The original fondue was an early 20th century marketing scheme concocted by a Swiss cheese trade association that connived to make it a national dish and promoted only a few of the hundreds of Swiss cheeses made in the country.
Thanks to the now-defunct cheese cabal, a regional dish of fondue became a highly marketable, but ultimately contrived, national dish. This is one of the reasons that fondue became extremely popular, yet delicious, in North America in the 1960s.
Today, savory fondue-style dishes occasionally appear on the culinary scene, notably at the quaint Easy Pour Wine Bar, a 60-seat, two-level restaurant and live music venue in Blair, Cambridge. It has belonged to Alin and Nicoleta Dinu for almost five years.
Notably, the hamlet has faced its own cabal who imposed on it a zoning order from the provincial minister, which it seems will allow Montreal-based real estate group Broccolini to build a gigantic mega-warehouse of one million square feet on Dickie Settlement. Road, less than two kilometers from the restaurant.
The pushback irritates the residents, to say the least.
Visiting Easy Pour on a sunny but brisk late winter afternoon, I wondered if a warm, creamy, cheesy fondue could calm frayed nerves and soothe angry Blairites tenaciously fighting a losing battle in ‘advance. Fondue is perhaps that comforting dish that soothes moments of tension.
Traditionally served as a pot of creamy cheese warmed by a Sterno jelly fuel source, in which cubed skewers of food are warmly immersed and engulfed, Easy Pour fondue is made simple with a hot cast iron skillet.
The result is a rich, velvety, comforting fondue that left me feeling pretty full – even, I’d say, until the next day.
“Fondue is an easy choice for the restaurant,” says Easy Pour chef Cale Dawdy. “It’s good as a dish to share with a bottle of wine. This corresponds to the atmosphere of the Easy Pour.
He is right. And Easy Pour offers a number of dishes to share and other dishes on its 30-course menu, including mussels in Thai broth and a hearty roasted beet salad.
Dawdy, born in Cambridge, has cooked occasionally at Easy Pour since it opened, as well as other restaurants in the area. “Fondue has been on the menu at Easy Pour for as long as I can remember,” he says.
A deft hand has executed a good white sauce; this is evident from the silky smooth consistency of the fondue, in this case.
Making a classic roux with lightly browned butter is both simple and difficult. Dawdy then builds the sauce with hot milk, Swiss Gruyere, three-year-old Cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
“It all depends on how you do the roux,” he says of consistency. “You don’t add cold milk to the reheated flour in the roux.”
Chunks of fingerling potatoes pass through the hot cast iron, followed by cheese trifecta, a dash of lemon and chopped chives, an ideal garnish in its simplicity.
Dawdy refrains from adding other seasonings. “We use good cheese, so we let it speak for itself.”
The bread to dip also speaks for itself. It’s from the beloved bakery in Cambridge, the Azores: a lightly seasoned focaccia with garlic, onion and rosemary. It should be light and fluffy, lest the dish become heavy and leaden – it barely has the density to soak up the goodness of the cheese.
Kirsch, a cherry distillate, might be anticipated in a fondue, but Dawdy uses Nalewka Babuni, a Polish cherry liqueur. In this, we can raise a toast to Poland, which has welcomed, well beyond its capacity, 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees across its border.
Easy Pour’s fondue is a comforting dish to share with a splash of Polish cherry brandy in a time of both local and European tension.
Andrew Coppolino is a Kitchener-based food writer and host. Visit him at www.andrewcoppolino.com.