I am a great cheese enthusiast. I love cheese from all around the world, in all variations, flavors, textures and colors. Melted cheese is sensational in any dish and there are few dishes as iconic for my home country as traditional cheese Fondue. Anyone who ever comes to visit me will at least get to eat Fondue once, be it spring, summer, fall or winter – even if it’s considered more of a winter than summer dish (rubbish if you ask me). To the Swiss, Fondue is strictly about cheese and it can be found and eaten almost anywhere, from small local restaurants to gas stations. The first mentions of Fondue in Switzerland date back to the 17th century and it’s since evolved into an important food tradition most people will indulge in several times a year.
Fondue is a rustic and amazingly social dish that requires time to eat. It is therefore particularly popular at family and friend gatherings and often served on birthdays, Christmas or New Year. It is also simple to make, assuming you have access to the right cheese, get the correct equipment and follow a few basic guidelines. The following pointers are my comprehensive guide for anyone looking to make their next Fondue night a raging success!
1. The Cheese
Naturally there is nothing more essential to Fondue than the cheese mix. Unfortunately this is also the trickiest part to get right for anyone outside Switzerland, certainly outside its immediate neighborhood. Contrary to popular belief, Fondue is in fact not just “melted cheese” but a mixture of several cheeses as well as more ingredients like alcohol and starch. The balance of this mixture is vital and will not only decide over your Fondue’s flavor and consistency but whether the cheese curdles completely and becomes inedible. Therefore even here, nobody mixes their own Fondue; people will either rely on a local dairy for homemade mixes or get some (no less excellent) store-bought Fondue cheese. The most common cheeses used in Fondue are Emmentaler, Vacherin and Gruyères, the last two known as the magic formula of “moitié-moitié” (half-half or fifty-fifty) but there are many regional variations to what people prefer.
One of the universally most endorsed Fondue brands is Gerber’s red and I implore anybody seriously looking to make a great Fondue to put in the extra effort (and money) and order online. There are several websites including Amazon that export Fondue nowadays and since it’s not something you’ll have often, it’s worth getting the real deal. Really, a rubbery or curdled cheese mess ain’t pretty!
As Fondue is meant to be eaten slowly over the course of one or even several hours, it comes with its own equipment that consists of either a clay or iron pot called “caquelon” (iron pots heat up faster), a steel rechaud (with oil or burner paste) and of course extra long Fondue forks. Most households around here own their own Fondue sets but maybe you can borrow yours or find alternatives to what essentially comes down to a boiling pot over a fire. Dedicated rechauds come with heat regulators but you can always keep it simple – I rarely use the regulator because we tend to obliterate our Fondue like rabid wolves anyway.
When I say “sides” I am referring to all food that’s being dipped into your Fondue. Traditionally, Fondue is eaten with bread cubes or diced cooked potatoes (popular especially in the French part of Switzerland), as well as less commonly with brussels sprouts or canned pineapple (and other fruits). Bread needs to be crusty: there should be one side of crust to every cube, so getting long, thin (baguette-shaped) bread is ideal. Nothing is as boring as ordinary soft, white bread for Fondue so try to pep it up with nut&seed bread, tomato or olive bread etc. Potatoes are a more light-weight alternative that I personally love, as well as steamed brussels sprouts if I’m feeling more lowcarb.
As far as complementary sides go, Fondue is always served with different pickles (cucumber, onion, baby corn) – the vinegar helping a great deal to cut through some of that heavy cheese. Some people will also serve canned mushrooms as well as chilli or stuffed peppers. No matter what sides you prefer, remember absolutely everything gets dipped in delicious cheese!
4. Spices and Ingredients
Only very few things go into traditional Fondue whilst cooking. Regional differences aside, most people will agree that Swiss Fondue is to be prepared with fresh garlic, nutmeg, Fondue spice mix and Kirsch (cherry brandy) or white wine (usually Fendant from the French part of Switzerland). While the alcohol may be optional for some (although it will cook out!), I would be devastated to discover I am out of garlic or nutmeg before cooking Fondue.
The amount is up to taste; as a garlic fan, I usually go with 8 cloves per pot. I press them for stronger flavor but you can also slice the garlic and make people go dive for it later on. If you’re not familiar with nutmeg, rather start using too little than too much or you’ll end up ruining everything.
Other than the basics, I will add a squirt of lemon juice to my Fondue sometimes to take off the edge of the fat. I also like adding a bit of paprika and ground pepper. If your Fondue runs too thin for some reason, Maizena corn starch dissolved in a bit of water will save the day.
No Fondue is complete without the right drinks which come down to either Fendant (a white wine that is not too sour and very light) or slightly sweetened, warm black tea. This may sound weird but nothing complements Fondue quite as well as a simple Lipton Yellow Label (or more fancy if you prefer) which also helps with digestion later on. Try it, it’s lovely!
What is absolutely not recommended with Fondue are soda pops, sparkly water or anything of the sort as they don’t agree with the cheese.
6. Cooking Your Fondue / Step-by-Step Recipe
Once everything is set up, it’s time to cook that Fondue! I personally measure about 800 grams of Fondue for 3 people (=1 store-bought box of Fondue usually, containing 2 packs of cheese). A reasonably big pot can serve about double that amount of cheese but it’s recommended to have 4-5 people maximum per pot. If you’re planning for a big party with many guests, you’ll need several cooking sets or the hunger games are on.
Break up the cheese mass in your pot with a wooden spoon before heating things up to max temperature. If you’re going for a double serving, start off by filling the pot by half, adding the rest of the cheese slowly over time to avoid clumping. As your Fondue starts melting, stir slowly to avoid any burning on the bottom. When you reach creamier consistency, add nutmeg, spices, garlic and Kirsch (and whatever optionals). Keep stirring for about 10-15 more minutes after that; the cheese should become perfectly creamy and glossy before serving. Perfect Fondue consistency is neither watery nor thick as double cream – it should allow dipping in bread chunks with ease while covering them up nicely when removed. The closest in terms of consistency is probably melted chocolate / ganache.
Make sure the rechaud is set up and burning before you take your pot off the stove and gather everyone around quickly – dinner is served!
7. Fondue Tips, Tricks & Traditions
- The “correct way” of dipping bread and other food in Fondue is by running your fork in a few (usually about three) clockwise circles around the inside of the pot, then twirling several times as it comes out to lose those strands of cheese.
- As you’re eating away, a crust will form at the bottom of the pot which may be thicker/thinner and more or less burned depending on how fast you eat and how hot the cheese is cooking. Do NOT ever try to break up Fondue crust while there’s still cheese left to eat! A bitter, black crust will ruin the rest of your Fondue if disturbed and there’s no reason to do so. Leave the crust for the end and check if it’s yummie or not. A great crust is coveted among Fondue connaisseurs and colloquially called “the Grandmother” so treat that last bit as a special delicacy.
- Fondue is often served in several rounds through the course of a night. If you only have one pot for too many people or didn’t quite get enough the first time around, take a break and prepare another serving in a bit!
- Dedicated Fondue restaurants serve all kinds of different flavor Fondues: Chilli Fondue, Mushroom Fondue, Tomato Fondue, Bacon Fondue or Fondue with a variety of herbs or cream cheeses (often Gorgonzola) added while cooking. So if plain cheese sounds too boring for you, experiment away!
- If your Fondue gets too watery and just won’t come together, a few spoonfuls of liquified Maizena (corn starch) are your best friend!
- Do not ever wear warm sweaters or long sleeves that you cannot take off to a Fondue dinner! Trust me.
- Since Fondue is such a social party dish, there are many traditions that have formed around it. The most common such tradition is this: before anyone is allowed to dig in, the stakes and punishment for losing one’s bread in the pot are agreed upon. Repercussions generally range from public shaming to kisses or more painful rituals in a set progression.
8. Waste not! About Fondue Leftovers
Sometimes you won’t quite finish your Fondue and that’s no problem because it’s still absolutely wonderful the next day. Do not ever throw away leftover Fondue – cover the pot and leave it standing! Break out the hardened Fondue the following day and enjoy it with some bread and meat cuts or alternatively, as a pure treat like I do (all you need is a spoon!). If you still have leftover potatoes or brussels sprouts, heat them up in a pan and cover with last night’s cheese for another round of delicious Fondue goodness! However, don’t consume cheese that’s been standing for longer than a day.
And that’s it, the end of my Fondue knowledge! You have all the tools in your bag now, so I hope your next Fondue night will knock people off their socks! There’s nothing left for me to say other than happy cheese time and En Guete!