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August 22, 2010

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Fondue: Swiss dish that's fun to share

IT may be hot outside, but never mind. It's cool inside the Switzerland Pavilion where executive chef Mark Thommen is extolling the pleasures of cheese fondue.

Chinese are familiar with hot pot and Korean barbecue but not too many are familiar with fondue and for the Chinese palate, cheese remains an acquired taste, but one with bright prospects in China. At the Switzerland Pavilion Restaurant, visitors can enjoy authentic Swiss cuisine and have the fun of fondue, a shared dish.

Cheese fondue is a dinner-time treat usually shared in an earthenware pot over a small burner. It's especially good during the cold winter but it's also nice to taste a mini-pot in the pavilion: it's fun to dip bread in a pot full of warm semi-liquid cheese sauce.

"Cheese fondue is a traditional and popular Swiss dish," said Thommen. "It's a free-style sharing dish, good for get-togethers with family or friends."

Fondue is said to have originated in the Swiss region of Fribourg in the 18th century when isolated alpine villages found a way of reusing remains of their bread and hard cheese.

"Actually, a huge variety of food can be put into the fondue, such as potato, apple, sausage, mushrooms, dried meat, even truffles," Thommen said.

Traditional cheese fondue uses Emmental, Fribourger vacherin and Gruyere cheeses, white wine, garlic and kirsch (cherry brandy) as its base. Other ingredients and spices can be added.

Affordable, tasty, easy to make and fun to eat, cheese fondue has become a worldwide treat and its recipes are adapted to regional cheeses and tastes around the world.

"Swiss love cheese. We eat it almost every day," the chef said.

In addition to fondue, the Swiss Pavilion offers set meals, including traditional Alpine barley soup, grilled pork sausage, grilled chicken wrapped in cured ham, vegetable salad and many other items. Prices range from 188-288 yuan (US$27.80-US$42.50).

Fondue is easy to make at home and you can decide on the type and amounts of cheese you prefer. It's a good idea to use fondue sticks, though chopsticks will do.

Make a Fondue at home

Pour white wine into a fondue pot, some are earthen, some are metal.

Heat to a simmer. Add quartered garlic (to taste), add cornstarch to make a sauce, then add cubed or grated cheese or cheeses.

Keep stirring over very low heat until cheese melts and the sauce is thick and smooth. Kirsch or other flavored liqueur can be added (or not). To thin the sauce, add some wine. Turn the heat down to barely warm.

To serve, use a small burner or portable heat source. Now chunks of crusty bread, any kind, can be impaled on a skewer or fondue fork or picked up with chopsticks and dipped in the sauce. Vegetables and meat can also be dipped. Some people even like fruit dipped in cheese.


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