What Is Fondue? Here Are the Basics You Need to Know.

What is fondue? For most, the word evokes the 1970s, when Fondue, the melted, gooey, cheesy treat, was the king of party foods. While that might have been its heyday, fondue has a rich history of use that goes back hundreds of years, and it continues to be popular to this day. With a history dating back to the late 17th century and the modern reemergence of its popularity, fondue might just be something you want to serve at your next party. This article will answer the question, "What is fondue?" and provide you with all the basics you will need to know if you want to try it yourself.

What Is Fondue?

So what is fondue? Fondue is basically a cheese sauce traditionally made with white wine and the Swiss cheeses of Emmental and Gruyere, but these days, people use many different cheeses in their fondue recipes. The cheese sauce is kept warm in a special fondue pot, and diners use long forks to dip small pieces of bread, meat, vegetables, and other foods into the fondue pot before eating them. The communal aspect of the experience is what made fondue the party food of the 70s, and it continues to appeal to many people around the world.

There can be a lot of variety with fondue. The choices of cheese can be changed depending on your taste, and while cheese fondue is the traditional version and what usually comes to mind when someone asks "What is fondue?" there is also dessert fondue where a chocolate sauce is made in place of the cheese. For this fondue, diners dip fruit, cakes, and other sweets into a creamy milk, white, or flavored chocolate sauce for a more decadent after dinner treat. So remember, while this article is specific to cheese fondue, don't be afraid to experiment with others.

The Basics You Need to Know

fruits and crackers with fondue

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Here we present a basic fondue recipe to make a traditional Swiss fondue and take a look at basic fondue pots. After that, we will look to different ideas for things to dip in your fondue, and then move on to changing the recipe of your fondue cheese sauce.

Fondue Pots

rose gold copper fondue pot

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As fondue is typically a party food, it usually needs to be accessible to all those at the party. Fondue pots are usually placed in the center of the table over a heat source to keep the pot simmering, and they are made of either ceramic or metal. Ceramic pots are more traditional and are good for cheese and chocolate fondue that don't need to be at high temperatures. Metal fondue pots, however, can reach much higher temperatures.

To make fondue without a fondue pot, a saucepan on a hot plate or chafing dish could work, thought the long forks for dipping the items into the fondue are harder to substitute. There are many inexpensive fondue sets on the market, so if fondue becomes a regular dish for you, investing in a fondue set is the best option.

Traditional Swiss Fondue

Swiss fondue in a pot while still on a portable stove

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Finally, the answer to the question "What is fondue?" gets to the traditional fondue recipe. To make a traditional Swiss fondue you will need a garlic clove, a pound of Gruyere cheese, a half pound of Emmentaler cheese, a cup of white wine, a tablespoon of cornstarch, a teaspoon of lemon juice, a splash of Kirsch cherry brandy, and freshly ground pepper and nutmeg to taste.

To start, cut the clove of garlic in half and rub the inside of the fondue pot with the cut end of the garlic. Grate the cheese and then add it to the fondue pot with the white wine, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Cook over moderate heat until the cheese melts, and once the cheese has melted into a sauce with the other ingredients, add the splash of Kirsch brandy and spices to taste, then continue to stir until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

What to Dip in Your Fondue

chips and cheese fondue at the table

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The traditional fondue dipper is bread cut into bite-sized pieces. While there is nothing wrong with dipping bread and your fondue, today there are a multitude of other possible dipping suggestions. These can include meats such as cooked ham, cooked chicken, cooked sausage, and even cooked seafood. Fresh vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli can be served raw, but tougher vegetables, such as potatoes, must be cooked first. Pretty much anything you can cut into bite-size pieces and goes well with the cheeses can be used as a fondue dipper.

When preparing your plate of dipping accompaniments, cut them into bite-sized pieces, as there should be no double dipping the same piece into the fondue pot. It is also important to make sure that the pieces will not fall off into the fondue pot. This is a breach of fondue etiquette, and it's tradition that the person who loses food in the fondue pot has to buy the rest of the table a round of drinks.

With bread, using day-old bread usually works better than fresh bread in fondue, and crusty bread works better than soft bread. Some favorite breads for fondue include Italian bread, sourdough, and rye. Lightly toasting the bread beforehand can firm up fresh bread and add texture. For a less traditional fondue, crackers, chips, and other snack foods can be dipped directly into the fondue pot without the use of a fork.

If dipping meat into your fondue, only use precooked meats, as the heat of the melted fondue cheese will not be hot enough to cook meats to a safe temperature. There is a different, higher temperature fondue called Fondue Bourguignon that uses very hot oil to cook bite-sized pieces of raw meat and chicken, but cheese fondue cannot properly cook meats. Sausages make excellent dippers for fondue, and they come in a variety of flavors that will complement any cheese choice.

As for vegetables and fruits, make sure not to overcook vegetable so they are too soft, because overcooked produce won't stay on the fork. For both cooked and raw produce, washing them beforehand will help the fondue cheese sauce stick to them. Also, don't forget about including dried fruits, like figs, in your fondue spread, and pickled items are also popular.

Experimenting with Different Cheeses and Liquids

assorted foods with cheese fondue

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Once you've mastered the basic fondue, you will probably want to experiment with recipes that feature different cheeses and liquids. Perhaps you're not the biggest fan of Swiss cheese or you'd prefer a nonalcoholic fondue. There are plenty of recipes that use different cheeses and replace the white wine and sherry brandy with a nonalcoholic liquid. The possibilities are almost endless, but here we offer a few tips for producing a great fondue.

The traditional fondue uses a combination of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheese. The Emmentaller has much less flavor, but it is creamy and melts easily, while the Gruyere has a stronger flavor that adds a punch to the fondue. When deciding on different cheese combinations, choose cheeses that complement each other in a similar way as the Emmantaller and Gruyere combination.

For example, use a pound of medium cheddar instead of the Emmentaller and then a half pound of extra sharp cheddar instead of the Gruyere to make a dynamic cheddar fondue that is neither too mild nor too overpowering with the sharpness of the aged cheddar. Gouda is another popular choice for fondue. Using a mixture of aged gouda with a fresh gouda will create a creamy fondue that will keep guests coming back for more. Don't be afraid to experiment with different cheese combinations. Adding a small amount of blue cheese added to a medium cheddar will create a tasty fondue that's a little different.

White wine is the traditional liquid base for making fondue sauce, and for good reason. Tart white wines contain tartaric acid, which helps make the fondue sauce smooth. If you are using white wine in your fondue, it is best to go mid-shelf, as the cheaper wines have off flavors that will sour your sauce, and since you're adding cheeses to the mixture, the more expensive wines are wasted being used in fondue.

That being said, other liquids can serve the same purpose. In a pinch, even water will do, but water won't offer any additional flavor like other liquid options. Beer is a good choice for cheddar cheese fondue, and a splash of lime or lemon juice will add enough acid to make the fondue as smooth as if made with white wine. For a nonalcoholic fondue, a savory stock is a possibility, as is milk or a combination of the two. It's important to add a bit of acid to these recipes, so don't be afraid to double up on the lemon juice.

Conclusion

Now that you know the answer to the question "What is fondue?" it's time to try it yourself. Whether you make the more traditional Swiss fondue, a dessert fondue, or a sauce of your own, follow the tips we covered here to make sure that your fondue party is a hit!

Featured Photo by angela pham on Unsplash

Antonia Heath
 

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