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Fondue Party on the Fly: The Good Food Awards and Making the Most of a Good Thing

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If life gives you lots of cheese, make fondue. That was the strategy for the Good Food Awards after party held this year at The Mill, Josey Baker’s wonderful bakery on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. Tia Harrison (co-owner Avedano’s and Sociale and co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild) and Marrissa Guggiana (co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild and author of  Off the Menu: Staff Meals at America’s Top Restaurants)  took charge of this year’s fondue extravaganza.

Created through a collaboration of food producers, farmers and independent grocers and organized by Seedling Projects , the Good Food Awards is an annual event celebrating the best artisan foods based on flavor as well as sustainability:

The Good Food Awards recognize that truly good food—the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities—contains all of these ingredients. We take a comprehensive view, honoring people who make food that is delicious, respectful of the environment, and connected to communities and cultural traditions.

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Seedling Project founder Sarah Weiner and her sisters.

Though the actual award ceremony isn’t until January, the panel of  130 judges were in town for the tasting which included beer, charcuterie, chocolate, coffee, oils, pickles, preserves, spirits and of course CHEESE.  Over 140 samples (approximately 200 pounds) of cheese were submitted this year. After all the cheese had been carefully tasted and evaluated, the mandate of not wasting any leftovers resulted in a thank-you party for all the judges and volunteers. Extra cheese =fondue =delicious and fun.  Understanding that extra cheese is a luxury, fondue is still relatively simple and inexpensive to make for a crowd. 

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Fondue comes from the French word fondre, or to melt.  There classic recipe calls for good melting cheeses Emmentaler (Swiss) and Gruyere cheeses and includes alcohol or acid, a binder, and flavorings.  Since in our case, we didn’t have much control over the cheeses, Tia used these basic guidelines, approximating the proportions and adjusting for flavor and consistency.  The key was making one large batch at a time and pouring into smaller fondue pots.  If you feel more comfortable making multiple small batches (that serve 6 at a time),  we highly recommend Laura Werlin’s tried-and-true recipe for Classic Cheese Fondue from her book The New American Cheese.   We served the fondue with bowls of cubed Josey Baker bread generously donated by the Mill and side platters of charcuterie, fresh sliced vegetables, and pickles.

Now you can fondue too.

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Josey Baker gives the fondue a swirl.

Big Batch Equipment, Cooking, and Strategy Notes:  Tia made big batches of fondue in a 5 quart-sauce pot before pouring into smaller-sized fondue pots to serve.  She would then make additional batches and re-fill as needed.  A large-sized whisk is recommended as are multiple packs of long bamboo skewers.

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Tia Harrison whisks up some fondue magic.

On the Fly Fondue

Tia created this recipe adjusting the seasonings and the proportions to the characteristics and flavors of the cheeses  available. Making fondue isn’t difficult but you must pay attention and “listen” to what it needs.  Cheeses have different moisture and fat contents and they react differently to heat. If you have the choice, chose cheeses that melt well and yield a smooth consistency. The ingredient amounts are approximations so you will need to taste and test for flavor and consistency as you go along and  we offer this recipe to you in this spirit. For the bread, a rustic thick loaf cut into 1-inch cubes makes the best swirling. 

Serve with platters of sliced vegetables, charcuterie, and pickles!

Makes 3 to 4 quarts or 12 to 16 cups; serves about 50 people at a party supplemented with other edibles. 

1. 6 pints (1 bottle) dark beer

Approximately 4 pounds good melting cheese, (Emmentaler, Swiss or Gruyere, Fontina, Jack, or Cheddar), cut into 2-inch cubes, approximately 8 to 10 cups.

Approximately 1/2 cup whole grain mustard

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 bunch rosemary

1-2 cups heavy cream

Approximately 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Approximately 5 to 6 loaves rustic-style bread cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Pour beer into a large (5-quart) stock pan. Add 8 cups of cheese and bring to a simmer over medium high heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts and the consistency is smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too runny add more cheese xx at a time.

3. Use a large whisk to stir in the mustard, rosemary, chopped garlic, and stir constantly until blended.

4. In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of the cream and the cornstarch to create a slurry.

5. Pour the slurry into the cheese mixture and continue to whisk until smooth. Whisk in the rest of the the cream 1/2 cup at a time, checking to make sure the consistency is thick and smooth.  Check the consistency by dipping a cube of bread into the fondue to see how the cheese coats the bread adding more cheese if needed.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Pour into the small fondue pots and serve with the cubed bread.

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