Thursday, October 7, 2010

Foraging, then fondue! All Hail Autumn.

I always get a little pagan around this time of year. Things smell amazing, the air is perfectly crisp, leaves floating around, getting stuck in your hairs.

Nothing like a weekend of hiking to get your fall cravings rumbling.

Cheddar. Fondue. Is. What. I. Crave.

Do I love the Gruyere/Emmenthaler mix? Oui. Do I like beer cheese more?


Especially with apples, toasty bread, hard boiled eggs, pickles, and slices of tomato. So fun. Every bite is a little, tiny sammich.

We had mustard and hot sauce out, too, for a last dunk before shoveling. But yeah, sammichdue is great, because it forces you to SLOW DOWN. So that maybe, MAYBE, you won't eat an entire pound of delicious cheesebeer in 10 minutes. It did not phase me nor my three cheesepatriots this time. Perhaps next.

There really isn't anything special about this recipe - the only thing to worry about is the cheese. You need the oldest, stinkiest, sharpest chunk of cheddar you can get your hands on. Don't worry if it's crumbly, or if there are salt crystals, the process will take care of that.

If you don't usually smell your cheese before purchasing, do so now. If there's even a whiff of plastic, or the wrap is loosened because of stray oil, put that sucker down - it has been kept improperly.

Beer Cheese Fondue

8 oz beer (2/3 of a can), any (seriously) will do (as in, we used PBR. I saved the good stuff for drinking as we dipped)
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon strong mustard
1 tsp salt
1.5 pounds sharp, sharp, sharp cheddar, grated
1 handful flour

1 loaf bread, cubed and toasted
1 tomato and 1 hard boiled egg per person
Several slices garlic pickles per person
Small serving bowls of mustard and hot sauce (franks or Tabasco, please) to serve

If you use an electric fondue pot like we do, you'll need to make the cheese in a separate pot. If you're using an old school sterno set, you can stick that metal sucker on the stove!

Warm your beer to simmering, add garlic. Simmer 2 minutes. Discard garlic. Dissolve mustard and salt in the beer.

Toss your cheese with the flour thoroughly. Add the cheese by handfuls into the beer, stirring constantly. Adjust consistency with a dash of beer or flour as needed - you want the sauce thick enough to coat the back of a spoon to near translucency.

Toast your chopped bread under the broiler for a few minutes, until corners are toasting. Slice your tomatoes and eggs into thin rounds.

Keep your eye on the bottom of the pot as you work your way through - this stuff burns easily. But then you get to peel the submerged island off the bottom and eat it. Which is awesome.

Since we were eating with a fellow camper from the past weekend, and the two of us had successfully foraged for mushrooms, we ate those as well, sharing, generously, with our lazier campmate. They went in record time, so all I have to show you is this shot:

I identified them as Meadow Mushrooms after many hours of research and spore printmaking:

After taking a tiny bite, and waiting 48 hours to make sure my belly wasn't going to become possessed and attempt to thwart me, I knew they were A-OK. The 2 pounds we harvested, however, were technically some of the most expensive fungi I'd ever eaten, since I'd bought this book (and another on edible plants in our region) the week before as a reference. There are tons of online resources too - a favorite of mine is Roger's Mushrooms.

Mushroom foraging is actually pretty risky, as there are thousands of species, many that are unnamed or of questionable edibility. But it's fall. Mushroom season (except for Morels, aaauugh). And we were in the forest for days. Had to happen.

That reference I linked to is good, full of large photos and detailed descriptions. I wish he'd included some spore prints, because the descriptions of brown (a prevalent print color) varied from light, to dark, to fawn, to chocolate brown, and all of those shades are apparent in the prints I took. Still, check it out if you plan on doing some foraging of your own. And if not the above mentioned book, make sure to go armed with a good reference. And bags to keep your different finds separated, and the wherewithal to keep your hands away from your mouth and eyes as you go. Wash them paws often.

You'll be surprised how quickly you'll train yourself to spot fungus. I've been doing some sighting (and stopping, and creepily hanging out in stranger's yards, poking at whatever's growing out of their lawn/tree) just driving around town - saw puffballs on the grassy side of a highway on-ramp, saw some HUGE yellow shelf mushrooms on a neighbor's oak. But it had a distinctively toxic smell - stingy, tangy, creosote-like (another key identifying phrase for foragers - a sign to stay far away). So I let it be.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray. If you've got a story of a hunt of your own, I'd love to hear it!


  1. Love it!! Thanks for posting on Photograzing @ Searious Eats.
    Yup@ Fondue is a labor intensive bitch and has a high failure rate of folks do not honor the basic instructions. That said, it really IS worth the trouble, especially when using very good cheese. Fully agree that the oldest, ugliest and most potent cheese available is the best for this. It is darn sure not a 10-minute meal, but worth the careful attention. A gentle, patient and loving hand - and very polite heating are the secrets.
    A mix of cheeses is tasty fun. In my house, od bits get saved for this sort of thing, filled out with quantities of current cheese as necessary. We keep the old bits in vacpack storage, even frozen sometimes. Once incorporated into the melt, the texture loss is a non-issue. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Haha, nice! I love the idea of saving the bits from a month of dinner-making and just melting it together, cutting up some bread, and takin care of business.

    Took a pot of this to a dinner party the other night and let it get too hot - oil separated, kinda gross. I mean, I still ate it, but still - ya gotta be careful with prolonged heat.