Thursday, 12 July 2012

STAGE 11: ALBERTVILLE - LA TOUSSUIRE-LES SYBELLES

Twenty years after Albertville hosted the Winter Olympics, the riders set out on a relatively short course (140 km) with a substantial agenda: two hors categorie climbs, including the Col de la Madeleine (1932m), and first and second category climbs.

Mention the Alps and most people think "fondue", a dish which is popular in the Alpine regions of both France and Switzerland. Fondue is simply a dish of melted cheese over a spirit lamp into which cubes of bread are dipped using long forks. In the 1930s Fondue was promoted as a national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union, but the earliest documented mention of fondue comes from a 1699 Swiss book in which it was described as "Käss mit Wein zu kochen" ('to cook cheese with wine'). It calls for grated or cubed cheese to be melted with wine, and for bread to be dipped in it.

A classic cheese fondue is made from wine, cheese and seasoning. It is often served with pickles, salami, boiled potatoes and salad.  It's a great way of using up old pieces of cheese and stale bread, and I suspect that fondue originated as a way of using up leftovers (possibly the origin of Tartiflette as well).  Fondue is a very convivial dish: gather around the bubbling bowl of cheese with a group of friends, and get dipping. Some people insist of 'forfeits' for those whose bread drops into the bowl!

A proper fondue set with a spirit heater is essential as the cheese needs to be kept at an even temperature to prevent it going stringy. Start the cheese mixture off in the fondue bowl on the hob and transfer to fondue stand over the spirit heater when it is ready to eat.

Fondue Savoyard
Serves 4 

275g/10oz gruyere cheese
275g/10oz emmenthal cheese
1 garlic clove, cut in half
300-400ml/10-14fl oz white wine
5 tbsp kirsch (optional)
1 tbsp cornflour
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg

To serve
600g crusty white bread or slightly stale baguette, cut into cubes
Cornichons, salami, green salad
  • Rub the cut edges of the garlic clove around an earthenware fondue set.
  • Pour in the wine and heat until just simmering.
  • Add the cheese and stir constantly with a wooden spoon.
  • When the mixture is bubbly but not burning, stir in the cornflour blended with two tablespoons of kirsch.
  • Add the pepper and nutmeg and continue stirring.
  • Transfer to a fondue stove on the table.
  • Take care not to let the fondue burn and make sure it is always being stirred.
  • Place the rest of the kirsch in a dipping bowl and dip the bread into this before dipping into the cheese fondue.
It is customary to enjoy fondue with a chilled Savoie wine.

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