Friday, December 30, 2005

The naming of the cheese.

Today, December 30th …

Today is the feast day of St Egwin, the seventh century bishop of Worcester. Apart from a legendary rescue-by-salmon, there are no food stories associated with him. This caused me something of a problem for this day, as I had decided to test my theory of three degrees of separation between any person and any food item. I had chosen the menu recommended for December 30th from a book called “Cre-Fydd’s Family Fare, or Young Housewife’s Daily Assistant” published in 1864.

Breakfast: Broiled haddock, ham, poached eggs, soda scones.

Dinner: Cold oysters, lemon, brown bread and butter.
Roast pheasant, veal and ham patties, mashed potatoes.
Chestnut pudding, cheese fondu.

Kitchen (i.e. for the servants): Liver and bacon, potatoes, rice pudding.

“Fondu” immediately caught my eye. I distinctly remember it being invented sometime in the 70’s, and here it was in the mid-nineteenth century. How to investigate this as well as test my theory?

It turns out that there is a modern cheese named for St Egwin, being produced on a farm near his home town in England. It is similar in style to a Swiss cheese. There is my link, for surely fondu is Swiss?

Well, the Swiss claim fondue (from the French word meaning to melt), but the ancients had something like it – there is mention in Homer’s Iliad of a mixture of Pramian wine, goat’s cheese and barley flour. There are no old written recipes for what we would now call fondu, because melted cheese has always been a homely, one-pot peasant dish designed to use up stale ends of cheese and bread, and not requiring instructions.

The Swiss would utterly reject the Cre-Fydd “fondu” recipe because it contains eggs, and is really a soufflĂ©. So is the famous version from Brillat-Savarin, and so is Mrs. Beeton’s. Escoffier’s are more like fritters. So, what do I give you today?

I give you a thoroughly modern Anglo-Swiss recipe, just so you can dust off your 1970’s fondue sets – because the good news is, that fondue is “in” again. This recipe also includes Worcestershire sauce, which originated in Egwin’s home-town. Does that mean that the connection between him and fondue can be reduced to 2 ½ degrees?

3 cups cheese, ¼ cup butter, ¼ cup flour, ½ teas dry mustard, 1 cup milk, 1 cup beer, 1 tab Worcestershire sauce, and a drop or two of Tabasco.

On Monday: A sweet start to the New Year.

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