There are many breeds of traditionalists around, and among the most unyielding are cheese fondue purists.
Swiss fondue fanatics ar appalled at revisionary recipes made by those whose experience is apparently based on having "traveled to the four corners of the room" -- and certainly never to Switzerland. Purists insist that a Swiss person would never think of:
Drinking German Rhine wine or beer with fondue.
Leaving out the kirsch in the fondue mix.
Befouling the fondue with cornstarch, broccoli spears, mushrooms, lemon juice or any number of unholy additives.
Using an inexpensive California wine in the brew.
Substituting Velveeta cheese (Heaven help us) for Gruyere.
All of these have appeared in domestic fondue recipes, but are as foreign to the authentic Swiss version as the alphorn is to a jazz band.
Fondue is said to have first bubbled in the Swiss canton (state) of Valais. That is one of the few places in Switzerland where the tow main ingredients -- white wine and cheese -- are produced side by side.
The latter-day image attached to the dish -- a sociable apres-ski delight -- is laughable to traditionalists. In fact, the fondue fathers probably originated the technique as a way of using up pieces of stale bread and scraps of left-over cheese.
The Valais -- so-named because most of it is a valley straddling the Rhone river in southern Switzerland -- is one of the poorest Swiss cantons . The topography has always tested the population's will to survive. Thanks to the introduction of the ski-lift, many Valaisans now make a tidy sum off the tourists. But it was not always so, and to this day many farmers barely scratch out an existence raising potatoes and wine grapes on the terraced slopes.
Considering these origins, it's not surprising some Swiss think of fondue as a poverty dish. They might insist the only way fondue can properly be enjoyed is in an unheated bare room. Not before a roaring fire at a rustic ski lodge.
Whatever it sorigins, true believers decree the following conditions fro making an obsolutely authentic fondue Valaisanne:
1) The wine should be a Swiss Fendant, the white, mildly dry wine native to Valais.
2) The cheese mix must include Gruyeres, but not necessarily Emmenthal. Emmenthal can be replaced with the fromage du pays of Valais, sold in America generically as "raclette."
3) Potato starch, not the readily available corn starch, should be used as a thickener.
4) Kirsch is essential, as are paprika (some say salt, but you just have to take a stand somewhere), nutmeg and pepper. Dry mustard, sprigs of hemlock, soy sauce and Worcestershire are considered aberrations.
5) The preferable bread is a rich pain de campagne , or country bread -- not French baguette, Italian, rye or pumpernickel.
(There are several acceptable options. Many Swiss prefer to drink tea, rather than wine, with fondue. They believe chilled wine causes the cheese to lump in the stomach. It is also said that the man of the house must prepare the dish, so he can finish off the first bottle of Fendant in the process).
Most of the classic ingredients can be found in large wine and cheese shops. Some even sell crusty round loaves of sourdough French bread in the cheese section. Potato starch is usually in the gourmet or kosher food sections of some supermarkets.
If all this seems a bit overdone -- take heart. Even local bastions of Swiss tradition, such as Washington's Swiss Chalet restaurant, do not claim to use all the traditional ingredients. They are too expensive. The Swiss Chalet's formula uses a California Chablis for the wine, and Emmenthal as half the cheese ingredient.
The result is a distinctly alcoholic taste that enhances the already strong, musty Emmenthal flavor.
To make the traditional fondue, for 4 persons, first leave the bread out a couple of days so it becomes a little stale and less doughy. Cut the bread into one-inch squares.
Shred 1/2 pound of Gruyeres, 1/4 pound of Emmenthal and 1/4 pound of Reclette.
With a half-clove of garlic, wipe completely the inside of the caquelon , or fondue pot. Put 2 cups of Fendant into the pot over a medium heat, bringing the wine to the boiling point. Do not boil.
Spoon the shredded cheese slowly into the pot, stirring constantly. Stir over a medium heat until the cheese is thoroughly melted, or until the brew has a smooth, soupy consistency.
Mix 2 level tablespoons of potato starch with 3 or 4 tablespoons of kirsch. Pour this into the fondue, likewise stirring in 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, a dash of nutmeg, fresh ground pepper and a pressed garlic clove.
When the potion thickens and begins to bubble, it is ready to put over the sterno lamp on the table. Bring the pepper mill, nutmeg and paprika to season as you like it.
Declare your poverty and dig in. But remember, the man who loses his bread in the pot buys the next round of wine. And the lady who is so unfortunate forfeits a kiss to all the willing males.