Fondue is one of the foods that either gets an “ooh-ahh” or a “Are you kidding me? That’s so passé” response. Whether or not you feel excitement over the communal, rich dish, there is no denying that fondue is delicious, and has a long history with cold weather and clichéd romantic indulgence.
Imagine skiing in the Swiss Alps and finishing your day with a cold beer and a hot pot of fondue—seems just right. That’s because the Swiss have been doing this since the late 17th century. Around this time, it is noted that cooking cheese with wine is mentioned in the Swiss cookbook, Kochbuch der Anna Margaretha Gessner. It is also thought that peasants thought of fondue as a way to use leftover, hardened cheese, and stale bread. By the late 1800’s fondue evolved into what we know to today, as the small pot over the open fire, where is thought to have gained popularity in the French Rhône-Alpes region (near the Geneva border) and was given its name, deriving from the French verb fondre, meaning “to melt.” In 1930 the Swiss laid their claim to fondue by naming fondue the country’s national dish.
In the 1950’s fondue gained wild popularity when chefs in New York began featuring fondue on up-scale menus at a time when fine dinning and haute cuisine were all the rage. Chefs began to add meat and vegetables for dipping in addition to a variety of breads. By the time the 1960’s and 70’s rolled around, fondue moved out of the restaurants and into homes where fondue parties became trendy due to the sales of at-home melting pots. Around this time fondue was also commonly known as a chocolate dessert, using fruits, cookies, and cake pieces for dipping. For a while fondue has been considered out of fashion, but in true “everything old is new again” style, it is making appearances as the repeated comeback-kid of cuisine.
Traditionally made with a mixture of Emmenthaler or Gruyere cheese and a splash of wine or cherry brandy, it is melted smoothly in a communal pot and served with pieces of bread for dipping. While this style of fondue is classically delicious, it is nice to change things up to fit our more modern palates and possibly certain diet requirements. For a more distinct flavor, serve an Irish cheddar and stout fondue, use sturdy fingerling potatoes for dipping, or for more flare, a spicy Mexican fondue with chilies, dip with tortilla chips, bell peppers, and chorizo. For gluten free, use hardy veggies like broccoli, sweet potato wedges, carrots, or Brussels sprouts. (Slightly par-boil the veggies before serving to soften them, avoiding over-crunch after they are dipped.) You can also serve a variety of cooked meats and sausages. Even vegans can get in on the fun! Dairy-free versions of fondue can be made with coconut milk, or tahini paste (ground, hulled sesame seeds).
Chocolate fondue is, of course, known as one of the most fun, interactive desserts around. Looking for something new for your sweet fondues? Spice up chocolate and have a Mexican chocolate for dipping, or try other sweet fondue ideas like caramel, salted caramel, peanut butter, chocolate peanut butter, Nutella, strawberry, or white chocolate. Dessert fondue dippers to try are anything from cookies, un-frosted mini cupcakes, berries, apples, pretzel rods, dried apricots, pineapple, and marshmallows…