On a cool winter night, the crisp air on the dim streets makes you just cold enough to welcome the warmth of a fondue restaurant. The windows are all steamed up, making it impossible to see inside. When you walk inside, the pungent smell of melting cheese and white wine envelopes you and pulls you in. The mood in these restaurants is always festive. The sound of a number of conversations taking place at the same time invites you to take your coat off and stay awhile.
It was in a restaurant such as this that I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad. I was living in Fribourg, a town right on the edge of French-speaking Switzerland and German-speaking Switzerland. In fact the town itself is divided, with French spoken in the city-center and German spoken in the valley surrounding it.
Fribourg is also home to what is reputedly the world’s best fondue – Fondue moitie-moitie (half & half) made with half Gruyere and half Vacherin Fribourgois, both made right there in the foothills of the Alps.
I was introduced to raclette on a ski vacation in Valais during Christmas break. I had no idea that melted cheese over boiled potatoes and cut pickles could be so satisfying!
One of my favorite things about both fondue and raclette is that they’re communal – everyone sticking their forks into the hot pot of cheese, spinning them to catch just the right amount on the broken bread.
Or in the case of raclette, sliding your cheese into the grill and waiting for it to melt. This is all really conducive to conversation. Plus, there is always something being passed around – a basket of bread, a bottle of white wine (to help with digestion, they say); and in the case of raclette, typically little pickles, boiled potatoes, cocktail onions. By the end of the meal, one feels warm and satisfied and very happy.
The memories are enough to make me wonder why I didn’t bring this winter tradition home with me. This year, I’ll be asking for a fondue pot for Christmas.
If your interested in learning more about fondue & raclette, take a class by Mary Jo Rasmussen & Kelly Smeltzer on the basics of a successful fondue, what cheeses work best and how to add flavor to your fondue. They’ll also serve a traditional Swiss raclette, where the cheese is melted and then scraped onto diners’ plates.