The liquor store we generally go to is the closest one to our house. Usually, the woman working the cash register is a petite, middle-aged lady with a difficult-to-place European accent. Somehow, she does not meet the stereotype of somebody particularly knowledgeable about alcoholic beverages.
However, on one of my visits, I was having difficulty finding the bourbon. So I asked where it was, and she immediately whisked me over the correct section. (The bourbons were hiding in plain sight near the end of the scotches, naturally.) Then she started asking me questions about what I wanted it for, what kind of flavor I preferred, and what price range I was looking at. She gave me the pros and cons of half a dozen bottles and helped me select the one that would best suit my needs at that time (Four Roses Bourbon, it turned out).
That is the story of how my household was introduced to the remarkable woman we call “the Liquor Store Grandma” (because we don’t actually know her name). It turns out that Liquor Store Grandma knows about a lot of stuff besides booze. Whenever she talks to her customers, she always seems to have an informed opinion. The last time I was there, picking up the ingredients to make brandied cherries, she was talking to somebody else about cybersecurity.
I was having trouble locating the last bottle of Kirschwasser in the store, and when I asked her about it, she told me that she uses it in cheese fondue. It turns out that she’s from the the French Alps (which probably explains why I had had a hard time placing her accent), and she loves fondue. She explained her very simple recipe for it—a modern update of the way her family had been making it in the old country since time immemorial. And we decided to try it out.
Her recipe starts with the right bread. “Your American bread is too soft. It doesn’t stay together in the cheese,” she told me. The correct place to get French baguettes was the bakery next to the post office in Camden, South Carolina. And, she insisted, you had to get them fresh that morning.
It turns out that we drive the thirty-five minutes to Camden most Saturday mornings already, since they have an excellent farmer’s market just off the main square. Having gotten her recommendation for the Mulberry Market Bake Shop, we started buying stuff there as well. The chocolate croissants are the best I have ever had, and the French bread is also amazing.
Once you have the bread, the recipe is simple. She said not to bother trying to melt the cheese in a fondue pot, which you have to keep stirring forever. Just pop the cheese in a bowl in the microwave for twenty minutes on the the lowest setting, and it will melt. Then add a small amount of cherry brandy, and you are ready to dip!
We got a traditional mixture of emmental and gruyere cheeses and plopped them in a bowl (after cutting off the hard rinds). After the recommended twenty minutes, it was indeed just melted. However, a lot of oil had separated from the melted cheese. (I think it mostly came from the gruyere.)
We moved it to the fondue pot and added a the Kirschwasser, a little splash of brown on top, but it didn’t really penetrate well, despite a lot of mixing.
The heat from the sterno can under fondue pot had to be kept low. Otherwise the cheese would burn to the bottom of the pot. We started dipping and pulling out the gooey cheese.
And the cheese definitely was gooey—much too gooey to be convenient. With the oil separated out, it had the consistency of melted hard cheese, which makes for long, entertaining strands but does not come off easily onto your bread. The bread itself, however, held up despite the density of the cheese.
Overall, this was difficult to eat. The flavor was good, although the cherry flavor was very subdued. I looked online to get an idea how much to add (since Liquor Store Grandma didn’t specify), but you might want to use more than the two tablespoons per pound of cheese that I tried. The Ten-Year-Old blew the fondue off entirely, and the Seven-Year-Old got somewhat frustrated with the dipping process. However, all three kids loved the crusty French bread.