Just fondue it: Pairing Champagne & sparkling wine with cheese

Photo credit: Direct Matin

One of the cheesiest holidays of the year (both literally and sometimes, figuratively) is New Year’s Eve. Whether you choose to go big or spend a quiet night at home, however, celebrating with cheese is always a Do.

Given Haystack Mountain’s high-altitude location, we like to get all retro and break out the fondue pot or racler (a scraper used to make the dish raclette; more on that in a moment). There are few dishes that better embody the essence of an Alpine winter than these Swiss specialties, and because they’re traditionally consumed in a communal manner, they’re ideal for entertaining or a party of two. They’re also ridiculously easy to make, as long as you have a few essential pieces of kitchen equipment (if the ‘70s left you devoid of a fondue pot, use a double-boiler, instead).

Fondue is traditionally enhanced with a splash of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) or dry white wine and a cut clove of garlic, heated over an open flame in a caquelon, or pot. Depending upon the region, the cheeses vary, but it’s always a combination of Alpine styles such as Gruyère and Vacherin- we like to substitute our Sunlight and Wall Street Gold. To make fondue more of an, ahem, balanced meal, add cubes of cured meat and sliced apples or pickled vegetables to the hunks of bread used for dipping into the cheese.

Photo credit: ZSG

Raclette hails from the canton of Valais, where the cheese of the same name is produced. The dish is made by propping a half-wheel of cheese before an open fire; once its surface blisters, the molten bits scraped into a bowl filled with chunks of boiled potatoes; pickled onions, cornichons and air-dried beef are served on the side. It’s one of the most rustic, satisfying dishes I can think of, made even better when consumed after a daylong snow sesh.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you can replicate raclette at home by purchasing a special holder for the cheese, but you can also buy electric raclette makers (cheating, but who’s judging?). The most important thing are the classic accompaniments and a cheese that approximates the nutty, earthy, slightly funky profile of raclette cheese (our cheesemaker, Jackie, recently made raclette using Wall Street Gold).

Our cheesemaker, Jackie Chang, with Wall Street Gold.

To your health

When it comes to pairings, Champagne and sparkling wines are the easiest things to match with cheese, regardless of style (stinky, bloomy, Alpine, etc.). Their effervescence cleanses the palate, and won’t clash with most flavors inherent to the cheese. If however, you’d like to take your pairing to the next level, keep reading.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar at the Après Ski & Cocktail Classic on pairing bubbly with fondue and raclette. The panel was led by Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy and Jim Butchart, Culinary Director of Aspen Skiing Company. McCoy suggests pairing fondue with a heavier weight sparkling wine, in order to cut through the butterfat. Rather than something light and sweet like Prosecco, go for “small-batch “grower Champagnes” like Aubrey or Pierre Péters, or, alternatively, an Alsatian Riesling or Grüner Veltliner.”

Butchart is more of a purist, preferring to pair Champagne with fondue, “due to the fact that they’re both celebratory indulgences that most people don’t allow themselves on the daily.” He suggests a crisp, fruit-forward Champagne to “refresh the palate, readying you for another dip of fondue.” Try an affordable brut style, such as Perrier Jouet Grande Brut or Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Reserve.

However you choose to celebrate, all of us at Haystack Mountain wish you a happy and safe New Year’s, and all the best for the coming year. Cheers to cheese!

Recipe: Winter Squash Soup with Applewood Smoked Chevre

Photo credit: Bourbon and Brown Sugar

Photo credit: Bourbon and Brown Sugar

Baby, it’s cold outside. Snuggle up with a bowl of this rich, sweet, filling soup, heaped with smoky chevre. Mmmmm.

serves 6Smoked Chevre Soup

1 large kabocha or medium butternut squash, about 4 lbs.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 slices bacon, diced

1 large yellow onion, chopped

6 cups chicken stock

1/2 cups heavy cream

juice of one orange

salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

fried sage leaves, for garnish*

4 ounces Haystack Mountain Applewood Smoked Chevre, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Halve squash lengthwise, and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet.  Bake until  squash can be easily skewered with tip of a paring knife, about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.  With a spoon, remove seeds and discard.  Scrape the pulp and reserve in a bowl.  Discard the skin.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a stockpot over medium heat.  Add the bacon and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and the bacon is just turning golden, about 7 minutes.  Add the squash and chicken stock, and simmer until the squash falls apart, about 30 minutes.  Let cool for about 20 minutes.

Working in small batches, puree the soup in a blender (don’t fill it more than half-way, or the hot soup can explode from the container) until very smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer or chinois into a clean stockpot, and add the cream and orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If the soup is too thick, thin it with a bit of stock or water, and reheat if necessary

Ladle the soup into hot bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of the olive oil. Crumble a bit of chevre over each bowl, garnish with *two sage leaves (fry them lightly in olive oil until crisp), and serve immediately.

©Laurel Miller, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 1999.