off the phone quite confused. “It’s very strange,” she said to her family. “Annie and Judy just told a story about a mother ghost and her baby who are living on their farm. They speak to the ghost, and play with her, and feed her…and for some reason they wanted to know what to call her in French!”

And so, Fantome Farm was named, not after the goats from whose milk their cheese was made, but instead after a ghost.

Annie and Judy were pioneers of artisanal goat milk cheese production in the United States. They introduced goat milk cheese to a country that wasn’t interested in tasting something so seemingly bizarre and un-American. Every Saturday at the Dane County Farmers Market in downtown Madison, Annie and Judy had to coerce people to taste the odd-looking cheese. But one taste, and they were hooked for life.

Fantome Farm’s fromage de chèvre was the beginning of my path to cheese obsession. As a baby, my mom used to give me tastes of the creamy, light, almost-sweet-tasting cheese off the end of her finger. Like everyone else, I was hooked. Every Saturday, my mom and I went to the farmers market to get a container of the fresh chèvre. Although her favorite was the chèvre with fresh garlic, she got plain chève instead for me, one of the sweetest acts of motherly love I could ever imagine.

When I became old enough, Annie offered me a job helping out at the market stand, where I worked until college. I showed up every Saturday around 7:00 a.m., returning home in the afternoon with a giant pile of cheeses to savor. Annie led me through tasting each of her cheeses, teaching me to recognize when a cheese had been slightly over-salted, needed a bit more age, or when the goats were producing milk with a slightly higher fat content than the week before.

This cheese was, and always will be, the holy grail of cheeses for me. Annie’s fresh fromage de chèvre, her slightly aged fleuries (both with ash and without, referred to as the ‘fleurie noir’ and the ‘fleurie blanc’), her rounds of fresh cheese in olive oil and herbes de Provence…just thinking of them makes my mouth water. Annie’s dedication to her cheese and her understanding of how delicate and susceptible to change an artisanal cheese is allowed her to create incredible and varied flavors. Each week, she tasted and adjusted. She paid close attention to the weather, time of year, milk-handling, and treatment of the goats…every aspect of the cheese-making process was important. Each batch of cheese was made by hand, and by her practiced and loving hand.

The foundation of my love and respect for cheese comes from that patient education from Annie. I learned that cheese is not just something you eat, but something you experience. For me, cheese both is a vocation and a way of life. Learning from and supporting local farmers, tasting and pairing cheeses, and understanding what goes into making a truly exceptional cheese has become my life’s passion.

Grace will be in Europe to study cheese-making this summer, and has an Indiegogo campaign going to help her fund her trip!  Can you help?