Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Holy Shit, Fondue!


If you're a middle- to upper-class American yuppie (or are friends with one), or are just some other type of foodie I haven't met yet, you know all about fondue. It's a bucket of melted stuff that you dip other stuff into. Traditionally, it's meant to be melted cheese and bread. Either way, it's kind of ridiculous when you think about it.

Who decided that dipping bread into a communal bowl of viscous cheese was a delicacy? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for jazzing up any dish with some cheese. But how did this become fancy? The answer, shockingly, has to do with war, corruption, and a veritable cartel dedicated to Swiss cheese.
Thug Life Cow
As much as I'd like it to be, the cartel was not run by literal Swiss cows

And I'm not making any of that up. The cartel was called the Swiss Cheese Union. It was founded in 1914 by Swiss dairy farmers in order to control cheese production and prices. You may recognize this as the exact principle behind OPEC. As an added bonus, the Swiss Cheese Union also decided what cheeses dairy farmers were allowed to produce. Only Gruyere, Sbrinz and Emmental were allowed, and farmers needed a license to make and sell any of them or they risked being blacklisted.
And before you ask, yes. There were cheese rebels.

The cheese cartel gained significant prominence after World War I, owing largely to the fact that the infrastructure of other European nations had recently and literally been burned and blasted to bits. Which meant most cheese in Europe was coming out of more-neutral-than-beige Switzerland. That gave the Swiss Cheese Union an enormous amount of power, because it turns out people can get pretty serious about their cheese. With some bribes and favors, the Union was able to get a few politicians in their pockets, leading to huge subsidies for their industry.

Still, the cartel was unsatisfied. They had the supply side of the cheese market pretty much cornered, but their marketing arm decided they could do something about the demand side as well. Luckily, there was a regional dish in certain Alpine areas known as fondue that could literally have people eating bucket loads of their product. The Swiss Cheese Union successfully lobbied to have fondue made a national dish of Switzerland, and pounded the ever-loving cheese curds out of their marketing efforts. Your knowledge of fondue, whoever you are, is very likely a result of this marketing effort.
Fondue Pot
Pictured: Corruption.

Eventually, the people of Switzerland got wise to the corruption involved in the cheese cartel, largely because what government spends so much money on talking about fondue? Dirty laundry was aired, people were jailed, and by the 1990s the Swiss Cheese Union was a shadow of its former glory. By 1999, it was completely dissolved, and a new era of freedom dawned for Swiss dairy farmers. But the legacy of the Swiss Cheese Union lives on today in every pot of melted cheese you stick your comically long fork into.
Fondue Fork
I'm suspicious of dishes that require a unique utensil to be eaten.

So next time you visit your local quirky, atmospheric little hole-in-the-wall fondue place, just remember the enormous and corrupt cartel that brought it to your attention.

Holy shit.

"Swiss fondue 2" by JHG (Julien29) - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

"Mozzarella cheese" by Jon Sullivan - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

"Fondue2" by -jkb- Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

"Fondue fork" by Vearthy - based on the shape in the PONS Picture Dictionary - Polish-German + free wood pattern from Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

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