October 15, 2003
[Cheese Fondue at our Neighbors' place]
We are lucky enough to be very good friends with our next-door neighbors. Stéphan and Patricia live on our floor, in the apartment to the right of ours. We met on the night of our housewarming party : we had posted a note to apologize in advance for the noise and music, and to invite everybody over for a drink. We were very happy to have several neighbors show up (which was a very favorable omen in regards to the friendly and village-like atmosphere of the building), and among them, Stéphan and Patricia.
We have grown very fond of each other over time, chatting from window to window, plucking from each other's aromatic garden, having drinks/coffee/cake/dinner at their place or ours, borrowing books, sharing a wireless high-speed connection, bringing back small gifts from our trips, and just generally having a grand time. We all share a pronounced taste for good food, and Stéphan is a passionate cook too, with his own style - pretty different from mine - and a lot of talent.
So Saturday night, when they invited us over for a fondue savoyarde (cheese fondue), we very happily accepted.
Stéphan had cut up three kinds of good-quality cheese into small cubes : gruyère, beaufort and comté. All three are from Savoie, an area in the French Alps. 200g of cheese per person seems a good number. This he put to melt in his Le Creuset caquelon - a cast iron fondue pot, with 3/4 of a bottle of good dry white wine, salt, pepper and paprika. When all this was melted, he added a small glass of sherry in which he had mixed a teaspoon of cornstarch.
He had also bought two loaves of low-quality baguette (so it would taste day-old in less than a day) that he had cut up into cubes, and we put these on a baking sheet in the oven to dry.
We transferred the caquelon onto the table burner, and set about to feast on bread and cheese, accompanied by a deliciously dressed salad and a bottle of the same wine that was used in the fondue. Each guest gets a special fork with which he dips a cube of bread into the cheese, then transfers it into his plate, waits a few seconds for it to cool, dips it in fleur de sel, and gobbles it up. At the end, when there is only a little cheese left and it has thickened, the tradition is to break an egg into it and prolong the magic.
Fondue makes for a delicious and fun meal. The conversation grows more and more animated as the white wine starts to kick in, the guests bask in cheese-induced happiness, the heat of the table burner adds to the glow in everybody's face, and it's just the perfect way to end a chilly day. And up your cholesterol by a good 80%. But hey, how many lives do you get?
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