March 23, 2019
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Switzerland turns to science to perfect its national cheesy dish, fondue

Geneva, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- A team of Swiss experts have set out to find a mathematical formula for the perfect fondue, Switzerland's national savory dish which consists of melted cheese thickened with starch, flavored with wine or sour morello cherry brandy and served in a communal heated stove with chunks of bread used for dunking, the leader of the project told EFE Friday.

The team working to make the ideal pot of melted cheese lead by Pascal Bertsch from the Polytechnic University of Zurich have turned to rheology, the study of the flow of matter primarily in its liquid state, because most debates about what makes the best fondue pivot around whether the melted cheese is too liquid or too thick.

"During my time studying to be a nutrition scientist I heard many people debate over how to make the perfect fondue, what ingredients influence its rheology, but I noticed there was no literature on the topic," Bertsch said during the presentation of his research which can be viewed on the University's website.

Bertsch and his colleagues used an apparatus that measures with millimetric precision how a steel ball behaves in a fluid, a system that is often used when investigating landslides.

The results of the study, which the team developed at the university's laboratory of food process engineering, revealed that in order for the ball to flow better the Swiss cheese had to be mixed with 3 percent starch (cornflour or flour) in order to avoid an "irreversible separation of the fondue."

With regards to the addition of wine, the scientists used pure alcohol and the results were somewhat harder to adapt for recipe books because the findings of the research revealed that what needed to be avoided was that the concoction of cheese, wine and starch reached a PH of 4.7.

In chemistry, PH measures the levels of acidity or alkalinity of any given liquid solution with anything below 7 (the neutral marker) indicating higher levels of acidity, and anything over 7 meaning higher alkaline levels.

The consequences of the mix reaching a PH of 4.7 would mean the cheese would reach its maximum levels of liquidity, which would also be irreversible.

Even though the findings have been widely published in Swiss media this week, Hervé Dumoulin, the owner of Cave Valaisanne a Gevenan restaurant, said that everyone has their "mathematical formulas," when it comes to making fondue.

"We often ask ourselves what is better, but our cooks have been making it their way for 10 to 20 years now," Dumoulin continued. "They add a bit of flour, a bit of garlic, they go adding a little wine from a container and looking to see whether the mix is more solid or liquid."

The chef, who is the third in a generation to run one of the most well-known fondue spots in the city, did say that "cooking is mathematics, but more so in the field of bakery," adding that "with good ingredients preparing a fondue is not hard."

The dish, which is considered to have originated in the mountainous regions of western Switzerland in the Francophone cantons of Vaud, Valais and Fribourg, generally uses Gruyère, a nutty and salty Swiss cheese, combined with the milder Emmental with its trademark large holes, although some prefer to use Vacherin Fribourgeois instead, a semi-soft nutty cheese.

Fondue is a fun sharing dish where diners use long forks to fish out bread that has been dipped into the cheesy mix with the agreement that whoever loses their cheesy bread in the creamy dish pays for the dinner.

"It is a fatty dish with calories, so perhaps it is most advisable to consume it during the winter when it is cold although we eat it all year round," Dumoulin concluded.

One thing both scientists and chefs do agree on is that the ultimate fondue faux pas would be to serve a dish that is either too liquid, gummy or worse; split.

By Antonio Broto

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