A "cordon bleu" dish means an escalope of either veal, chicken or pork stuffed with ham and cheese, then breaded and fried and/or baked. it falls in the general category of meat roulades, such as the Italian Braciole (a roulade consisting of beef, pork or chicken filled with Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and eggs), German Rouladen and Czech Španělské ptáčky (beef roulades filled with onions, bacon, pickles, hard boiled egg and frankfurters), or the Italian Saltimbocca alla Romana.
The origins of cordon bleu as a schnitzel filled with cheese are in Switzerland in the 1940s. There are many variations of the recipe, all of which involve a butterfield cutlet of meat, cheese and ham. Chicken cordon bleu may have originated in the United States, because the first reference to the dish was in the Los Angeles Times in 1968.
For chicken cordon bleu, the chicken breast is butterflied and a slice of ham is placed inside along with a thin slice of cheese. The chicken breast is then rolled into a roulade, coated in bread crumbs and deep fried or baked.
The choice of cheese depends on the chef and can include Emmental, Gruyère or mozarella, or a combination. Although, traditionally Gruyère cheese is best suited for this dish, because Emmental cheese does not melt as nicely as Gruyère. If Emmental is used, it should be in a combination Mozarella.
Emmental cheese is a yellow medium-hard cheese from west-central Switzerland, from around the Emme river in the Canton of Bern. South of this area lies the town of Interlaken and the foothills of the Eiger-Jungfrau massif. The history of Emmental cheese goes back to the first half of the 15th century. It is this cheese that is colloqually known in the United States as "Swiss cheese". It has a rich, sweet and nutty flavor, and the characteristic holes or "eyes". In general, the larger the eyes, the more pronounced its flavor because a longer fermentation period has given the bacteria more time to act. Try to find a good-quality Emmental at your local deli, but nothing will top an unpasteurized Emmental picked up locally at a farm.
Gruyère, on the other hand, originates in the area farther west in the Cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura. It is a hard yellow cheese named after the town of Gruyères, some 40 km NE of Montreux, which in turn is famous for the Montreux Jazz Festival and the song Smoke On the Water by Deep Purple. The cheese is easily distinguished from Emmental because it lacks the characteristic eyes. It tastes sweet but slightly salty, with a flavor that changes with age. It is often creamy and nutty when young, becoming more assertive, earthy and complex with age. It is a good melting cheese, particularly suited for fondues, French onion soup, croque-monsieur, and chicken and veal cordon bleu.
Last not least is the subject of ham. For this dish, avoid cured hams such as prosciutto di San Daniele, prosciutto di Parma, jambon de Bayonne, jamón serrano, jamón ibérico, Virginia country ham, Schwarzwälder Schinken or Tiroler Speck. While great-tasting in their own right, you need a juicy ham for this dish. These are dry and salty. Go for a baked ham such as baked Virginia ham or Parisian ham (jambon de Paris). A wide variety of flavored baked hams fall into the "Virginia ham" category, including honey-baked ham, which may also be suitable for this dish. If wanting a more traditional chicken cordon bleu, use something like jambon de Paris. It is baked for several hours in a flavored broth containing juniper, coriander, cloves and bouquet garni.
Last updated: January 22, 2014