If you’re feeling a building sense of anticipation and don’t know where it’s coming from, you might be unconsciously looking forward to National Cheese Fondue Day.
Yes, this is a real holiday, although perhaps not as well-known as President’s Day and without the emotional impact of Christmas. It does seem to owe its existence largely to the Melting Pot chain of restaurants. If you’re on a low-cholesterol diet, you may not even be aware that it will be celebrated this Thursday, April 11.
For those who haven’t made the trip to Switzerland (which costs, on average, almost as much as a visit to the Melting Pot), fondue consists of melted cheese served in a ceramic pot, which is kept warm on a portable burner. The cheeses involved are traditionally Gruyere and Emmental, augmented with a liberal dose of kirschwasser (a clear fruit brandy made from a distillation of sour cherries). You dip pieces of bread into the mixture with long-stemmed forks, and wash it down with crisp white wine. As the fondue reduces, the aroma and taste of the kirschwasser becomes positively heady.
Fondue has been around in one form or another for centuries, although its present popularity is due to a publicity campaign conducted by the Swiss Cheese Union in the 1930s, which successfully promoted it as a national dish. Over the years, fondue has spawned popular variations---notably Fondue Bourguignonne (a pot of hot oil into which diners dips pieces of meat to cook them) and the universally triumphant Chocolate Fondue. Ironically, locating authentic cheese fondue in Switzerland today requires a bit of a search; even better, if you can find it, is raclette, a variation native to the Alpine regions.
Although the Melting Pot serves all three versions of fondue, it is capitalizing on National Cheese Fondue Day by offering a “Buy Cheese Fondue, Get Cheese Fondue” promotion, thus reducing the cost by half. The deal runs from today through Thursday, April 11. I personally like the Melting Pot’s version, and the only drawback is that it seems a bit light on the kirschwasser. That, of course, is what airline miniatures are for.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.