For the longest time, I thought that fondue means melted chocolate. But I was so wrong! I found out that the traditional fondue dish is made with melted cheese. And then I started to research the history of fondue, and I found out so many unexpected things.
During the 18th century, isolated alpine villagers in Switzerland relied mainly on cheese, wine, and bread provisions to sustain themselves during long winters. So, they found a way to use aged cheeses and bread to feed themselves during the cold season by making fondue. The dish has a Swiss origin, but the term ‘fondue’ comes from the French word ‘fondre’ which means ‘to melt’.
Fondue is a dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot (called caquelon or fondue pot) over a portable stove heated with a candle or spirit lamp and eaten by dipping bread or vegetables into the cheese using long-stemmed forks.
A brief history: From cheese to chocolate fondue
In the 18th century, Swiss villagers found that if they heated the cheese with wine, garlic, and herbs they could dip their stale and hard bread in it. That way, their bread would soften when dipped into the cheese mixture.
The earliest known recipe for cheese fondue comes from a 1699 book published in Zurich, and it called for grated or cubed cheese, melted with wine. But until the late 19th century, cheese fondue referred to a dish that included both eggs and cheese. The first known recipe for the modern cheese fondue under that specific name – with cheese and wine but no eggs – was published in 1875, and was already presented as a Swiss national dish.
This way of having cheese is completed by an image of a hot cozy fire while snow fell outside and became a Swiss winter tradition.
But this tradition didn’t come naturally; it was built up. Fondue was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (which controlled cheese production) in the 1930s, as a way of increasing cheese consumption.
30 years later, fondue was marketed in America at the Swiss Pavilion's Alpine restaurant at the 1964 New York World's Fair. From then on, the dish gained popularity in North America.
Earlier than that, in the 1950s, the name ‘fondue’ had extended to other dishes. It kept the technique - food is dipped into a communal pot of liquid kept hot, but the ingredients changed: chocolate fondue and fondue bourguignonne are the first ones, and both were invented by Konrad Egli, a Swiss restaurateur that owned the Chalet Suisse restaurant in New York at that time.
How to make fondue at home
Fondue is one of the simplest meals in the world you can make - you only need melted cheese, wine, garlic, and bread. The Swiss region of Neufchatel receives credit for the birth of cheese fondues made from Gruyère and Emmental, and this combination still provides the foundation for the Classic Swiss Cheese Fondue, according to Simplyfonduefortworth.com. But the truth is there is no standard recipe.
To make fondue, you need a caquelon, which is a cooking vessel of stoneware, ceramic, enameled cast-iron, or porcelain for the preparation of fondue, also called a fondue pot. Nowadays there are also electric fondue pots you can buy.
You can still make fondue if you don’t have the required equipment, by melting cheese in a thick-bottomed heavy pot, on low heat. We suggest you use a heavy pot on the stove even if you have a special fondue pot because it’s the quickest method for making fondue. In the end, transfer your melted cheese to the fondue pot, set over a flame.
Tips and tricks
When you make it, you should start by rubbing the bottom of the pot with a cut garlic clove, then remove the garlic. Its purpose is to add just a bit of flavor.
Then, pour the white wine into the pot. The ratio is 1 cup or 1/2 cup of wine per pound of cheese. Start with 1 cup. Bring the wine to a simmer over moderate heat.
Stir together cornstarch (1 tablespoon) and kirsch (2 teaspoons), which is a variety of cherry brandy, in a cup. If you don’t have or you don’t want to use kirsch, use water or wine. Set aside the cornstarch mixture for later use. It ensures a smooth result without adding any additional flavor.
You can use many types of cheese, but you can start with the classic ones: shredded Emmental cheese (1/2 pound/2 cups) and shredded Gruyère (1/2 pound/2 cups). So, when the wine is simmering, add cheese to the pot gradually. Cook while constantly stirring in a zigzag pattern (not circular, to prevent cheese from balling up), until the cheese is melted and creamy. Be careful and don’t let it boil!
Then, stir the cornstarch mixture again and add it to the fondue. Bring fondue to a simmer and cook, stirring, 5-8 minutes until it has thickened. If you want, season it with salt, nutmeg, paprika, fresh thyme, or freshly ground black pepper, the choice is yours! It's too thick? Then add up to 1/2 cup more wine.
If you used a heavy pot to prepare the fondue, now it’s time to transfer the mixture to the fondue pot set over a flame. Use the fondue forks to dip bread cubes in cheese, continuing to stir with the forks as you dip. You can also use other kinds of dippers: apple slices, roasted potatoes, blanched broccoli florets, celery sticks, or other vegetables.
As for the cheeses, the best flavor is usually achieved by blending two types of cheese, usually Emmental and Gruyère but you can only use Gruyère if you want. Other cheeses that work are Cheddar, Monterey Jack, blue cheese, and Raclette.
4 types of non-cheese fondue
As I was saying, Konrad Egli was the first one that saw the potential for fondue. He started by inventing fondue bourguignonne, and then went further with chocolate fondue.
1. Fondue bourguignonne
Konrad Egli, also known as Konni, was responsible for the invention of fondue bourguignonne, which doesn’t have that much in common with cheese fondue, other than the serving manner. Fondue bourguignonne means that fresh meat and veggies are dipped into a fondue pot full of hot oil. After the meat (usually different types) is cooked, it’s served with savory sauces. Each person at the table cooks their own meat, the way they like it. That way, you can enjoy each other's company for a longer time. Fondue bourguignonne is very popular in Germany, especially during the holidays.
2. Chocolate fondue
Konni also invented chocolate fondue in the mid-sixties, as part of a Toblerone PR campaign (when Toblerone chocolate had just arrived in the USA from Switzerland). He started with heavy cream, Toblerone, and kirsch. Once the chocolate is melted and stays warm in the fondue pot, all you have to do is dip slices of fresh or dried fruit, marshmallows, or pastries into it. Dessert fondues can also be made with milk or dark chocolate, condensed milk, coconut, honey, or caramel.
Here you can find out How to Melt Chocolate.
3. Wine fondue
Wine fondue, or ‘Fondue vigneronne’ in French, is like fondue bourguignonne, with wine rather than oil. For red wine fondue means you boil the red wine and season it with salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and herbs; the white wine version is spiced with cinnamon, chili, coriander, white pepper and enriched with chicken broth.
The guests dip meat, fish, seafood, or vegetables in the caquelon and top them with sauces like bearnaise, tartar sauce, or mustard.
4. Fondue Chinoise
‘Fondue chinoise’ is Chinese fondue or broth fondue. This means dipping thin slices of meat (usually beef tenderloin) and vegetables in a communal pot with slowly simmering broth. The broth ingredients may vary, but you can combine water, beef broth, bay leaves, dried parsley, garlic, pepper, peppercorns, white wine, onion, lemon juice, or soy sauce. Each guest spears one of the meat or vegetable pieces with a dipping fork, immerses it briefly in the broth until cooked to their liking, then dips it into the various sauces that are provided on the side.
Fondue is a delicious way to bring friends and family together. You can even throw a fondue party: serve cheese fondue as a starter, fondue bourguignonne as the main dish, and complete the evening with chocolate fondue and fresh fruit.