By contributing writer Mary Cressler
Now that it’s officially fall, the weather is cooler, the days are shorter, and people begin to hide indoors for meals. But I still love having friends over to share a meal, and this time of year we start turning to comfort dishes.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of traveling to the Jura mountain region of eastern France to learn about Comté cheese, the prized cheese of the region. Comté, a hard cows milk cheese made with strict regulations and only within this small region, is similar to Swiss Gruyère, and as I discovered, is incredibly versatile. It’s absolutely delicious on its own with flavors and textures that range from light and creamy to hard and nutty, depending on its age.
It can also be used in dozens, if not hundreds, of different recipes. One of my favorite dishes of the trip was fondue eaten at a local restaurant. Our group of food writers sat around a table and shared a few different types of fondue, along with the local wine, chatting about our favorite moments of the trip.
One of the fondues that day was a simple all cheese fondue, another had locally foraged wild mushrooms mixed in. That one was my absolute favorite. The earthy mushrooms mimicked some of the flavors found in this complex cheese. It was the perfect meal. And while fondue may seem to be one of those meals that go in and out of fashion here in the states, it is timeless in this small mountainous region of France, as well as neighboring Switzerland (where it shares a border).
So this year, to welcome fall, I couldn’t think of a better meal for a few friends and neighbors who all gathered in my kitchen. I prepared a simple fondue inspired by that meal back in France, using sautéed mushrooms that I mixed into a combination of Comté and Emmental (Swiss) cheeses. It was almost exactly how I remembered the meal I had last spring. The only thing missing was the mountains of the Jura and the local wine of course. Luckily, I found some good wine substitutes, and my friends and I enjoyed the perfect fall comfort dish. This is exactly how fondue is meant to be served – with good friends, good wine, and good conversation.
Most fondue recipes are nearly identical. They typically start with some white wine, some cornstarch (to keep the cheese from separating once warm and melted), Kirsch for added flavor, about a pound of cheese, and maybe some fresh herbs. The locals told me that it’s best to use at least two different kinds of mountain cheeses for fondue (examples of mountain cheese are Swiss Gruyère, Emmental, and French Comté).
If you use all Comté, try using two different ages: a young Comté (around 8-12 months old) and an older one (12-18 months). Or, like in this recipe, use half Comté and half Emmental. Feel free to use the sautéed mushrooms or leave them out, but I loved the earthy and savory flavors they added to the dish. Kirsch is another optional component. I’ve made it with and without, but I do like the subtle flavor it adds to the overall dish.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 8 ounces mixed mushrooms (I like a combination of crimini and shitake, but use your favorites), roughly chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons Kirsch
- ½ pound Comté cheese, shredded
- ½ pound Emmental cheese, shredded
- Bring a medium size heavy pot to medium heat. Add butter then mushrooms. Sauté for 6 - 10 minutes to soften. Remove mushrooms from pot and set aside.
- Rub the inside of the pot well with garlic and then discard the garlic. Add wine and bring to a simmer (but not a boil!).
- In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and Kirsch then add into the wine.
- Gradually add the cheeses and stir together until the cheese is melted and creamy (around 5 minutes). You’ll know it’s done when you can dip a wooden spoon into the mixture and it coats the spoon.
- Add the mushrooms back to the pot and stir to combine.
- Transfer the warm mixture to a fondue pot set over a small flame. You will want to continue stirring periodically while over the flame. Serve with bread cubes, vegetable slices, apple slices, or roasted potatoes.
Whenever we enjoyed this meal in the region, it was always served with local Jura wine. Jura is probably best for its oxidative white wines, but I learned there is so much more to the region than this. They have light red wines, fresh rosés, crisp sparkling wine, and fruity white wines. Many of the whites were dominated by Chardonnay, similar to its neighboring region of Burgundy.
So while Jura wines may be difficult to come by (I know it is where I live), look to its next closest region, Burgundy, for good examples to try with this dish. These will have some fruity and floral aromas with some richness, yet lots of fresh acidity to cut through the rich cheesy dish. A few good examples you can find in the Wine4.Me app include:
- Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay (Burgundy, France) ~ $14
- Louis Jadot Chardonnay (Burgundy, France) ~ $15
- Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) ~ $25
We hope you enjoy our wine pairing choices. If you want to know which wines YOU will like best, download the FREE iPhone app Wine4.Me. Tell it what wines you know you like and get your own personalized rankings of best-selling, widely available wines in the US.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.