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David Lissner
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Eat this! Chicago celebrates cheese fondue on April 11

Geja’s classic cheese fondue.

Geja’s classic cheese fondue.

What it is: Classic cheese fondue is a communal meal of warm cheese melted with wine, traditionally served from a heated pot and eaten with cubes of bread or pieces of fruit that diners dip into the cheese with long forks.

John Davis

John Davis

In honor of National Cheese Fondue Day, Sunday, April 11, Lincoln Park’s venerable fondue restaurant Geja’s Cafe, celebrating its 45th year of business in 2010, will offer complimentary samples of its gruyere cheese fondue on the outdoor patio from noon until 4 p.m. daily from April 11 through 17.

Other local restaurants celebrating Fondue Day include Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Lakeview and D.O.C. Wine Bar & Bistro in Lombard; both restaurants will offer a $9 fondue trio on Sunday, April 11, featuring melted blue cheese, goat cheese and an Italian cheese blend. At the BYOB Sabor Saveur in Wicker Park, Chef Yanitzin Sanchez will demonstrate his version of fondue (Chihuahua and Roquefort cheeses with tequila, cilantro oil, chipotle sauce and green and red peppers) as part of a $25 cheese and chocolate cooking class at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 13.

Where it comes from: The name fondue is French, from the verb fondre, meaning “to melt.” While most historians agree cheese fondue originated centuries ago in Switzerland, there is no consensus on when or how. Some suggest that alpine sheep and goat herders traveled with cheese, wine and bread and melted these together for a hot meal. Others say it was a thrifty way of using up hardened cheese and day-old bread.

However, the earliest recipes resembling the contemporary dish didn’t appear in print until the early 20th century. Fondue became popular in the U.S. beginning the 1950s, when jet setters discovered it at Swiss ski lodges. By 1965, when Geja’s opened, the dish was so popular that most brides received a fondue pot — or several — as a wedding gift.

What to do with it: Serve cheese fondue with chunks of hearty bread and pieces of fresh or dried fruit for dipping. Diners use long forks to dip into the cheese and then transfer the hot, dipped item to a plate to eat with a regular fork.

A romantic custom for couples is that each time diners let bread or fruit fall off the fork into the cheese, they must offer their partners a kiss.

Geja’s advises complementing cheese fondue by pairing it with the same wine used in preparing the fondue.

Geja’s Cafe’s classic cheese fondue
Owner John Davis

You can vary this recipe with other cheeses, such as cheddar, and add other kinds of fruit or cut-up vegetables as dippers.

French bread and/or other hearty breads such as pumpernickel or onion
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1 pound gruyere cheese, sliced
1 teaspoon Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt or to taste
Apple wedges

Cut the bread the night before serving and store in a container which is left slightly open to allow the bread to firm and dry, creating a contrast of textures (traditional fondue is served with stale bread).

Heat the wine in double boiler. Add the sliced cheese. Cook until cheese is soft, stirring occasionally. Add the Kirschwasser, garlic, nutmeg and salt. Stir until creamy.

Transfer as needed to a fondue pot and serve with bread and fruit for dipping. 4 servings.

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