Fondue

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Fondue History

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.

The Swiss Tradition

cheese fondue in a traditional earthenware potEach 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 Pot (Caquelon)

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.

Etiquette

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.

The Bread

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.

Other Fondue Styles

Broth or Bouillon

Another style of fondue is a simple vegetable broth or bouillon. This makes a lighter, less caloric meal than the cheese or hot oil versions. Potatoes as well as other vegetables or small bits of seafood are cooked in the simmering pot of broth.

Dessert Fondue

Dessert fondues became very popular in the 1970's. Chocolate fondue was a favorite used for dipping ripe fruits such as bananas, strawberries, and tangerines. Some recipes suggest dipping some cubes of angel food cake as well. Other dessert fondues include caramel, coconut and marshmallow.

Fonduta

Fonduta is an Italian dish similar to Fondue made with Fontina cheese and egg yolks.

Fondue Bourguignonne

Also referred to as Beef Fondue. A mixture of half butter and half cooking oil is combined and heated in a cast iron or enamel fondue pot. Small pieces of lean meat and vegetables are speared and cooked in the hot oil. It is particularly important to use a stable fondue pot for this type of fondue.

Bagna Cauda

This is a wonderful dish from the Piedmonte region of Italy. The name comes from bagno caldo which means "hot bath". It is made by combining butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. The mixture is heated and guests use wooden skewers or fondue forks to spear a variety of fresh vegetables which are dipped and warmed.

KaasDoop

This is a Dutch dish (cheese dip) similar to the Italian style fondue (fonduta).

Raclette

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.

Preparation And Serving Tools

Little is needed in the way of special tools for preparing and serving fondue.

bon jour fondue pot with butane fuel sourcePot Basics

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.

Fondue Forks 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.

Fondue Pot Fuel There are three basic types of fuel used for most fondue sets. Sterno, alcohol, and tea lights. Read more..

Fondue Cooking And Serving Tips

  • Keep the fondue warm over as low heat as possible to avoid scorching the cheese, or overheating the oil.
  • Make sure your recipe includes a bit of corn starch, all purpose or potato flour. The starch in the flour helps to keep the cheese in suspension which keeps the fondue from separating.
  • Adding a small amount of lemon juice to the wine increases acidity which in turn helps to break up the cheese.
  • When you add the cheese to the simmering wine, stir in a zig zag rather than circular motion to help break up the cheese.

Regional Fondue Variations

The Swiss offer some specific fondue styles specific to the region.  Typically the variation is the type of cheese, or even the wine or beverage served alongside.

Fribourg

The fondue from this region combines Gruyere with Vacherin a Fondue.  The wine and Kirsch is only added if the cheese is not fully ripened.  When the wine is not used, guests dip their bread in plum schnapps, then into the fondue.

Geneva

It is common to use three cheeses, Gruyere, Emmental and Walliser Bergkase.  A regional addition may include chopped morel mushrooms.

Glarus

First a roux is made of butter, flour and milk is made and Gruyere and Schabzieger cheeses are added.

Eastern Switzerland

Appenzeller and Vacherin a Fondue are the cheeses of choice combined with a dry cider.

Vaud

The locals roast and chop garlic then combine with Gruyere cheese.

Neuchatel

A combination of two thirds Gruyere and one third Emmental, or a half and half version with Neuchatel wine.

Sources And Credits

Top image of fondue pot: Fondue in a "caquelon" Culinaria, 1995-2000 Konemann
author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.