Here’s how to make one of the world’s best celebration foods, including the best melting cheeses to use and the basic gear you’ll need.
Fondue, derived from the French word fondre, meaning “to melt” is said to have originated in the French and Swiss regions of the Alps in the 1800s. The melted cheese dish was born out of necessity, a way to use aged cheese and stale bread to feed a family inexpensively during winter months when fresh food wasn’t readily available. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) campaigned to make fondue the national dish of Switzerland. Since then, the popular pot of melted cheese and accompanying dippers has transformed into a celebratory dinner party centerpiece, date night activity, and a special menu item at restaurants around the world — especially in winter.
The best cheese for fondue
“There is hardly anything better than hot cheese,” says 2023 F&W Best New Chef Amanda Shulman, chef-owner of Her Place in Philadelphia, who serves a fondue-filled acorn squash that makes for a stunning and playful presentation. Fondue is typically made using a combination of nutty and buttery Alpine cheeses such as Gruyère, Emmenthaler, Comte, Appenzeller, or Raclette. To cut the richness of the cheese and add a boost of flavor, many fondue recipes call for a splash of kirsch, brandy, or cognac.
Always freshly grate your own cheese for fondue. Supermarket packages of pre-shredded cheese contain anti-caking agents which affect melting. If desired, toss the cheese with a bit of cornstarch. This binder acts as extra insurance to prevent broken, grainy fondue. Also, be sure to keep the heat low and gradually add the cheese to the pot while stirring constantly. A figure-eight stirring motion with a wooden spoon works well for evenly incorporating the cheese and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching.
What to serve with cheese fondue
The dipping options for fondue are endlessly customizable. Raw crudités like carrots, radishes, and endive leaves or cooked vegetables like roasted brussels sprouts, blanched broccoli, or steamed green beans pair well with gooey cheese. Cubes of crusty bread are a classic dipper, but you can also get creative with it and try soft pretzel bites, focaccia, or caraway croutons like in this Gouda fondue from 1996 F&W Best New Chef Barbara Lynch. For a bit of crunch, try sliced apples, pears, or cornichons. Poached shrimp, bites of cooked filet mignon, or small rolls of prosciutto also work well as fondue dippers. Just remember, no double dipping! If you drop a morsel into the vat of cheese, use a clean fork to fish it out.
How to serve fondue
Here are the tools or gear you'll need, from a proper pot to utensils.
A small enamel-lined Dutch oven with a heavy-bottom works great for evenly distributing heat and melting cheese. Even if you’re planning to serve in a fondue pot, it’s best to melt the cheese in a Dutch oven to ensure consistent and moderate heat.
While this specialty pot isn’t essential, it helps to keep the cheese warm and melty while serving. Fondue pots have a small heat source, typically an electric or gel burner, below the base of the pot.
Long, thin fondue forks are ideal for piercing dippers and dragging them through the cheese. The handles are designed to catch on the edge of the pot to prevent the forks from sliding into the fondue.
This dessert version consists of a pot of melted chocolate served with dippers like marshmallows, pretzels, and strawberries. Similarly to cheese fondue, use a heavy-bottomed pot, keep the heat low, and stir often to prevent the chocolate from overheating and breaking. Bittersweet chocolate works best. Opt for chopped bars or feves, not chips, for smooth melting and a silky, sweet dessert.
Classic Swiss Cheese Fondue
This concoction of melted cheese is a decadent way to celebrate chilly winter nights. It features melted Gruyère along with other Swiss cheeses. Emmentaler, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Appenzeller, and Raclette are blended in, depending on the region and personal preferences. Splashes of kirsch and wine and a bit of garlic are the traditional seasonings, and the recipe recommends accompaniments.
Acorn Squash Fondue
2023 F&W Best New Chef Amanda Shulman's melty, gooey, cheese fondue served in an edible squash vessel is the ticket to impressing guests at your next dinner party.
Spiced Chocolate Fondue
Chocolate fondue is a fantastic dessert to serve at the end of a dinner or cocktail party, especially when you want to offer something interactive for your guests.
Aged Gouda Fondue with Caraway Croutons
1996 F&W Best Chef Barbara Lynch suggests buying a salty eight-month-aged Gouda for her 30-minute fondue recipe.
Classic Cheese Fondue
Chef Ryan Hardy makes his luxurious fondue with two kinds of Swiss cheese (Emmentaler and Gruyère) and two kinds of spirits (white wine and Kirsch), all traditional ingredients. Some of the dipping items are also classic, like cubes of crusty bread and pickles.
The Stinker Cheese Fondue
This fondue made with Taleggio, a melty, brine-washed Italian cheese, is cookbook author Liz Thorpe's favorite. Including its rind enhances the funkiness and adds an almost bacony flavor. Use a floral, dry Riesling in this fondue. The aromatic wine will offset the salty funkiness of the cheese (and make a great pairing).
Gouda, Pancetta and Onion Fondue with Pretzels
Artisan cheese expert and author Laura Werlin was inspired by Leyden, a Dutch cheese flecked with cumin seeds, to create this cumin-spiced Gouda fondue. Serve it with soft, warm pretzels or pickled vegetables for dipping.
Dark Chocolate Fondue
Evi Abeler offers permission to start your day with a decadent chocolate fondue breakfast rather than wait for dessert. Dip a chunk of artisanal bread for an instant pain au chocolat.
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