Say “fahn-doo.” Cheese fondue is delicious and filling, great for a family dinner or for a holiday party. You can get a fondue kit in your deli department, slit it open and warm it in a fondue dish, or you can roll up your sleeves and grate and melt and stir and dip. Either way, serve it with a big green salad and just the right wine. Fondue is a winter weather opener or closer.
Folklore, the romantic version of fondue’s origins claim that the this yummy, gooey, rich concoction was the snow bound mountain peasant solution to using up stale bread and hard, old cheese. Maybe; maybe not. In any event, it is a dish from the alpine region of Switzerland, France and Italy, a dish of molten mountain cheese served in a communal pot heated over a candle warmer and eaten by dipping cubes of crusty bread and boiled root vegetables into the cheese with long forks. Apparently in the 1930’s the Swiss Cheese Union pronounced it the national dish of Switzerland to boost cheese sales.
Its popularity grew and hit the U.S.A. big time in the mid 1960’s. Multiple fondue restaurants opened in our metropolitan gourmet capitols. Gourmet cookbooks and magazines feature fondue recipes, with variations, along with the rules of fondue etiquette, like no double dipping.
My husband and I received several trendy fondue pots as wedding gifts, along with fondue cookbooks, long handled dipping forks, and a sterno stove for keeping it warm.
The troubling historical times of the 60’s seemed to call for groups of friends or family to gather around a pot of rich, delicious, gooey cheese, sharing this one pot meal. Many are the winter evenings we sat cross legged on the floor with our wine drinking grad school buddies, working our way through a pot of fondue and washing it down with several bottles of Swiss wine. In those days we had to order the emmenthal and gruyère from our cheese club or think ahead and bring them back on the five-hour Greyhound bus return trip from a visit to his parents in NYC.
Now, all the ingredients, especially just the right cheeses are available at Forest Hills deli. In fact, you have several choices on the Swiss style cheeses. (I love to use some of the Karst Cave Aged Cheese from Vermont made with a blend of Swiss and cheddar starters, now on sale in our deli departments. And I always ask the deli to cut Boars Head Gold Label Swiss, emmenthal, in a single block instead of sliced.)
Here is the traditional recipe. You can make it and keep it warm in a crock pot set on low heat.
Traditional Cheese Fondue for 4 servings
- 1/2 lb. Emmenthal cheese, coarsely grated
- 1/2 lb. Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
- 1 whole clove garlic peeled and halved
- 2 C dry white wine (i.e., Pinot Grigio)
- 3 TBS kirsch, a cherry flavored liqueur
- 1 tsp corn starch
- fresh ground white pepper to taste
- fresh ground nutmeg to taste
- A crusty French baguette cut into 1” cubes
- A fondue fork or wooden skewer for each person
- Chilled White Wine—or two-- to pair
NOTE: Do not just double or triple the recipe. It is safer to make several small batches as fondue made in large batches can coagulate.
- Rub a heavy saucepan with the cut side of the garlic. Heat the wine in the saucepan, uncovered, over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, pour kirsch into a cup, add the corn starch and stir until well dissolved.
- When the wine is to the point where it is almost covered with fine foam, but not boiling, start adding the cheese gradually, a handful at a time, stirring constantly. Keep the heat at medium, but do not let the fondue boil. Continue to add the cheese until it begins to thicken a bit and you can feel a very slight resistance to the spoon as you stir, about 10 minutes from the time you begin to add the cheese.
- Still stirring constantly, add the kirsch and corn starch mixture.
- Continue to cook and stir until the fondue begins to thicken. Add white pepper to taste. Grate a wee bit of nutmeg into the mixture and transfer the fondue to a heat proof heavy pan which can be placed over sterno heat or pour into a crock pot adjusted to lowest heat to keep it warm and melted.
- Serve with a basket of cubes of crusty French bread for dipping.
For Inventive Dipping: You might want to serve the fondue as an appetizer, but you can easily make it into a meal by providing a variety of other prepare ahead yummies to dip (To keep it vegetarian-worthy, and to not flavor the fondue itself, I recommend not dipping shrimp or meat into the communal pot! Instead, provide a serving spoon to dab out some of the cheese.).
- chunks of dill pickle, cornichons or pickled pearl onions
- boiled tiny red or Yukon Gold potatoes,
- lightly steamed veggies: baby carrots, broccoli/cauliflower florets, artichoke, asparagus tips
- spears of raw fennel or celery
- sautéed whole button mushrooms,
- cubes of hard salami, sausage, ham
- steamed shrimp
- slices of fresh apple or pear, seedless grapes, dried apricots
- NOTE: Be sure to stir the fondue as you dip.
Fondue Etiquette: There are a few basic rules that go along with fondue fun.
- Start with the bread, then go onto the other yummy chunks
- Remind guests to keep it clean: NO fingers in the pot—No hand dipping. NO eating directly off fondue fork or skewer. (Provide each guest with a small plate for the dipped piece and an eating fork…and plenty of napkins.)
- Avoid creating cheese strings by twisting piece of food on fork or skewer until drip stops.
NOTE: Traditional Fondue Fun. If a guest drops the food they are dipping into the pot, they must pay a penalty. Have a jar with your penalties written on slips of paper and have the guilty guest draw one.
Pairing White Wine with Fondue
Traditional Swiss wines are hard to come by, but there is a world of perfect white wine out there to explore. Chill several bottles and have you guests compare and vote for their favorite. Offer a more familiar crisp Italian Pinot Grigio or an aromatic medium dry Riesling from Michigan or a subtle Sauvignon Blanc. Avoid oaky wines and tannic reds.
For the adventurous wine treasure hunter, explore a few unfamiliar whites, available in your D&W Destination Wine Department: a fruity Chenin Blanc, a clean, refreshing Gruner Veltliner (groo-ner-velt-leen-er) from Austria, a smooth Italian Soave (soh-ah-vay), a bracing French Savoie (sah-vwah), or a nice semi-dry Prosecco.
TRY: Domaine Eugène Carrel Jongleur Vin de Savoie. [sah-vwah], from eastern France just on the other side of the mountains from Switzerland, is marvelously dry and could easily be mistaken for a Swiss Alpine wine. It is minerally, crisp like a Granny Smith apple. So, it is the perfect pairing for fondue.
TRY: Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve Soave Lepia made from Garganega grapes grown in the northeastern area of Italy near Verona, is an amazing crisp, medium bodied, lemony white both complements and cuts through the richness of the fondue.
TRY: Sachetto “Mille Bolle” NV, a highly acclaimed award-winning wine from the Italian wine growing region of Venice, a “thousand bubbles,” is new to us, a gorgeous sparkler with a hint of fruit which pairs perfectly with the rich cheese flavors of the fondue.
TRY: Biohood Pratsch Gruner Veltliner, a 100% certified organic wine from Austria, is herbal, fresh, and spicy with notes of white pepper, apple, and citrus on the palate—all flavors to match the fondue!
TRY: Jardin en Fleurs Vouvray, from the Loire region of France is light, minerally, and citrusy, a classic Chenin Blanc with both fruit and floral aromas and flavors, all flavors that pair with cheese fondue.
Have your Wine Steward give you a White Wine Tour of your Destination Wine department!
During her distinguished career, Roz has served a term as the Retail Representative on the MDA's Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council and Continues to serve on their Promotion & Education and Competition Committees. In addition, she has served as a judge in various national and international wine competitions.
Working with D&W's wine stewards and SpartanNash's vendor partners, Roz tirelessly explores the vast world of wine, discovering the finest wines for every budget and every taste. And she loves to discuss food and wine with customers and colleagues. As a lifelong foodie, there is nothing else she'd rather be doing.