Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fine Comfort Cuisine

The only thing better than French cheese is melted French cheese. Everyone knows about the classic fondue - a pot of warm gooey cheese into which you dunk pieces of bread. Having a fondue set is a bit en vogue stateside, but trust me when I tell you that nobody makes it like the French. Raclette is a lesser-known melted cheese dish that originated in Switzerland and involves the use of a small broiler apparatus. You put the cheese in a tray, place it under the broiler, and when it's melted you pour it over potatoes, ham, bread, or whatever your little heart desires. Only the pickiest of eaters wouldn't jump at the chance to have Raclette for dinner.

As for me, I never turn down a fondue or Raclette night. Imagine, then, my joy at discovering a melted cheese dish that I had never heard of. Since being in Paris I've had two opportunities to dine on the delicious Mont-d'Or, which I learned is a round wheel of cheese in a wooden box. It's prepared by cutting open the top skin, adding white wine and spices, and baking it (still in the wooden box!) in the oven until everything mixes together and the cheese is fully melted. You spoon out the cheese onto any number of accompaniments, usually potatoes. It's easily my new favorite French food.

Why do I like France's variety of warm softened cheeses so much? Sure the taste is amazing, much richer than most cheese found in your average American supermarket. But I think it has something more to do with the way they are eaten. A dinner of fondue, Raclette, or Mont-d'Or is, simply put, fun. You get to play with your food! It offers a nice break from the sometimes strict French table rules. No need to worry about how to properly maneuver a fork and knife when eating fondue. Just dunk the stick into the pot, easy as that.

I have three months left in Paris and I hope to be able to enjoy these dishes as often as possible before I leave. Once back in the US, the only melted cheese I'll be tasting is microwaved Velveeta.

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