For all those looking for romance this Valentine’s Day, nothing says true love like a cheesy fondue kit from the Matterhorn. The over-the-top Swiss restaurant resembles the interior of a ski lodge, lined with knotty pine and cuckoo clocks. Sadly, with indoor dining off limits, no one will get the coveted table inside the gondola this year. But it’s still possible to pick up the goods: The Matterhorn is now offering fondue kits, perfect for entertaining a hot date or restless children at home.
The fondue kit for two is quite simple, featuring a trio of ingredients: shredded cheese, a fresh loaf of sourdough, and a bottle of crisp white wine. But with so few ingredients, quality shines through. “For just one bubbling pot of cheese, there is a crazy amount of complexity that goes into it,” says Natalie Horwath, who lived for several years in Switzerland, before moving back to San Francisco and taking over the restaurant with her husband and partner. “For such a simple dish, it’s important to get it exactly right.”
The cheese is a moitié-moitié split of vacherin for a little tang and funk, and gruyere for saltiness, as preferred on the western side of Switzerland closer to France. It’s shredded and tossed with cornstarch, specifically Rapunzel from Austria. The wine is a sauvignon blanc blend from France, with a good amount of acidity, which helps the melt come and stay together. Horwath bakes the bread fresh herself, and it’s naturally leavened SF sourdough, although not quite so airy and custardy as the trend — fondue demands a denser crumb for safe dunking.
The Horwaths brought the fondue pots back from Switzerland themselves, “packed into suitcases.” But they have been able to get a few more over during the pandemic and now have enough to do equipment rentals, complete with burners and forks. Or diners can make it work with more standard kitchen equipment, ideally a small cast-iron pot that maintains low heat well, like a Le Creuset saucepan. In addition to fondue, the restaurant is also offering raclette kits with torched cheese and warm potatoes, which were apparently a hit at Christmas.
The key is to just keep stirring that gooey cheese — which is maybe why fondue is particularly enchanting during a pandemic — it’s dinner and an activity, melded into one. The Matterhorn has already sold through 140 pounds of gruyere during the pandemic and is rolling in another big wheel to prep for the holiday. “It’s something different,” says Horwath. “It’s an engaging meal at home, to get everyone around the table.” And especially in cold winter weather, fondue can be a heartwarmer.