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Test Kitchen tips: Smooth fondue and cheese sauce

April 24, 2012 |  6:00 am

FondueEver wanted to know how to keep your fondue from clumping and becoming stringy? Try adding a little acid.

According to food scientist Harold McGee's book "On Food and Cooking":

"It's well known that wine can help keep melted cheese from getting stringy or seizing up. The ingredients of a classic fondue, in fact, are just alpine cheese -- usually Gruyere -- a tart white wine, some kirsch, and sometimes (for added insurance) starch. The combination of cheese and wine is delicious but also savvy. The wine contributes two essential ingredients for a smooth sauce: water, which keeps the casein proteins moist and dilute, and tartaric acid, which pulls the cross-linking calcium off of the casein proteins and binds tightly to it, leaving them glueless and happily separate. (Alcohol has nothing to do with fondue stability.) The citric acid in lemon juice will do the same thing."

A little acid might also help to save a tightening cheese sauce, he notes, provided you catch it in time.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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Photo: Fondue Savoyarde (you can find the recipe below). Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Fondue Savoyarde

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: Fondue cheeses are a matter of personal choice, but in the Savoie, the mix usually includes two Swiss-type cheeses, Gruyere de Comte and the rarer Gruyere de Beaufort (available at select cheese stores and gourmet markets), along with the pungent semisoft Morbier. This recipe comes from Laurent Bonjour, cheese master at Monsieur Marcel, which also sells a premixed fondue Savoyarde cheese combination.

3/4 pound Gruyere de Beaufort

3/4 pound Gruyere de Comte

3/4 pound Appenzeller

3/4 pound Morbier

1/4 pound Roquefort, or a little more to taste

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 1/2 cups Apremont or Chardonnay

Salt

Pepper

Nutmeg

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup kirsch

3 baguettes, cut into bite-size pieces

1 egg

1. Grate or dice the Gruyere de Beaufort, Gruyere de Comte, Appenzeller, Morbier and Roquefort cheeses and mix them in a bowl.

2. Rub the inside of a fondue pot or heavy pot with the garlic clove. Pour in the wine and bring it to boil over medium heat. Gradually incorporate the cheese mixture, stirring constantly in a figure-eight pattern with a wooden spoon.

3. When the cheese is entirely melted, which takes about 20 to 25 minutes, add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Stir in the mustard and kirsch.

4. To serve, set the fondue pot on the table over a fondue burner and let diners spear pieces of bread with fondue forks and plunge them into the fondue. Stir the fondue frequently (always in a figure-eight pattern) to keep it from separating or sticking to the bottom.

5. When the fondue is nearly finished, clean up the pot by putting in some pieces of bread, adding the egg and stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens. Let diners pick out the pieces of bread with their fondue forks.

Variations: Add ham, prosciutto or dried mushrooms, such as porcini or morels, along with the wine.

Each of 8 servings: 958 calories; 57 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 58 grams fat; 34 grams saturated fat; 212 mg cholesterol; 1,351 mg sodium.

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