Cheese / Cheese Basics / Cheese Tasting

Fondue: The Complete Guide

What is fondue?

Chances are, you’ve heard of fondue before. Most people immediately think of cheese or chocolate fondue; and although fondue has strong Swiss and French origins, the term fondue may refer to any type of meal where a group of people sit around a communal pot and dip food in some kind of sauce, oil or broth. This includes cheese, of course; but, it could be dipping marshmallows into chocolate or even Chinese-style hot pot (Japanese shabu-shabu) where you dip meat and vegetables into a broth.

For our purposes, let’s stick to cheese fondue; where did it come from? I read one description that claimed that, because of the seasonality and availability of bread and cheese, winter months meant stale bread being brought back to life in a hot cheesy bath; but, let’s get real — that’s a bit hard to swallow. It’s more likely that they ate more bread and cheese during winter months because they (hard cheeses and flour) both preserve really well, for long periods of time. Wine, pickles… they’re all winter foods… and you’ll find them in fondue recipes.

Traditional cheese fondue

If you’re looking for a solid cheese fondue recipe, you can melt down some Emmental and Gruyere cheeses with dry white wine and Kirsch, which is a brandy made from cherries. If you can't find Kirsch, you can use another kind — your favorite brandy. Lastly, a tablespoon of cornstarch thickens everything up.

Pre cheese fondue Pre cheese fondue by John Mettraux

What to dip in fondue?

foods you can  dip in fondue

There are a ton of foods that go great with fondue, but you should have a pretty solid experience if you dip boiled or roasted potatoes, mushrooms, diced carrots, crusty French bread, cauliflower and sausages.

French lesson

Man, this is going to sound pretentious and meaningless; but bear with me. Fondue has Swiss/French origins, so there are some terms that originate from French that have a significance — most importantly, the word fondue, itself. Fondue comes from the french word fondre, which means to melt. Some other fun words:

  • coupe d’midi (shot in the middle) - it’s a swiss tradition to take a shot of Kirsch in the middle of the meal when you’re stomach is starting to feel full. Supposedly the shot rejuvenates your stomach and makes more room.
  • la religuese (the nun) - this is the toasted remains of cheese which are burned to the bottom of the pot. The origin of the term, “the nun” is definitely shrouded in mystery, but acording to one source and some google translate super sleuthing, it’s likely that it either refers to the clergymen having a history of eating leftovers and or nuns eating cheese for lunch and smuggling out the rinds in their habits so they could eat them later in private.
cheese fondueP1070148 by Michael Stillwell

Cheese fondue etiquette

For whatever reason many French foods have strict etiquette. Naturally, when you are eating in a group, from the same bowl you’ll need some direction. The following are some ground rules for you to follow to ensure you don’t offend anyone.

  1. Feel free to scrape the cheese off the bottom or sides of the pot.
  2. stir clockwise or in a figure-eight pattern to keep cheese consistently melted until done.
  3. only drink white wine, kirsch or herbal tea to prevent a stomach ache.
  4. don’t eat cheese fondue, and then chocolate fondue as a dessert.. eat acidic fruit.
  5. drip cheese back into the pot, not on table. twist fork.
  6. don’t blow on hot cheese. can make mess on table or get on someone, better to let cool on a plate.
  7. don’t dip at the same time as someone else. one at time taking turns so everyone gets a chance to dip.
  8. dont double dip.
  9. if you’re sick, you shouldn’t partake.
  10. dont touch dipping fork to lips. either use disposable forks, or transfer to plate, remove dipping for and eat with eating fork. do not let dipping fork and eating fork touch.

Wrapping up

While most people have experienced fondue in over-done sappy romantic portrayals, fondue is for everyone. In our busy lives, we all need some time to sit with our friends and family and bond over a communal cheese pot. If you don't have one, you can find some inexpensive fondue pots here.

What's your favorite food to dip? Let me know in the comments.

(Thumbnail) Cheese fondue with german Bündnerfleisch and a cornichon on top by Paul Joseph