Maine is the first new place I’ve lived that I’ve really loved. It gets under your skin and you stay for years, without ever intending to, or knowing where the time has gone. It’s a haven to seek after traveling abroad. It’s a place to plant roots and watch them grow. I haven’t experienced this anywhere else. Whether I am landing at the Portland International Jetport or crossing the Piscataqua Bridge at Kittery, I sense a peace that has eluded me elsewhere, when I arrive home. Slower and expansive, vibrating less furiously, wild nature never more than a few steps from your own front door. Maine makes me want things I’ve never wanted, and at the same time, I feel content and less anxious, like I can rest for a while.
This post contributes to a larger mission, to which many other Maine food bloggers have contributed. This month, we’re writing about cooking with a local beverage. Our thoughts first turned to Moxie, that most iconic of Maine sodas, a lingering vestige from the days when every town made its own elixir. A very good idea for a recipe was in development, but it must wait. Because I had determined to make fondue. On a Monday. For just the two of us. A fairly decadent endeavor, to be sure. But it’s November in New England, and dark by four o’clock; we need some comfort and intoxication. Luckily, local wine is never far from reach.
We’ve driven past the Oyster River Winegrowers Horsepowered Vineyard a thousand times, but never stopped. I would love to share photos and factoids about the farm, but that, too, will have to wait. The best I could do was hit up Bootlegger’s Beverage Warehouse and Redemption (which sounds like a short story by Flannery O’Connor) a most serviceable liquor store, located in Topsham. There I found the wine I wanted, as well as half a dozen other made in Maine bottles, many of which were mead.
Fondue is a food I can’t imagine hating. I suppose if you are lactose intolerant, detest the Swiss, and are a germaphobe – well, this is not for you. Please, leave. It’s kitschy! And European! And melty cheese and wine, inarguably two of the best things on earth. I made my first on an Upper West Side New Year’s Eve, in the apartment of my best friend’s college boyfriend, who was some type of nerdy musician – he played the lyre or the vibraphone, or something. We felt so adult, staying in, cooking, and changing into party clothes to dance into the year 1998. We contemplated the universe over a chafing dish. Making fondue forces you to slow down, adding the cheese a little at a time and making a meditation of stirring constantly. Instead of the typical Kirsch, a cherry brandy, I substituted Bartlett Estate’s wild blueberry dessert wine, to intensify the Maine-ness of the dish. It added at the end a pretty swirl and slight, sweet punch.
I referred to a recipe from The Fondue Cook Book, by Ed Callahan, published in 1968 by Nitty Gritty Productions in Concord, California, which I have been dragging around with me to various cities, dingy apartments and countries since college. It’s one hundred and four yellow pages of variations on the theme. Not just dipping fondue, but baked cheese specialties and rarebit recipes as well, this little book is a delight. Many of the recipes call for egg yolks and cream and crab and sherry. I didn’t care to mess around with mid-century weirdness. I wanted to keep it classic, so I followed their recipe for “Fondue Sonoma,” as a guide for measurement and proportions, and then tweaked it. What I present here is pretty standard, basic, fantastic. This is how I made Monday afternoon fondue.
Maine Lobster Fondue with Oyster River Riesling and Bartlett Estate Wild Blueberry Wine
Adapted from a recipe in The Fondue Cookbook, by Ed Callahan
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 cups Oyster River Riesling
- 1/2 lb grated Emmenthal
- 1/2 lb grated Gruyere
- 2 heaping tablespoons flour
- pinch of salt, pepper, nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons Bartlett Estate Wild Blueberry dessert wine
- Chopped lobster, baguette, and apple slices, for dipping
I cooked mine on the stove in our big Le Creuset, then transferred the goods to a super 70’s fondue pot I found at Goodwill for three dollars. Heat the wine and dredge the cheese in flour. Slowly add handfuls of Swiss to the pot and stir over medium-low heat. Stir in seasonings. Keep stirring until the mixture is entirely incorporated, bubbling and thickened. The splash of spirits goes in last. Serve with cubed baguette bites, apple slices, and – to complete the most indulgent lunch ever – lobster. I got a little soft-shelled guy at the market for five dollars and steamed him up in a flash. And while I have vacillated on the lobster/cheese issue for some time, I did find this a lovely addition to our fall repast. The Maine wines worked perfectly, adding crisp depth and a fruity-spiked top note to the nutty meltiness.
This is a winner. Melt with it. Now, we sleep.