I remember my first fondue. I was three and my parents were having a party and I was supposed to be in bed. But I snuck out and I went down the hall and there they were, sitting with these other adults around this bubbling cauldron. And they had these long forks and they were stabbing things and dipping them into this goo and it was terrifying.
But, it was enticing, too. And
when nobody was looking I snuck into the room and I scooped up some of
the dregs with a cold Oscar Mayer and I took a bite and it was, wow, it
was like just stepping trough the looking glass. From that day on,
I was a dedicated cheese melter.
That was 1965 and back then we only had two cheeses—the white kind and yellow kind—but, boy, I melted a ton of both of them. And when there wasn't any cheese around to melt I'd sometimes take the heads of my sister's .... Well, let's just say that anytime that a new cheese hit the grocery store, I was down there with my allowance in a flash. I remember bringing a piece of brie home when I was 8 and my mom made me take it back because it had mold on it. Heh, heh.
Oh, when college came, whew, was there cheese. Oh, ho, ho, ho, boy, was there a lot of cheese then, let me tell you. But, you know, after you've had a few raclettes and done some Welsh Rarebits, you know, the exoticism kind of wears off and you just want to go home to your first love. For me, with the exception of one particular guilty pleasure, which maybe we'll get to later, that meant fondue.
AB: [to the unseen mouse in the hole, he places a mousetrap with cheese on it] Here you go, buddy, here's a nice piece of aged Cheshire for ya.
Fondue, of course, is all about
melting. But how do you know what will melt well and what won't? Well, you can do what I did, you can melt them
heh, heh, heh. I can tell you, after that you'd be surprised how many of
those childhood cheeses still hold up the best.
Now, what did I do with all those leftovers? Well, let's just say that Ole Squeaky down there's days are numbered. But, heh. No sacrifice too big for good eats, right?
I think I see a Port Salut over there. [he crosses his kitchen floor full of mouse traps, fades to black, a mouse traps snapping] Yeow! Do'h!
Cheese making has been called, "the art of spoiling milk." That's a pretty good description.
AB: [applying milking apparatus to a cow] Easy, girl.
See, it all starts with the processing of milk's primary and secondary proteins, that would be casein and lactoglobulin, into what's basically curds and whey. Now, by the way, you're not likely to find people milking cows while sitting on tuffets any more. But that's not to say you won't occasionally run into the occasional spider.
Containing over 250 chemical compounds,
milk is the most complex food on earth.
GUEST: Bruce Workman, Master Cheesemaker
To gain insight into the mysterious transformation, I got off my tuffet and headed to Wisconsin and my favorite fondue fodder, Gruyere.
I arrived at Roth Kase just in time to help a vat of cow juice over into the afterlife. But before putting me to work, Master Cheesemaker, Bruce Workman, gave me the lowdown on the three major stages of cheese production.
|First, an enzyme bacterial cocktail is added to increase the milk's acidity and to curdle the protein casein which quickly sets to a custard like consistency.||
|Then the giant curd is cut into small bits so that the yellow-green liquid, or whey, held in the protein matrix can be separated from the solids. The curds and whey of many aged cheeses like gruyere and parmesan are quickly cooked to further refine their proteins before being pumped into giant presses. Now, at this point, the curds resemble rice sized chunks of latex and, to tell the truth, they kind of taste that way, too. Once they settle on the floor of the press, the curds get a big hydraulic hug which consolidates the curd to a solid mass and gets more of the whey out of the way. This big sheet is now scored and then cut into rubbery, square blocks which are then unceremoniously forced into round molds. Then, of course, it's time for more squeezing. This time the curds emerge as cheese, flavorless but cheese nonetheless. Now, once they are turned out and racked, these fromages enfants are ready to put on some age.||
|Now, fine gruyere can age anywhere from months to years, and during this time the flavor and texture ripen from bland to complex. Alas, for gruyere, the work's not over. While aging, these rounds receive regular scrubbing with more salt and bacteria. The bacteria produce flavor compounds while the salt adds seasoning and police the metabolic activity of the bacteria thus preventing the cheese from spoiling too fast.||
At 6.8 billion pounds per year, the US
leads the world in cheese production.
At 43.6 pounds per person per year, France leads the world in cheese consumption.
Never commit yourself to cheese without having examined it first. -T. S. Elliot
GUEST: Linsey Herman, Cheese Monger
I don't know about you but I think this comes as close as you can get to a culinary mine field. I mean, one wrong step and you've dropped 10 bucks on 2 ounces of coagulated gym socks, which I hear some folks really like. Like fish, wine and certain auto parts, the key to cheese enjoyment is to find the right cheese monger to supply you. What do you look for? Passion without pretension, knowledge without attitude, and a quick hand with the samples. Now when casing a cheese monger, ask them a question you already know the answer to just to see if you like the way they handle it. Observe.
AB: Um, excuse me.
LINSEY HERMAN: Yes.
AB: Could you tell me why that Swiss cheese has holes in it?
LH: Um, the holes come from the carbon dioxide that are produced during the cheese making process, from the bacteria.
AB: Pretty good, uh, can I have a sample?
AB: Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Well, she's two for two. Let's turn up the heat, shall we?
|AB: So, Lindsey, would you
say these are good melting cheeses?
LH: They're great melting cheeses.
AB: Would be good for, say, fondue?
LH: Yeah, absolutely. Either this emmenthaler or this gruyere.
AB: Okay, so let's say I
just walked in off the street. How could I spot a good melting cheese?
"in dry matter" or IDM
20% - 25% Fat
|AB: So, have any tips on
LH: Well, you want to melt slowly. If you melt quickly, your cheese is going to break and it's just going to be a mess.
Okay. All right. Last question: what should we look for in a good cheese shop?
LH: Well, the first thing you look for is a busy cheese shop because that means the cheeses haven't been sitting around too long and, if they are wrapped in plastic, they haven't been in the plastic for too long.
AB: So, these have been in the plastic ...
LH: Maybe two days.
AB: Okay, I'll buy that. Anything else?
Busy Shop = Fresh Cheese
|LH: Yeah, you want to look
for a knowledgeable cheese staff. Somebody who
can guide you, who can figure out what your tastes are
and bring you to the cheese that is just going to match you just right. You also want someone who is more than willing to cut a piece off the
larger chunk especially if most of the cheeses
are wrapped in plastic.
AB: Any chunk they want?
LH: Any chunk they want.
AB: I want this chunk.
AB: Let's go. Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Will cut to order
AB: You can do it. Come on, girl. That's it. We're almost free. We're almost there. Ahhh.
A beautiful cheese. Should be about enough.
Ah. It is finished. Ha,
ha, ha, ha. Oh, hi. Welcome to this old cutting board. You know, anybody who's cut cheese knows that anything tougher than
driving a knife through a block of mozzarella is driving a bicycle
through a swimming pool. So, I decided to convert this old miserably
undersized cutting board into a wire cutter much like that used by my
professional cheese monger friend. So, what I did is I cut a
little vent right there, kind of a little slot in the end of the board
and then I cut a big slot all the way down the face of the board and
ended it with this little V right here.
Then, I stole a guitar string off my nephew's guitar. Let's face it, if he hasn't gotten Stairway To Heaven by now, he's never going to. Of course, if you've got a zither laying around the house or an autoharp or small harpsichord that will do fine, too. I just ran the nut of the string through this little nail and then bent the end of the nail so that when inserted into slot "A" ... ha, ha, ha, ha ... it is captured. The wire goes into the slot and what was once a woefully unusable piece of equipment is now a cheese cutting Juggernaut. [demonstrates] Aah. You can't beat that. Now, of course eventually this little slot is going to get dirty. That's no problem. Whenever you wash it just use a pipe cleaner to get down in the slot.
Of course, now that we have the technology to cut the cheese, you've got to know where to store the cheese.
Real cheese has a lot of life left in it. Bacteria are munching, enzymes are catalyzing, mold is growing. It's a busy place. Like a head of lettuce, it's breathing, basically. But unlike lettuce which stores best in here [the fridge] when robbed of air, if cheese doesn't breathe it gets funky, smelly, slimy. It's not pretty. Now, when the Edam was whole it was protected by its wax. It didn't need a whole lot of attention. But after it was breached, well, a lot of things can go wrong. So, a few layers of wax paper will help to prevent drying and suffocation. Rubber band keeps things together.
Now, since this picks up odors like molecular Velcro, this should have a room of its own. Cheese, like Greta Garbo, likes to be alone. Now, if I could just find a drawer for this [huge piece of cheese purchased in the previous scene]. [attempts to put it in the bottom drawer] I think I'm going to need a bigger box.
GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist
[enters BB&B wearing a polyester 70's type outfit] Hello, W.
W: Hello, Hutch. Starsky parking the Torino?
AB: Hey, come on. If you're going to revive a 70's food faddish you should dress the part, right?
W: I bet you're looking for a fondue pot.
AB: How'd you guess?
W: Well, you've got cheesy dip written all over you.
W: Come on. I want to finish polishing my mood rings.
AB: Oh, I didn't think you'd have more than one.
W: The traditional Swiss fondue pot is made of earthenware which is slow to heat and gentle to cheeses.
AB: Yeah, but you know those alcohol burners are tough to set up ... by the hot tub. Got any options?
W: Of course. The electric models can handle cheese as well as oil fondues all you have to do is set the thermostat.
AB: Non-stick interior. Very considerate. Is that it?
W: Well, we have the ornamentals.
AB: Oh, you know the flimsy metal is a crummy insulator and an over eager conductor. Either way it's bad for cheese. No, I'll stick with the electric. I think it looks kind of cool. Got any tips for me?
W: Change clothes.
AB: Hmm. I need a grater.
W: For cheese?
AB: No, remind me of you.
W: Hmm. Routing graters are best for hard cheese like parmesan. But, if you are only going to get one grater make it a box. Broad based models with center handles are the most stable and you want at least 4 tooth sizes. Buy big. Small graters are worthless.
AB: Great. I'll get grating.
W: Do you ever stop?
One final fondue philosophy: Don't spend the green if you don't dig the scene.
AB: No, really. What?
Make your inaugural batch in a heavy sauce pan or even your croc pot. It will take a little bit longer but it will taste just as good. Then, you know, if you dig it, you can spend for the pot. I've got three.
In the late 60's and early 70's, a newly
wed couple could
expect to receive 2.7 fondue pots as wedding gifts.
GUESTS: "Protestant" Football Player
"Catholic" Football Player
With one possible exception, which we'll get
to shortly, fondue is the finest destiny to which cheese can aspire. It
also happens to be the original half-time food. The time? 1531. The
place? A Switzerland torn by reformation. Catholics from the rural Cantons
and Protestants from the cities have skirmished with and laid siege to each
other for months leaving both sides near starvation.
Of course, being Swiss, and therefore efficient, they realized that if they starved to death, they can't keep killing each other. So, a truce is drawn up so that the two warring parties might pool all of the edible resources that remain. A fire is built on the middle of he field of battle and a pot is placed upon it.
"Fondue" is from "Fondre," the French word for melt.
I don't know if anybody bothered
rubbing the cauldron down with garlic but I do know that it's
traditional and it really does make fondue taste better.
Now, the Protestants brought bread and wine. The Catholics being good farm boys brought homemade cheese.
AB: Whathca got for me?
PROTESTANT: Apple juice. Bag of rolls, coach.
AB: Bag of rolls and apple juice. Did you bring a bottle opener?
P: Swiss Army Knife, coach.
|AB: Swiss Army
Knife. Should have seen that one coming. [sniffs,
coughs] This was apple juice. Now, it has gone hard on you.
But that's okay because a good, hard, American cider is the perfect replacement for the traditional Neuchâtel wines. So, 10 to 12 ounces straight into the pot.
P: What are you going to do with the rest of it?
Bring this to a simmer with a pinch of kosher salt, make that two pinches, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of brandy just to round out the flavor.
10-12 oz Hard Cider
|AB: What'd you bring me,
CATHOLIC: Cheese, coach.
AB: Cheese. Gruyere. The archetypical Swiss cheese. Excellent. What else you got for me?
C: More cheese.
AB: [sniffs] Smoked Gouda. Nice choice. I'm impressed.
Now, both of these are medium moisture cheeses. But since it's aged, the gruyere proteins are smaller and tighter together so it's going to take a much longer time to melt than the younger gouda.
AB: All right. I want you to give me 5 ounces of each of those cheese. I want them
weighed. Hit it, soldier.
5 oz Gruyere
Whatever you do, never trust a recipe that calls for cups of grated
cheese. There's just too many variables
want to go by weight, always.
AB: Nice job, but a little
slow. How about some push-ups?
Always measure cheese by weight not volume
|Now before we just start heaving this into the pot to melt, let's take out a little melting insurance by tossing it with about 2 tablespoons of corn starch. Now, you could use flour for this but I think it tastes kind of funny, cereal like. So, I like the corn starch.||
1 - 2 Tbls Corn Starch
|We're just going to add this—good, we've got a simmer, that's what we want—I'm going to add this a handful at a time. You want to be sure to stir it in and let this melt completely before you add the next dose.||
Add a handful at a time
Melt each addition completely
Now, cheese melts for two reasons, basically. One, the fats loosen up and get soft. But, the protein casein is actually primarily responsible. See what happens, in its raw state these proteins are balled up into these tight little coils. When they get hot they denature, unwind—kind of let their molecular hair down—and they kind of tangle up with each other. Now at this point, they're extremely attracted to one another, and if there is too much heat in the pot, they'll huddle up even tighter than they were in the original cheese. In other words, they'll clump and that's not a nice thing.
|Now, doing this over gentle heat will help a great deal, but what we really need is the starch.||
FP: 52. 53. 54.
Now, let's say for a minute that a fondue pot is like a high school dance, okay? We've got all these loose, hot proteins just floating around in there, just ... they can't wait to get next to each other, right? So, what we need is a chaperone, so to speak, something to get in there and break up the action and that's what the corn starch does. The starch literally gets in between all of these strands and prevents any slow dancing, cuddling, or clumping, as it's known in the fondue trade. Oh, and the lemon juice, that citric acid, literally comes in and cuts some these long protein strands into smaller segments which prevents the fondue from getting stringy. After all, this isn't pizza.
FP: 103. 104. 105. 106. 107.
|Now as the fondue comes together, you'll notice little bubbles just breaking the surface. That's good. You want to keep it at that state, okay? And each time you add more cheese, you want to bring it back to that point before adding anymore. But above all, try not to let it boil.||
Return to simmer after each addition
|When you add the last installment of the cheese, it's a great time to add a little bit of flavor. I like to go with a pinch of black pepper and about a half teaspoon of curry powder. You can go with more if you like.||
1 pinch Black Pepper
|Now, if you're not a big curry fan, that's okay. Try a pinch of cayenne, maybe some nutmeg, some fresh herbs. It's up to you.||
Of course, the best thing about fondue is finding good stuff to dip in it.
AB: Suggestions, guys?
P: Chunks of bread.
AB: Sure. All kinds, shapes and sizes.
C: Doughnut holes.
AB: Rethink that.
P: Blanched and chilled vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower?
AB: Very good.
Fondue is actually an excellent way to trick children into eating their vegetables.
C: Cheese cubes.
AB: Have I mentioned that these little forks ...
P: Why would you put cheese in the cheese?
C: I like cheese.
AB: Hey, we all like cheese, okay?
Now, see these little tines, they're really great for holding on to the food so you don't loose it in the drink. Now, my personal favorite is cooked sausage: kielbasa, bratwurst ...
AB: Vienna. Not exactly what I had in mind, but okay.
C: Uh, oh. I lost my apple.
AB: Ahh. See, you've had a blow out. Now traditionally, you'd have to buy all of us a round of drinks. But in your case, 50 push-ups and back to killing each other.
If a crust forms on the bottom of the pot
don't throw it out, eat it.
The French call it "la croute" and consider it a delicacy.
"Many's the long night I've dreamed
- toasted mostly." -Robert Louis Stevenson
[voice over, AB enters the kitchen in PJs] Um. Hungry. [turns on the light] Ooo. A little grilled cheese action. Two cast iron pans. One fits inside the other. Give it high heat for a few minutes.
2 Heavy Pans
Some bread. Some bread. Bread, bread, bread, bread. Umm. Italian loaf. Rustic.
Rustic Country Loaf
Cheese. Go with a cheddar. Sharp. Mustard. Smooth. Dijon.
Nope, nope. It's over here. Here we go. Grated, always. Never sliced. It won't melt evenly. A little more. There we go. Two slices. Mustard, one side.
Hmm. Some pepper. Black pepper. Lots of black pepper. One handful. Close it up.
A little olive oil spritz. One side only.
Olive Oil One Side
Fetch my pan. Ooo. Big one on the bottom. Oily side down. Little spritz. Don't forget the bottom of the pan or it will stick. Who needs a $1,000 sandwich press when you've got this taken care of.
Spritz Bread pan
Here we go. A spatula just kind of coax that thing off the bottom. That's it. That's what I'm talking about. Come here now. Slice. Ah. See, the pressure was just right. The perfect crust.
3 minutes later
[to us] Let's not ruin this moment with words.
[voice over] Um. Come to daddy. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, yeah. That's what I'm talking about.
I'm Alton Brown
Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin
Last Edited on 08/27/2010