Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Fondue is a Swiss melted cheese dish served in a communal pot (fondue pot or caquelon) over a portable stove (réchaud) heated with a candle or spirit lamp, and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long-stemmed forks. It was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930's, and was popularized in North America in the 1960's and 1970's. Most couples getting married in the United States at that time probably received at least one fondue pot as a wedding gift. They promptly put the pot in a back closet, attic or cellar and then forgot about it. Years later, the pots were discovered and sold at "garage sales" for a couple dollars. It is time to bring back fondue!
Since the 1950's, the term "fondue" has been generalized to other dishes in which a food is dipped into a communal pot of liquid kept hot in a fondue pot: chocolate fondue, fondue au chocolat, in which pieces of fruit or pastry are dipped into a melted chocolate mixture, and fondue bourguignonne, in which pieces of meat are cooked in hot oil or broth.
The earliest known recipe for the modern form of cheese fondue comes from a 1699 book published in Zürich, under the name "Käss mit Wein zu kochen", "to cook cheese with wine". It calls for grated or cut-up cheese to be melted with wine, and for bread to be dipped in it.
The name "cheese fondue", until the late nineteenth century, referred to a dish composed of eggs and cheese, as in la Chapelle's 1735 Fonduë de Fromage, aux Truffes Fraiches; it was something between scrambled eggs with cheese and a cheese soufflé.
The first known recipe for the modern cheese fondue under that name, with cheese and wine but no eggs, was published in 1875, and was already presented as a Swiss national dish. Despite its modern associations with rustic mountain life, it was a town-dweller's dish from the lowlands of western, French-speaking, Switzerland: rich cheese like Gruyère was a valuable export item which peasants could not afford to eat.
The introduction of cornstarch ("Maïzena") to Switzerland in 1905 made it easier to make a smooth and stable emulsion of the wine and cheese, and probably contributed to the success of fondue.
Fondue was popularized as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930's as a way of increasing cheese consumption. The Swiss Cheese Union also created pseudo-regional recipes as part of the "spiritual defense of Switzerland". After World War II, rationing ended but the Swiss Cheese Union continued its marketing campaign, sending fondue sets to military regiments and event organizers across Switzerland. Fondue is now a symbol of Swiss unity.
In the meantime, fondue continued to be promoted aggressively in Switzerland, with slogans like "La fondue crée la bonne humeur" 'fondue creates a good mood' and (1981, in Swiss German) "Fondue isch guet und git e gueti Luune" 'fondue is good and creates a good mood' – abbreviated as "figugegl".
Fondue was promoted to Americans at the Swiss Pavilion's Alpine restaurant at the 1964 New York World's Fair.
The extension of the name "fondue" to other dishes served in a communal hot pot dates to 1950's New York. Konrad Egli, a Swiss restaurateur, introduced fondue bourguignonne at his Chalet Suisse restaurant in 1956. In the mid 1960's, he invented chocolate fondue as part of a promotion for Toblerone chocolate. A sort of chocolate mousse or chocolate cake had also sometimes been called "chocolate fondue" starting in the 1930's.
Cheese fondue consists of a blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning. To prepare the caquelon it is first rubbed with a cut garlic clove. White wine is slightly heated with cornstarch, and then grated cheese is added and stirred until melted. It is often topped off with a bit of kirsch. The cornstarch or other starch stabilizes and thickens the mixture. Additional wine may be added if the fondue is too thick; its acid and ethanol decrease the fondue's viscosity.
A cheese fondue mixture should be kept warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot that it burns. If this temperature is held until the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted (not burned) cheese at the bottom of the caquelon. This is called la religieuse (French for the nun). It has the texture of a cracker and is almost always lifted out and eaten.
Some Swiss regional fondues and the type of cheese used.
Fribourgeoise: Vacherin fribourgeois à fondue, wherein potatoes are often dipped instead of bread. This is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat.
Moitié-moitié (or half and half), also called Fondue Suisse: Gruyère and Fribourg vacherin
Neuchâteloise: Gruyère and Emmental
Innerschweiz: Gruyère, Emmental, and Sbrinz
Genevoise: Gruyère (preferably of several stages of maturity) with a little Emmentaler and Valais cheese. Sometimes chopped sautéed morels are added.
Interlaken: Gruyère, Appenzeller, Emmental.
Appenzeller: Appenzeller cheese with cream added.
Tomato: Gruyère, Emmental, crushed tomatoes, and wine.
Our friend Fränzi from Bern makes a tomato fondue. It is so delicious!!!! I definitely need to get her exact recipe.
Spicy: Gruyère, red and green peppers, with chili.
Mushroom: Gruyère, Fribourg vacherin, and mushrooms.
Consumption and etiquette
Fondue is eaten by spearing a piece of bread on a fork, swirling it in the pot, and putting it into the mouth. Some people recommend that the dipping fork be used only to transport the food from the pot to one's plate, not to eat from.
Losing a piece of bread in the caquelon is traditionally penalized by buying a round of drinks, singing a song, drinking a shot of kirsch or running around in the snow naked. This is parodied in Asterix in Switzerland, where a character is sentenced to be drowned in Lake Geneva after losing his third piece of bread.
There are various recommendations on the choice of accompanying beverage: some say white wine, others specify black tea. Some drink spirits during or after the meal, which supposedly helps digestion. Don't drink cold water, though.
This is a favorite fondue wine we drink when we are in Switzerland.
We have two favorite fondue restaurants in Switzerland that we frequent, when we are on vacation.
1. Memory Bistro at the Eiger Selfness Hotel Dorfstrasse 133 Grindelwald, Switzerland https://www.eiger-grindelwald.ch/en They serve the fondue with bread and potatoes
2. Restaurant Stägerstübli Mürren, Switzerland https://www.staegerstuebli.ch/en They serve an herb fondue
Recipe for the fondue Michael made
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 pound Gruyère cheese, grated
1/2 pound Emmentaler cheese, grated
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons kirsch
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Rub the inside of a cheese fondue pot or medium enameled cast-iron casserole with the garlic clove; (You can discard the garlic if you wish. Michael keeps the garlic).
You can grate the cheese ahead of time and leave in refrigerator.
Combine the grated Gruyère and Emmentaler with the wine and cornstarch in the fondue pot and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the cheeses begin to melt, about 5 minutes.
Michael likes to get ingredients prepped ahead of time.
Add the kirsch
A kirschwasser or kirsch is a clear, colorless brandy traditionally made from double distillation of morello cherries, a dark-colored cultivar of the sour cherry. However, it is now also made from other kinds of cherries. The cherries are fermented completely, including their stones.
Unlike cherry liqueurs and cherry brandies, kirschwasser is not sweet. Kirsch is sometimes produced via the distillation of fermented cherry juice. The best kirschwassers have a refined taste with subtle flavors of cherry and a slight bitter-almond taste that derives from the cherry seeds.
Add a generous pinch each of pepper and nutmeg and cook, stirring gently, until creamy and smooth, about 10 minutes; don't overcook the fondue or it will get stringy. Serve at once.
We served our fondue with bread, potatoes, gherkins and salami
A fondue party is so much fun! Fondue is a meal where you take your time eating and have some great conversation and many laughs.