is a Swiss
communal dish shared at the table in an earthenware
) over a small burner (rechaud
). The term is derived from the French fondre
), in the past tense fondu
Diners use forks to dip bits of food (most often bread) into the warm semi-liquid sauce (commonly a cheese mix). Heat is supplied by a wicked or gel alcohol burner, or a tealight.
While cheese fondue is the most widely known, there are other pot and dipping ingredients.
A recipe for a sauce made from Pramnos wine
, grated goat's cheese
and white flour
appears in Scroll 11 (lines 629-645) of Homer
and has been cited as the earliest record of a fondue.
Swiss communal fondue arose many centuries ago as a result of food preservation methods. The Swiss food staples bread and raclette-like cheese made in summer and fall were meant to last throughout the winter months. The bread aged, dried out and became so tough it was sometimes chopped with an axe. The stored cheese also became very hard, but when mixed with wine and heated it softened into a thick sauce. During Switzerland's long, cold winters some families and extended groups would gather about a large pot of cheese set over the fire and dip wood-hard bits of bread which quickly became edible.
Modern fondue originated during the 18th century in the canton of Neuchâtel. As Switzerland industrialized, wine and cheese producers encouraged the dish's popularity. By the 20th century many Swiss cantons and even towns had their own local varieties and recipes based on locally available cheeses, wines and other ingredients. During the 1950s a slowing cheese industry in Switzerland widely promoted fondue since one person could easily eat half a pound of melted cheese in one sitting. In 1955 the first pre-mixed "instant" fondue was brought to market. Fondue became very popular in the United States during the mid-1960s after American tourists discovered it in Switzerland.
There are many kinds of fondue, each made with a different blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning, mostly depending on where it is made. The caquelon is first rubbed with a cut garlic clove, then wine and cheese slowly added until melted. A small amount of potato starch (or corn starch, cornflour or flour) is added to prevent separation and the fondue is almost always further diluted with either kirsch, beer, black tea, and/or white wine. The most common recipe calls for 1 dl (100 ml) of dry white wine per person and a 200 g mix of hard (such as Gruyère) and semi-hard (such as Emmental, Vacherin or raclette) cheeses: The mixture must be stirred continuously as it heats in the caquelon. Crusty bread is cut into cubes which are then speared on a fondue fork and dipped into the melted cheese.
Temperature and la religieuse
A cheese fondue mixture should be held at a temperature
warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot as to allow any burning. If this temperature is held until the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted (not burnt) cheese at the bottom of the caquelon
. This is called la religieuse
(French for the nun
, more or less). It has the texture of a thin cracker
and is almost always lifted out and eaten.
- Neuchâteloise: Gruyère and emmental.
- Moitié-moitié (or half 'n half): Gruyère and Fribourg vacherin.
- Vaudoise: Gruyère.
- Fribourgeoise: Fribourg vacherin wherein potatoes are often dipped instead of bread.
- Fondue de Suisse centrale: Gruyère, Emmental and sbrinz.
- Appenzeller: Appenzeller cheese with cream added.
- Tomato: Gruyère, Emmental, crushed tomatoes and wine.
- Spicy: Gruyère, red and green peppers, with chili.
- Mushroom: Gruyère, Fribourg vacherin and mushrooms.
- Bourguignonne: During the late middle ages as grapes ripened in the vineyards of Burgundy a quick harvest was needed and the noontime meal was often skipped. Johann du Putzxe was a monk who made a kind of fast food by dunking pieces of meat into hot oil. The Swiss later adapted this as a variety of fondue. The pot is filled with oil (or butter) and brought to simmer. Each person spears small cubes of beef or horse meat with a long, narrow fondue fork and fries them in the pot. An assortment of sauces and sometimes a further cheese fondue are provided for dipping.
- Bressane: Small cubes of chicken breast are dipped in cream, then in fine bread crumbs and at last deep fried, as with a bourguignonne.
- Court Bouillon (or Chinoise): A Swiss traveling in China ate a dish called Chrysanthemum which was dunk-cooked in a pot of bouillon. Fondues based on this became popular when he returned to Switzerland. The diner dips rolled shaved meat (traditionally beef) into a simmering broth. As with a bourguignonne, dipping sauces are served. This dish is still somewhat like a Chinese hot pot (huoguo in Chinese, or steamboat, which is popular across Asia). At meal's end the much flavoured broth may be served to the participants, with or without sherry wine.
Refrigerated fondue blends are sold in most Swiss supermarkets and need little more than melting in the caquelon. Individual portions heatable in a microwave oven
are also sold.
Dessert fondue recipes began appearing in the 1960s. Slices of fruit
are dipped in a caquelon of melted chocolate
. Other dessert fondues can include coconut
As with other communal dishes fondue has an etiquette
which can be both helpful and fun. Most often, allowing one's tongue or lips to touch the dipping fork will be thought of as rude. With meat fondues one should use a dinner fork to take meat off the dipping fork. A "no double-dip
" rule also has sway: After a dipped morsel has been tasted it should never be returned to the pot. In longstanding Swiss tradition if a nugget of bread is lost in the cheese by a man he buys a bottle of wine and if such a thing happens to befall a woman she kisses the man on her left. Lately, rather more humorous twists on this have shown up in Switzerland such as young diners diving into the snow whilst clad only in underwear.
In Switzerland sometimes children fight over the burnt cheese at the bottom.
Those who succeed in following the etiquette of fondue can share the cheese cracker-like la religieuse left at the bottom of the emptied caquelon.
References and notes