Monday, April 22, 2013

Skyrim Recipe: Elsweyr Fondue

There's a Khajit caravan that travels the roads and byways of Skyrim, appearing outside town from time to time to offer rare goods. I like to have my character stop by for a bit of moon sugar and some light conversation about the warm, exotic sands of Elsweyr, the Khajit homeland. But there's one thing I always wonder: just how does a desert kitty stay warm and groovy in the frozen wastes of Skyrim?

The answer, it turns out, is cheese fondue.

Cheese fondue and a bottle of skooma: not just for 1970's lounge cats anymore.
More specifically, Elsweyr fondue, a tasty recipe made from three simple ingredients in-game: ale, moon sugar, and an Eidar cheese wheel.

Beer? Cheese? Two of my favorite things! How, then, could I resist attempting a real world version? Well, lucky you: I couldn't.

Cheese fondue is a very simple dish with a history dating back several hundred years. It's little more than a thick cheese sauce made with beer or wine at low heat in a communal pot, into which diners dip cubes of bread. There are literally thousands of recipes built on this simple foundation. Variation comes from what type of cheese or liquor is used, what seasonings are chosen, or the addition of thickeners or emulsifiers (such as flour or egg).

As with other Skyrim-based recipes, the goal was to achieve an end result that came as close to the in-game description as possible, but was also tasty and relatively easy to make.

In this case, the first challenge came with how Elsweyr fondue is depicted in-game, as compared to what your average actual cheese sauce or cheese fondue looks like in reality. This is what game designers at Bethesda thought Elsweyr fondue should look like:

Image copyright Bethesda Game Studios.
Aside from being a liquid almost, but not quite, entirely unlike fondue... well, would you eat that? I sure wouldn't. It looks like the worst, most industrial chili ever made. If the game designers were trying to convey the bleak lawlessness of Skyrim in a single meal, I think they succeeded admirably with this one. It looks like a bowl of despair, Nord style. And it's certainly uncontaminated by cheese.

Which brings us to our next challenge: picking the right cheese. Take a look at this illustration of an Eidar cheese wheel:
Image copyright Bethesda Game Studios.
I've eaten a lot of cheese in my day, and that picture right there just screams STILTON to me. Stilton is a well-marbled blue cheese with a thick, brownish rind, lovely and creamy when at its most ripe. It goes very well with sweetish red wines and very ripe fruit... and it's definitely a stinky cheese. A wedge of the stuff, improperly sealed up, can make the inside of your fridge smell like feet, so I couldn't even imagine how rank a whole load of it would smell, bubbling away on a hot stove.

So Lexi and I decided against using just Stilton for this one. Instead, we chose a combination of cheeses for flavor, meltability, and scent. We also wanted to come up with a cheese that would melt well, becoming stable and smooth without the need for any emulsifiers, since none are called for in the game recipe.

Our family of ingredients: beer, cheese, fruit, and moon sugar.

The cheese we picked for our base was Snofrisk, a smooth, very mild, slightly tangy Norwegian cream cheese made mostly of goat's milk. We added a lovely, mild, soft French blue cheese (the front wedge in the image above) to stand in for the Eidar wheel and decided to pretend that Eidar Cheese would be a smooth, creamy, marbled goat cheese best represented by combining these two.   Add my favorite go-to amber ale (Silver City's Ridgetop Red), sumac moon sugar simple syrup... and it all melted into a magical tasty recipe that would do any Khajit proud. Here it is, in all its glory.

Butter (optional)
1 4.4-oz. container of plain Snofrisk cheese
About 4 oz. soft, creamy blue cheese
Beer or ale
Moon sugar simple syrup (see recipe below)
Culinary sumac or lavender (to correct seasonings as needed)
Bread and/or fruit wedges for dipping

1. Melt a pat of butter in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. This is optional, but can help prevent sticking.
2. When the butter foams, add the Snofrisk. Whisk slowly with the butter until well blended.
3. Whisk in beer or ale, 4 oz. at a time or so, until the texture is thick and creamy, somewhere between the consistency of a melted milkshake and unwhipped whipping cream.
4. Add the blue cheese in bits and gradually whisk in until smooth.
5. Add a tablespoon or two of the moon sugar simple syrup. This will sweeten the fondue, so check to taste before adding a whole bunch of it.
6. If your moon sugar simple syrup was on the mild side, add lavender or sumac a teaspoon at a time to adjust seasonings.
6. If your fondue is a bit too thick, thin it with more beer or ale.
7. Mess it forth into a pre-warmed earthenware bowl or your favorite fondue pot, and eat by dipping in sliced apples or chunks of lightly toasted bread!

It should look more or less like this, a little thicker if you wish.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Several Tbsp of lavender or culinary sumac

Awhile back Lexi and I came up with a very serviceable recipe for moon sugar based on a microwave hard candy recipe. Initially I wanted to add the straight moon sugar to this recipe, but Lexi noted that we might have difficulties with it melting smoothly, and would end up with cheese sauce with bits of half-melted moon sugar floating in it rather than a smooth, creamy, dippable sauce. So instead, I took her advice and opted to make a simple syrup instead.

The process is simple: boil 1 cup of granulated white sugar in 1 cup of water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat immediately and add lavender or culinary sumac to taste, usually 1 or 2 Tbsp. Let cool and use as you would in any simple syrup recipe. (If you make with lavender, we recommend straining before use to get the lavender bits out.)

Lexi and I made two different kinds of moon sugar, one for each of Skyrim's moons (Masser and Secunda). One uses lavender, the other culinary sumac; each have their own flavor qualities, and we kept this in mind when choosing ingredients for the fondue. Lavender makes a very floral, pretty flavor, but it's very strong. Sumac is more musky, like one of those flavors you've met before but just can't put your tongue on it... it's also more subtle than the lavender.

So for the first workup of this recipe I chose a milder French cheese and a solid, not-very-hoppy amber ale to go with the sumac without drowning out the flavor. The breads were chose were a dark rye (as might be found in the Nordic wilds) and an Italian artisan loaf, cut into large chunks and lightly toasted on a baking sheet at about 325F for 10 minutes or so. Round it out with slices of a firm, fleshy apple (like Granny Smith or Fuji) and you can dine with the coolest cats on the tundra.

And don't forget the skooma...


  1. I am just in love with your blog!! So glad to have found you and I look forward to reading more. :)

  2. Perhaps the Bethesda version is a chunky monstrosity because they didn't have Lexi to tell them not to just put hunks of solid sugar in. But, as you noted, it also looks like someone was hitting the skooma too hard to remember the cheese.

    Love your blog.

    1. Thankfully the game has since updated those terrible images and the fondue now looks mighty tasty indeed! To be honest though, the new in game image looks even more creamy and much more white in coloring, making me question just how much ale could possibly have been used, or what happened to all the marbling in the cheese.

  3. How different would the recipe look if you did use Stilton cheese?

    1. I haven't tried it with 100% Stilton yet; I suspect it could be sort of oily, given how rich Stilton can be, but the creaminess of the cheese might make it nice and smooth too. So honestly, I have no idea - maybe try it and see how it is!

      My bigger worry would be that you'd end up gassing your guests with the powerful smell of the cheese! A perfectly aged Stilton is a thing of beauty, but is still a stinky cheese.

  4. Actually, this is what Elsweyr fondue looks like according to the Elder Scrolls wiki:

    1. Huh! That's a new image to me. Wondering if they updated it, because I distinctly recall the chili-looking stuff... I'll take a look next time I'm in-game. Meanwhile thanks for the post, I'm glad it doesn't look like a bowl of Nordic despair anymore!

    2. I also remember the chili-lookin' stuff. Seeing as how I'm playing through Skyrim again I'll see if I can grab a screenshot of the in-game graphic.

    3. The reason for that is that without Hearthfire installed, all food that comes in a bowl (soup, stew, fondue, etc.) uses the same model. Hearthfire gives all of these foods their own, unique models, which is why the vanilla game has chunky, dark fondue, and Hearthfire has realistic fondue.

    4. If you have Hearthfire it will look like a bowl of white cream.

  5. Hello, could you possibly tell me how long the cooking time is, and how many people this recipe serves?

    1. That's a tough question: There's no 'cooking time' persay - you heat the cheese over low heat until it's melted. Maybe 10 minutes? The proportions that we made above probably serve 2 people, but if you want more, just add more stuff!

      The beauty of fondue is that it's literally just a pot of melted cheese with stuff to dip in. Make as much or as little as you need.

  6. This is probably a stupid question but does all the alcohol cook out?