Fondue: Cheesy Is Not Necessarily A Bad Thing

Like the highball and the divided plate, the fondue party is a swanky Seventies relic that deserves to be brought back into vogue.

Fondue is a natural party food that is best suited to small, intimate groups who won't mind duelling dippers or getting ropes of melted cheese dribbled on them. At a fondue party, everyone gets to be a chef. If all you feel like eating are apple slices dipped in caramel, there's a place for you. All meat, boiled medievally in hot oil? Perfectly acceptable.

You're limited only by the number of fondue pots you can get your hands on, but you'll need at least two for a small dinner party (8 to 10 guests). If you want to make more than two kinds of fondue you can always wash a pot in between dinner and dessert. Ask guests to dig out their old fondue pots, and scour garage sales, flea markets and secondhand stores. Or check out the new generation of fondue pots. They come in a variety of materials, shapes and colors, and bear about as much resemblance to the Seventies fondue pots as the new Beetle does to the old one.

Generally, stainless steel pots with narrow openings are better for the hot oil fondues, while the enamel and ceramic pots work well for cheese and dessert fondues. Dessert fondues will only need a candle to keep them warm, but the others will require a canned heat source such as Sterno.

Make the sauces for the meat early in the day, and have a spinach salad assembled and ready to toss. Grate the cheese, slice the bread and roast or blanch the vegetables ahead of time, so that you're free to mix a whiskey smash or a gin and tonic when your guests arrive.

Set up several pots in different spots around the room to allow people room to gather. You'll want to begin cooking the fondue on the stove and then transfer it to the fondue pot. Set up plates, ingredients for dipping, extra fondue forks or wooden skewers, regular dinner forks, plenty of napkins and small bowls for sauces and condiments.

Use this party as an opportunity to try some great cheeses. If you have access to a specialty cheese shop, ask for recommendations and tastes. Aged or smoked cheeses are well-suited to making fondue, and there are no rules against combining different kinds of cheeses. The important thing to remember when making cheese fondue is to keep the heat low and not over-cook the cheese, which can make it stringy and tough. To maintain an even temperature, add the cheese a handful at a time and stir until it melts completely before adding the next handful.   

Dippers for cheese fondue might include chunks of toasted levain, rye or country-style bread, or crusty breads flavored with herbs or nuts; blanched asparagus, roasted tomatoes, leaves of endive or radicchio, roasted shallots and raw vegetables. For beef fondue, make a variety of sauces like anchovy mayonnaise, Roquefort dip and mustard sauce for dipping the cooked meat, and serve pickles, radishes, olives and thinly sliced onions on the side.

Some good choices for dipping in dessert fondues like milk chocolate or espresso caramel include pound cake or angel food cake cut into cubes: strawberries, orange sections, broken chocolate bars, fresh pineapple chunks, banana and apple slices, marshmallows, graham crackers and shortbread cookies.

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