This warm cheese dish originated in Switzerland and more specifically in the Canton of Neuchatel. The dish consists of at least two varieties of cheeses that are melted with wine and a bit of flour and served communally out of pot called a "caquelon". Long forks are used by each guest to spear a cube of bread then the bread is dipped into the cheese and eaten.
Fondue dates back to the 18th century when both cheese and wine were important industries in Switzerland. The simple to prepare meal utilized ingredients that were found in most average homes.
Each component of a traditional Swiss fondue plays an import role. Most recipes we see for "traditional" Swiss style fondue are a combination of two cheeses, Gruyere and Emmenthaler. These two cheeses are combined because either cheese alone would produce either a mixture that was too sharp or too bland. The cheeses are most commonly melted in a dry white wine which helps to keep the cheese from the direct heat as it melts as well as to add flavor. The Kirsch (a clear cherry brandy) was added if the cheese itself was too young to produce the desired tartness. The garlic was for additional flavoring while the flour or cornstarch assists in keeping the cheese from separating. In fact each canton in Switzerland has their own "traditional" style fondue.
The traditional fondue pot is called a "caquelon" or "câclon" and is made of a heavy earthenware. The image above is a traditional caquelon. Other variations include glazed ceramic or enameled iron. All variations are heavy to help promote even heat distribution and heat retention. The fondue is heated on your cooktop in the caquelon over low to medium heat then transferred to the table and placed over an alcohol burner or a hot plate.
Given Fondue is a "communal" meal there are a few basic guidelines to follow. To eat cheese fondue spear a piece of bread using a fondue fork and dip it into the pot. Twirl the bread cube gently in the cheese to coat it. You'll want to let the bread drip a bit before you put it in your mouth. This will allow the excess to drip back in the pot and also allow time for cooling. When you put the bread in your mouth try not to touch the fork with your lips or tongue because the fork does go back in the pot. Alternately you can use a dining fork to slide the bread off the fondue fork then eat it with the 2nd fork. This is probably more cumbersome than necessary.
To eat meat fondue, spear a piece of meat and plunge it in the hot oil. Allow it to sit until the meat is cooked to your liking. Remove the fork and place it on your plate. Use your dining fork to slide the meat off the fondue fork. Then use your regular fork to dip the meat in the sauce as desired. Then eat using your regular dining fork.
A baguette works very well although any crusty French or Italian style breads will do. When you slice the bread make sure that each piece includes a bit of the crust. This crust helps keep the bread on the fork after it is placed in the cheese.
Raclette is actually cheese from Switzerland made from cow’s milk and is slightly nutty in flavor, similar to gruyère. Raclette, the dish is served tableside. It is a large half or whole wheel of cheese, exposed to heat and and scraped off as it melts. The word raclette comes from racler , French for "to scrape." The dish is served as a meal with boiled potatoes, dark bread and cornichons (pickles). Read complete article about Raclette.
Little is needed in the way of special tools for preparing and serving fondue.
Most fondue pots come with a tray, a container for an alcohol or a "canned heat" product such as Sterno, a stand, and a pot. The canned heat container should include a "diffuser" so you can adjust the amount of heat by closing or opening the heat source.
Fondue with new butane fuel source. There have not been many advances in fondue fuel systems until the invention of the butane fondue burner. Currently hard to find but makes an excellent choice for meat or cheese fondues.
Cheese and Dessert Fondues
The traditional caquelon, or earthenware pot is a good choice for cheese and dessert fondues. The heavy pot is wide and shallow which promotes heat retention and distribution.
Hot Oil or Broth Fondue
Select a pot that is deep and sits on a stable stand. Some of the fondue pots can be top heavy which is particularly dangerous when cooking with hot oil. A pot made of enameled iron is a good choice. The pot should be heavy and stable and the interior smooth for easy cleanup.
The only other fondue necessity is the fondue fork. The forks are long with two serrated tines for spearing food. Each has a heat resistant handle such as wood or plastic. Frequently the forks have color coded tips so diners can easily keep track of their utensils. Bamboo skewers make a good substitute.