Thursday, January 5, 2012

Passive House Cheese Fondue

An Introduction to Fondue

Years ago, on a ski trip in Switzerland, friends insisted that we skip our hotel meal and eat cheese fondue at a restaurant. The thought of fondue in Switzerland loosened our purse string. Back home, inspired, we attempted to recreate the dish. Cheese separated into two layers, one gooey, one oily. Then the blackened infusion at the bottom of our pot dissuaded us from trying again. When we packed our belongings for Japan, the fondue pot was put into storage.

A Housewarming Party

Recently, friends spent Christmas at home in Germany. They brought back cheeses and Kirschwasser to celebrate both the new year and the almost completed eco renovation of their once cold but now cozy house. We were invited for cheese fondue and to marvel at the warmth created with passive house renovation standards from Germany in Japan and an oven. I wasn't sure what to expect at a cheese fondue party as it has been a long time since I partook, but I was happy to visit a warm house, see fire, and chat with friends.

Distracted noticing counters, doors, windows, and furnishings in place, I settled by the fireplace or oven as it is called in German with a glass of wine. The bliss of someone else scurrying and assembling while delicious scents wafted about was pleasant. It was in this state that I noticed the handfuls of grated cheese being stirred into a bubbling concoction on the stove top. My friend kept stirring and adding more and more cheese. I marveled at the thought that we could eat that much cheese for dinner.

We were invited to the table where chunks of bread and vegetables were awaiting our skewers. The gooey texture of cheese sides up well with the layered taste of bread dipped into Kirschwasser enfolded into cheese. Japanese friends commented on being tired of osechi, foods served at room temperature with mild flavors for the three day new year holiday, enjoying the warm earthy flavors of bread, cheese, and wine.

By some miracle a patient cancellation allowed for the nearly on time arrival of my husband who rode his bike directly from work. Arriving in day glow lycra bike clothes and the blinking lights needed for visibility on the road, his entrance amused us all- earbuds blasting, lights flickering like a Christmas tree. We settled down to our celebratory repast talking of moves with spiral staircases and catching up on holiday visits and visitors.

There is a gustatory tradition of eating the crispy bits of rice left in the pot, okoge, here in Japan. Everyone unabashedly gouged the fondue pot at the end for the bits of crispy cheese, asking us for the word in English. "Cruddles," we happily instructed.

The best part though was that their house was so warm, thanks to those fancy three layered German windows and all of that added insulation, they had to open the windows during dinner to keep us all from sweating in December in a once cold house! Warm houses are possible in Japan- contact a passive house architect for details. I could recommend one or two.

My husband and I renewed our appreciation for cheese fondue and, of course, I asked for the recipe. I was told the trick is to start with a bit of starch in a wine slurry- it keeps the cheese from separating.

Fondue goes well with dry white wine (Pinot Grigio) and Kirschwasser. Our German friend told us that the best Kirschwasser should be smooth not harsh or fiery. Round out the meal with a green salad. Be sure to eat the cruddles and invite friends over.

Idatakimasu I humbly receive,

Passive House Cheese Fondue

Cornstarch or potato starch, 1 tsp
Dry White Wine, 2/3 cup
Garlic, 2 cloves, whole, peeled
Gruyère cheese, 180 gm (per person)
Gorgonzola cheese, 20 gm (per person)
Emmentaler cheese (Swiss Cheese in the States; semi-hard), 20 gm (per person)
Tilsiter/Tilsit cheese (semi soft; Gouda might work in the States), 20 gm (per person)
Kirschwasser, glug or two (1-2 Tbsp)
Nutmeg, 1/4 tsp
Baguette, 1 loaf, cubed
Vegetables parboiled as you like, cubed, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc.

1. Prep: Grate all hard cheese. Cube bread. Parboil vegetables. Mix cornstarch with wine.
2. Over medium low heat, place garlic cloves into pot for 1-2 minutes. Add cornstarch slurry and stir. When it begins to thicken, add soft cheese first (Gorgonzola). Stir to prevent sticking.
3. As cheese melts, add remaining cheeses, soft ones first then harder kinds, handfuls at a time. Stirring as needed until fully incorporated, then add the next handful.
4. Once all of the cheeses are incorporated, stir and allow to simmer a moment or two- should be thick and gooey. Finish with a glug of Kirschwasser and sprinkle of nutmeg.
5. Serve immediately with pieces of baguette and chunks of vegetables for dipping. Keep fondue warm as needed over a sterno flame.

Start with garlic cloves in a pot.
Wine & starch slurry and grated hard cheeses- at the ready.
Start with slurry and soft cheeses.
Continue to add soft cheeses.
Add grated cheeses a handful at a time. 
Stir in Kirshwasser & nutmeg.
Passive House Cheese Fondue is served.
An 11 year bottle of Kirschwasser is kaput.


  1. Can't wait to try to make the fondue. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Let me know if you have any trouble!


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