Cheese fondue is one of the great winter comfort foods. For a party or date night, know what to dip in—and what to serve with—cheese fondue.
Cheese fondue is the national dish of Switzerland…which makes sense, since that nation is a virtual “melting pot” of German, French and Italian culture. It’s also home to a number of classic alpine-style cheeses with origins in those cultures, and those cheeses simply love to commingle—in an actual pot—for our enjoyment.
The word “fondue” is derived from the French word fondre (“to melt”), and was originally a peasant dish that traditionally used leftover pieces of cheese and old bread along with wine and spices. As delicious as cheese fondue is, the melted cheese craze didn’t gain popularity in America until the 1960s, when fondue parties became an acceptable alternative to formal dinners.
In Switzerland, fondue is typically served as the main dish—not as a first course or appetizer. It is plenty hearty, especially if you serve a variety of breads, vegetables and fruits as cheese fondue dippers.
Cheese Fondue Recipes and Techniques
Cheese fondue is very easy to make because it only has a few ingredients. In this video, Swiss chef Heinrich Rapp of the Culinary Institute of America demonstrates the classic way to prepare a savory fondue.
Alpine-style cheeses such as Fontina, Gruyère and Emmentaler are styles that are traditionally used for a real Swiss cheese fondue. You can find a Swiss fondue blend offered by a specialty retailer, or you can create your own blend—experimenting is part of the fun! Always make sure the cheeses are shredded before adding them to the pot so they melt quickly and evenly. Melting the cheese takes time: add a small handful at a time, allowing each addition to melt fully.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has several cheese fondue recipes to check out, as Wisconsin is home to many Swiss-style cheesemakers.
Beer Cheese Fondue?
Sure! While classic fondue is made with white wine (more on that later), it can also be made with beer. A light, pilsner-style lager is perfect with Swiss cheese in this recipe for dunking pretzels, or try this version with real Wisconsin cheddar.
Fondue pots are sold just about everywhere kitchen cookware is sold. The benefit of using a pot designed specifically for cheese fondue is that its design aids melting, it comes with adorable fondue forks, and it has a heat source (votive candles or a fuel gel such as Sterno) that keeps the pot warm but not too hot so the cheese fondue stays melty while you’re eating it. Electric fondue pots eliminate the need to replace the candle or fuel gel. Of course, you can melt cheese in a regular pot over the stove, but you might have to reheat it a few times while you’re serving the fondue.
What to Dip in Cheese Fondue
Many foods work well as cheese fondue dippers. Any crusty bread, such as a peasant loaf of French bread or even dense salt-crusted pumpernickel, will do. Next, consider a variety of veggies that would taste even better coated in cheesy goodness. Oven-roasted fingerling potatoes, carrots and cauliflower are delicious choices, as is raw red bell pepper. Mini tart pickles, such as French cornichons, are also traditional dippers. Sliced apples and grapes pair wonderfully with melted cheese, but use your imagination to find other fresh fruit combinations such as pears, pineapple and melon.
What to Serve with Cheese Fondue
Most cheese fondue recipes call for a crisp, dry white wine with some acidity, like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. For an extra special—and very traditional—addition, you can add a couple tablespoons of cherry brandy, called Kirsch, or another flavored brandy for an extra kick. The same wine used in the recipe is just fine to drink with dinner, but the best accompaniment is an off-dry riesling or chenin blanc: the crispness will cut through the richness of the cheese, and the fruity notes will complement apples or pears used as cheese fondue dippers.
Cheese Fondue Dipping Ideas
When cheese fondue is served at a party, there is definitely a fondue etiquette to follow. Nobody wants to be grossed out by seeing people double-dip their bread into the pot. Encourage one cheesy coating per dip. Also, the long fondue forks are meant to be a serving tool instead of an eating utensil. If all of the guests ate off their fondue forks…well, you get the idea.
On the other hand, if it’s just the two of you, cheese fondue makes an excellent dinner idea for a romantic date night. The act of huddling over a bubbling warm pot encourages closeness. Making fondue is a simple activity that two can do together and the long forks are extra fun for feeding one another.
Cheese fondue is a fabulous winter comfort food that should be on everyone’s list of simple dinner ideas.