Fondue au Petite Echelle

La Petite Echelle

On May 15th, I had one of the single most memorable meals of my life. At eight pm, about 20 kilometers from the Swiss border, my group and I arrived at La Petite Echelle. Originally built in the 16th century, this rustic mountain home, or chalet, still operates without modern electricity; solar panels provide a minimal amount of electricity for the most basic kitchen needs.

Phillipe Goux, the head salesman of Comte Marcel Petite, served as our charming guide to the evening. We sat down in the chalet, candles crackling and used cow bells swaying overhead from the wooden rafters. Pop! Bottles of fine wine were opened, toasts were exchanged and the evening began in earnest. The proprietor of La Petite Echelle, Norbert, and his nephew, Antoine invited us into the kitchen to watch the preparation of the best fondue I have ever had.

La Petite Echelle

We headed into the tiny kitchen and saw recipes scribbled on the wall tiles in permanent marker: fondue- 200g Comte vieux, 1dl vin sec, ail. The lack of pomp made the experience that much more enjoyable; it was like we were at an old college buddies house, not one of the top ten places to eat before you die.

La Petite Echelle

Perhaps the most important thing I learned that night truly applies to all cuisine, not just fondue. It is the concept of working with the food in an organic process instead of preparing a dish from a rote recipe. In the case of our fondue that night, the most important ingredient was…do I have to say it? The cheese! For a cheese with a higher fat content, Phillipe and Norbert recommended a more acidic wine. If you are working with a dryer cheese, use a sweeter wine.

The Comte used that night naturally came from Marcel Petite. That particular wedge had a distinctly mushroomy flavor profile, so Norbert added mushrooms to the fondue to compliment that profile. Sometimes the cheese tastes more like cocoa or coffee, in which case chocolate or coffee beans should be shaved directly into the pot.

In addition to the fondue, we ate Rösti—what potato latkes wish they could be—very fatty ham, cornichons, crusty bread and even a bit of salad. Oh, did I mention the wine? Needless to say, I cannot wait to go back there with my sweetheart, Lauren, on a cool spring evening next year.

La Petite Echelle

Two Person Fondue:

  • 200 g (½ lb.) Best Comte available (look for the green bell on the label)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1dl (just shy of 3.5 fl ozs) wine

At the very end, add:

  • Flavor enhancer (i.e. mushrooms, chocolate), to taste
  • A dash of Mirabelle (Kirsch will suffice)
  • Pink peppercorns, to taste (for digestive purposes and color)
  • Cook until most of the cheese lumps are gone.
  • It is best to remove the fondue early because it will
    continue to melt.