Sunday, 18 December 2011

chez angelo restaurant des antiquaires

moitié-moitié fondue in a caquelon 
no one can dispute that fondue is the perfect winter food. the intensely savoury aroma of melting cheese piqued with wine and kirsch is an olfactory pleasure. gentle bubbles that erupt with the heat burst and dissipate into rings that are lovely to look at. lb has brought me to chez angelo in old town geneva to savour this swiss speciality. chez angelo specialises in fromage (cheese), bourguignonne (beef) and chinoise (hotpot) fondue. my first and only experience of eating fondue was in geneva in two thousand and eight, and i cannot say i enjoyed it much. however, i was pleased to be placed in the competent care of lb who loves food as much as i do to renew my acquaintance with fondue. 

irregular pieces of bread for the fondue
fondue avec pomme de terre 
there are rules about eating fondue, the cardinal one being not to drink water. fondue must be mediated by wine ( if you are a teetotaller i guess you could have some kind of a tea). this is because water gives a whole new meaning to the heaviness that results from a rock of cheese settling in the pit of your stomach). at chez angelo our water jug was replaced with a crisp sharp and startlingly cold white wine as soon as we ordered our fondue. i am also told that bread or potato gone astray in the fondue pot would necessitate me having to empty my wine glass (david lebovitz writes of another rule which involves kissing someone at the table if you drop your bread in the fondue. perhaps there are variations in the cantons on the rule for fondue misdemeanours). fortunately, this is a discretionary rule and one that lb did not expect me to follow. in addition, the temperature for the fondue is very important to the formation of the la religieuse (the crust of cheese that solidifies at the base of the caquelon). the flame must be hot enough to keep the fondue a smooth thick liquid without burning the base. this allows the cheese at the base of the caquelon to form a thick crust which is scraped in the end and eaten. the last rule (of which i am an advocate) is to close on a digestif. also, as fondue is a communal experience i'd sincerely advise you against eating it if you have reservations sharing.  

fondue derives from the french word fondre the literal meaning of which is to melt. despite it's communal nature and the fact that fondue is really quite a simple dish, it was interesting to discover that fondue is not a rustic mountain dish. this is because the cheeses used to make fondue were quite expensive and only affordable to town dwellers. the caquelon that our fondue was served in wore the marks of its use over time. the dish itself is heavy bottomed and thick. we have the moitié-moitié which basically means that the fondue is half gruyère and half fribourg vacherin. both these cheeses are swiss and have a pungent nutty aroma. the high content of fat together with the nutty maturity of the two cheeses give them the perfect disposition for fondue. they melt to smoothness and do not leave strings in their wake like other melted cheese dishes like raclette do. along with the carbohydrates we are given sharp briny cornichons and baby pickled onions usually synonymous with raclette. i loved how the vinegar in them cut through the richness of the cheese.

fondue moitié-moitié has assertive flavours because of the mix of the cheeses along with garlic. this is true of the first bite in particular. i had secured a piece of bread on my long fork and gently ran it in a circle through the fondue. it must have come in contact with the base of the caquelon which is rubbed with a cut garlic glove giving an unrestrained garlic note to my first bite. kirsch along with wine helps the cheese to melt and a little bit of cornstarch is added to bind the mixture. 

the beginnings of la religieuse
the la religieuse
why they call the crust of cheese that settles on the bottom la religieuse confounds me, as it literally means the nun. i am confident that those curled ribbons of crisp cheese are too decadent to be frugal, chaste and therefore nun-like. despite being full to the brim neither lb nor i could resist eating the la religieuse. it's best described as a crisp made purely of cheese. what i like about fondue is that it is an extended meal. it cannot be hurried because of its richness. and since one can always manage the flame there is plenty of time to converse and eat at leisure. the end of our dinner was marked with a ice cold digestif with very refreshing and fruity flavours. 

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