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Swiss Expert Witness Ruppert discusses fondue and the Matterhorn Restaurant in SF
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Being Swiss, I had the honor to accompany the three Füd Court judges and guest judge Suzanne to the Swiss restaurant Matterhorn, which specializes in fondue dishes.

Eating cheese fondue is a very old tradition in Switzerland. Originally a poor mountain people's food using old, ripe cheese and leftover bread, fondue parties eventually became a frequent and beloved social event all over Switzerland.

For most people, growing up in Switzerland means growing up with fondue. Swiss learn at very young age how to eat fondue: how to put the little bread cubes on the special three-tined fork without pricking your finger, how to stir the ready-to-eat fondue with the fork and bread for a moment before pulling the bread out again, in order to keep the consistency of the cheese creamy and prevent the cheese from burning on the bottom of the caquelon. The caquelon, by the way, is the special earthenware pot used only for cheese fondue.

To make a great fondue dinner actually takes little effort. A mix of two or three hard or semi-hard cheeses (personally I prefer a mix of Vacherin Fribourgeois, Gruyére, and Appenzeller), any kind of bread (I recommend a rather heavy and dense kind, as it tends to fall off the fork less), some good quality dry white wine (Fendant, for example), garlic cloves (in my opinion the more the better), and some Kirsch (cherry brandy) to drink after eating, as it helps the digestion process. For a non-alcoholic alternative, black tea is often served with cheese fondue. To make sure the fondue stays creamy and does not separate, add a little cornstarch (about 2 tsp) and a few drops of lemon juice. Freshly ground pepper and a pinch of nutmeg will add some extra flavor.

Fondue SaucesWhile cheese fondue is typically Swiss and often eaten during winter time, broth or oil fondues are less common and considered more of a festive meal. In our family, for example, Fondue Chinoise, the broth fondue, is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Both the Fondue Chinoise as well as the Fondue Bourguignonne, which is made with oil, feature pieces of meat (mostly beef) cooked in the broth or oil, then dipped in a variety of dipping sauces (curry, garlic, tartar, etc.), and eaten with bread and/or mixed pickles. The broth and oil are not cooked in a caquelon but a metal pot. The meat fondue forks typically have two tines instead of three, and should have some color code. As one lets the fork with the meat sit in the broth or oil for a while, until the meat is cooked, the color code will help you find your fork again, especially if several people eat together.

The meat fondues allow for a lot of creativity with the side dishes. While in Switzerland the cheese fondues are basically eaten with bread only, the meat fondues can be accompanied by rice, steamed vegetables, garlic bread, potato chips, etc.

Click here to open the animated fondue guide in a new window. The Shockwave Player plug-in is required. If you don't have it, click the graphic to the right to go get it!

Now, how does the Matterhorn hold up?

The Matterhorn is one of the few Swiss restaurants in San Francisco, and they offer a selection of decent cheese fondues. The menu includes about 10 different kinds of cheese fondue, several of which I had never heard of, basically because of their cheese combinations. The two cheese fondues we picked were the classical Vacherin-Gruyére, and one made with Raclette cheese and Camembert. They both were good restaurant fondues. Honestly, I've never had a cheese fondue in a restaurant that tasted quite like homemade. Both fondues contained a little too much corn starch (or whatever they use to bind the cheese), and not enough garlic. It was difficult to taste the different cheeses, probably due to the amount of corn starch. The bread that came with the fondue was very well chosen, though -- firm cubes of fresh French bread. We ordered Fendant to go with the cheese fondue, a dry white wine traditionally served with cheese dishes. Swiss Fendant seems to be hard to find in San Francisco, and I enjoyed having it with the cheese fondue, even though it wasn't the best Fendant ever, and maybe served a little too warm.

Fondue BeefThe Matterhorn also offers a variety of oil and broth fondues, so we ordered the Fondue Bourguignonne with beef. The beef came in little meat cubes, while in Switzerland we have the beef cut into very thin slices and rolled up, so that they sit well on the fork and cook quickly in the hot oil or broth. The side dishes included several dipping sauces: pickles, pineapple, etc. As I mentioned above, there really seem to be no rules regarding the side dishes for Fondue Bourguignonne or Fondue Chinoise, and the choice basically depends on individual preferences. I liked the curry sauce and the tartar sauce, which are usually my favorites. To go with the Fondue Bourguignonne we ordered a Dole du Valais, which is a traditional Swiss red wine. Unfortunately it tasted nothing like the Dole I enjoyed in Switzerland, for whatever reason. In my opinion it was too sweet and too watery.

Although the food at the Matterhorn wasn't really great, the atmosphere is nice and comfortable. The interior is woody, rustic, Swiss country-style. Aside from several posters showing scenery from all over Switzerland, they have a big painting of the Matterhorn, and flags along the bar, representing the different Swiss cantons (states).

My rating for the different fondues we had at the Matterhorn is three corn dogs, considering I have never had a really great fondue in any restaurant, but many worse ones in other fondue restaurants. The wine on the other hand gets one corn dog (due to the really strange Dole and a not very good Fendant). The atmosphere, which strongly reminded me of home and in my opinion is nicely done, gets four corn dogs. The service during our visit (described in the other reviews) was quite poor and gets one corn dog. As for the cost I think the whole place is a little overpriced, and I felt bad paying almost 60 dollars for those two bottles of wine. On the other hand, wine hardly ever seems reasonably priced in restaurants, and good quality cheese is not cheap. So, three corn dogs for the cost rating.

Overall this makes two corn dogs for the Matterhorn restaurant.

If you feel like having a good cheese fondue and don't feel like preparing it yourself, I recommend the Matterhorn. If on the other hand you don't mind looking for a good cheese shop, a good bakery with quality bread, drinking Chardonnay instead of Fendant, and don't mind the time it takes to prepare a good cheese fondue, then it is always best to make a great cheese fondue at home.

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