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The Art of Fondue
The History of Fondue
Fondue, a delicacy now, was at one time a peasant's dish, a way of using up cheese that had grown hard. The word "fondue" comes from the French word fondre, to melt.
The essay "La Fondue Comme Repas" (Fondue as a Meal) put out by the Living Traditions section of the Federal Office of Culture details the origins of fondue, Swiss-style. The earliest mention of fondue comes from 1699's Kockbuck der Anna Margaretha Gessner via 1962's Albert Hauser Vom Essen und Trinken im alten Zürich. The cookbook describes a method for melting cheese in wine. This recipe certainly sounds like modern-day cheese fondue.
It wasn't until the nineteenth century that fondue became a regular addition to cooking literature. In 1825, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published a fondue recipe in his book Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante. This particular recipe uses eggs, however, and sounds less like the modern cheese fondue than the 1699 version. Antoine Gogué's 1856 recipe mirrors Brillat-Savarin's, a dish of scrambled eggs with cheese. In the eighteenth century, Brillat-Savarin's recipe was copied by others as well. However, Joseph Favre described a typically Swiss version of fondue called "The Vacherin," in 1894, calling it at the time "raclette fondue Vacherin."
A recipe for cheese fondue that resembles the dish today came more than two centuries after the original. In 1927 Madame Saint-Ange published an eggless fondue recipe in La Bonne Cuisine. Fondues – this time chocolate as well as cheese – became a popular dish for dinner parties starting in the 1950s. At this time the dish became popular in the United States.
Cheese for Fondue
Making Cheese Fondue
The method for making fondue is almost always the same regardless of the type:
- Shred the cheese; coat with corn starch.
- Season fondue pot with garlic clove.
- Heat liquid until just boiling.
- Add shredded cheese a little at a time, stirring to melt.
- Season as desired.
How to Make Swiss Cheese Fondue
Types of Fondue
Concerning cheese fondue, the Swiss, naturally, promote the cheeses from their country. The best-known cheese fondue is a mixture of Gruyère and Vacherin. A lighter version of this is made from Vacherin Fribourgeois, a lighter, creamier cheese. Traditional dippers for a cheese fondue include cubes of dry bread, lightly steamed vegetables, apple chunks, boiled potatoes, and cubes of cured meat such as ham or salami.
Chocolate fondue is a baby to the culinary scene. John F. Mariani wrote in The Dictionary of American Food and Drink the owner of the Chalet Swiss Restaurant in New York City, Konrad Egli, devised chocolate fondue in the 1960s. Egli noticed that some people, probably conscious of their diet, avoided his rich chocolate desserts. So, he concocted a form of liquid chocolate into which diners could dip small pieces of sweet-ready food such as fruit or pieces of cake. Chocolate fondue made its debut on July 4, 1964.
FondueBourguignonne, or meat fondue, is only a little older than chocolate fondue. Chalet Swiss Restaurant's Egli created this version as well in 1952. At that time, he introduced the idea of cooking cubes of meat in hot oil, fondue-style. Today, broth often replaces the hot oil, lending new flavors to the meat.
In addition, cooks may marinate the meat ahead of time. These are usually cooked in the FondueBourguignonne, the hot oil style. When cooking everything except beef, diners should keep the meat in the hot oil or broth until cooked through, between 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat. Throw a few raw vegetables into the oil or broth while waiting for the meat to cook.
Try Pumpkin Fondue
Lite Pumpkin Fondue for Two: Pumpkin fondue is a trendy favorite -- full of fat and for crowds.
Minimize the portions and cut some of the fat to make a delicious
pumpkin fondue for two.
Variations of Cheese Fondue
Similar to a French gastrique or Béchamel, cooks can take the standard fondue form and add infusions or additional ingredients to create new dishes.
- Three cheese: Add aged cheddar or another hard cheese to the traditional Gruyère and Vacherin or Emmenthaler.
- Cheddar Cheese Fondue: Mix Emmenthaler, aged cheddar, and beer instead of wine. This recipe comes from The Melting Pot.
- Pumpkin Fondue: Layer traditional fondue ingredients in a pumpkin and bake for an hour.
- American: Substitute cheddar, Monterey Jack, and blue cheese for the traditional varieties. Mix with wine.
- Dutch: Melt Gouda with beer and brandy; season with nutmeg.
- Italian: Mix Fontina and Taleggio cheeses or other hard Italian cheeses. Add crushed tomatoes, basil, and garlic.
- Mexican: Melt aged sharp cheddar with Emmenthaler and salsa; add chiles for additional heat and substitute beer for wine.
Fondue's History in Literature
Kockbuck der Anna Margaretha Gessner
Albert Hauser, 1962
Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Les Secrets de la Cuisine Française
Dictionnaire Universel de Cuisine
La Bonne Cuisine
Different broths can be used in place of hot oil.
- Beef broth: Beef stock, water, red wine seasoned with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf.
- Lamb broth: Replace the beef stock with lamb stock. Add cumin, chili powder, and a minced tomato instead of the bay leaf.
- Pork Broth: Replace the beef stock with pork stock in the lamb broth; use white wine instead of red.
- Chicken Broth: Chicken stock and water seasoned with onion, garlic, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Vegetarian: Vegetable stock seasoned with green onions, onion, ginger, garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, salt, and pepper.
- Seafood: Fish broth and white wine seasoned with celery, carrot, onion, lemon, tomatoes, garlic, bay, tarragon, salt, and pepper. A paste is also made out of crab and shrimp.
- Coq au Vin Broth: Chicken broth and dry red wine seasoned with green onions, garlic, mushrooms, bay, thyme, marjoram, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Mushroom: Vegetable broth blended with cream and flavored with mushrooms, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.
Fondue in Art
Marinades add to the variety of meat fondue.
- Asian Teriyaki Beef: Beef strips marinated in soy sauce and peanut oil seasoned with garlic, ginger, honey, and sugar.
- Lamb Fondue: Lamb cubes marinated in olive oil and garlic; lamb broth is often used as the cooking method.
- Korean Chicken: Thin strips of chicken marinated in soy sauce and peanut oil seasoned with ginger, garlic, green onions, sugar, and toasted sesame seeds.
- Mexican Beef Meatballs: Meatballs made of ground beef, salsa, and bread crumbs seasoned with garlic, cilantro, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
- Pork Meatballs: Meatballs made of ground pork, an egg, and bread crumbs seasoned with ginger, green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper. The meatballs can be cooked either in hot oil or the pork broth.
To add to the varieties, cooks can create batters for before frying and dips for after. The oil for the batters needs to be very hot, or the oil simply soaks into the batter and makes a gummy mess.
- Beer Batter: Egg, flour, salt, and, of course, beer.
- Tempura: Corn starch, four, water, egg, salt, and pepper.
- Honey Mustard: Honey, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. This dip complements chicken or beef.
- Garlic Lemon Dip: Mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. This dip goes well with chicken, seafood, and vegetables.
- Hollandaise: Butter, lemon juice, water, salt, egg yolks, salt, and pepper. Hollandaise complements chicken, seafood, and vegetables, though it would work on beef.
- Bearnaise Dip: Dry white wine, tarragon, green onions, parsley, thyme, egg yolks, butter, salt, and pepper. This sauce works well with white meat, chicken, pork, or seafood.
Which type of fondue do you like best?
Chocolate fondue traditionally consists of heavy cream, bittersweet chocolate, and vanilla. As with cheese fondue, variations abound.
- Liqueur: Substitute sweet liqueur such as Frangelico, cherry brandy, or Kahlua for the vanilla.
- Espresso-Chocolate: Add espresso powder to dark chocolate fondue.
- White Chocolate: Use white chocolate instead of bittersweet. This one is especially good with peppermint liqueur replacing the vanilla.
- Heath: Add chopped up toffee pieces to milk chocolate fondue.
- Reece's: Melt together milk chocolate and milk; add peanut butter.
- Mounds: Add coconut to milk chocolate fondue; substitute coconut liqueur for vanilla.
- Fudge: Melt together butter, cocoa, sugar, cream, and vanilla.
Tips, Tidbits, and Techniques to Improve the Fondue Experience
When making cheese fondue, use an enameled pot. Make sure to liberally coat shredded cheese with corn starch. Deviating from either – or both – of these recommendations will result in cheese lumps instead of the expected creamy consistency. (True story!)
Concerning drinks, a good rule of thumb is to serve the same wine or beer that served as the base for the cheese fondue. Any crisp, clean-tasting beverage such as mint tea or light, sparkling cocktails will suffice: the cheese serves as a rich dish.
When dipping in a cheese or chocolate fondue, swirl the dipper around to aid in the mixing process.
Especially when serving meat fondue, during which guests will be leaving their forks in the pot for some minutes, use color-coded utensils.
For any fondue, diners should remove the dipper from the fondue fork to a provided plate, then use a separate dining fork to transport the food to their mouths. In this way, diners avoid the dreaded double-dipping phenomenon common at parties. In addition, it gives the food a few seconds to cool down, thereby preventing a burned tongue.
The Swiss Culture Office recommends enjoying fondue in a "mountain chalet" (obviously in Switzerland!) with good company. Be careful of the company, though: tradition states that, if a dipper falls off a woman's fork, she must kiss a man to her left; a man in similar circumstances must buy the next round of drinks.
The Melting Pot is a popular chain restaurant for enjoying fondue. This restaurant includes ala carte dishes as well as a 4-course "experience" (A cheese, meat, and chocolate fondue with a salad as the second course) for $68-$78 for two. La Fondue is a local Denver restaurant also specializing in the Swiss specialty. La Fondue offers a similar 4-course meal as The Melting Pot for about the same prices.
For fondue on the cheap, grocery stores from Safeway to Whole Foods to specialty stores like Marczyk Fine Foods offer pre-made cheese fondues. These come in a foil packet. Cooks merely need to warm the contents up in a fondue pot, though I usually still season my pot with garlic, add a little extra wine, and sprinkle Hungarian paprika over the top for a personalized dish.
The Fondue Pot
The fondue pot as we know it dates to the mid 20th century. It is now a standard piece of equipment in most Swiss households. In fact, guests commonly give a fondue pot as a wedding or house-warming gift. Fondue pots are also common in rental cabins, chalets, and other house-keeping rentals.
The pottery of Bonfol, in the canton of Jura, dominated the Swiss market for fondue pots until 1957. Now, the more common model is enameled steel or a cast iron pot.
A fondue set usually includes several items. Naturally the pot is the center. It often includes a ring with indentations for resting forks in. The pot is meant to sit on a frame that suspends it over a heat source. For chocolate the heat source can be as little as a candle. For meat fondue, one of the new electric set-ups might be advisable to keep the oil or broth boiling. I have one of the set-ups standard to 1960s and 1970s parties: a heat source in the style of a Bunsen burner. I have to add a flammable gel especially for the burner before attempting to alight it. It keeps my cheese fondues very well-heated; in fact, I usually have to extinguish the fire with the accessory extinguisher.
As evidenced by the photos, fondue pots are a popular item at mid-century antique stores. Shoppers can find something as simple as the pot itself, or an elaborate set complete with lazy susan, bowls for dipping sauce, and color-coordinated forks and spoons.
© 2013 Nadia Archuleta