Cheese Fondue

Being a quintessential Swiss dish, cheese fondue conjures up images for me of alpine ski huts, deep snow and 20°F weather. Well, we don’t get much snow or cold weather in the California central valley, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good fondue party.

The trick to a successful fondue (other than the obvious one of having wonderful people around with whom to share it) is to ensure that the cheese dipping sauce stays smooth. Cheese has a propensity to get stringy or to “seize up” into clumps, the fat separating from the proteins. Food science author Harold McGee suggests several things in his book On Food and Cooking to ensure a perfect fondue.

Well-aged or moist grating cheeses work well in sauces. Don’t heat the cheese beyond its melting point, cheese tends to ball up at higher temps, and don’t let the cheese cool down too much before serving, as it tends to get stringier and tougher as it cools. Don’t over stir the cheese, doing so will encourage stringiness. Coating the grated cheese with a starch such as flour or corn starch will help stabilize the sauce. Also,

The combination of cheese and wine is delicious but also savvy. The wine contributes two essential ingredients for a smooth sauce: water, which keeps the casein proteins most and dilute, and tartaric acid, which pulls the cross-linking calcium off of the casein proteins and binds tightly to it, leaving them glueless and happily separate. (Alcohol has nothing to do with fondue stability.) The citric acid in lemon juice will do the same thing. If it’s not too far gone, you can sometimes rescue a tightening cheese sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine.

Cheese Fondue Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Swiss-style cheese such as Jarlsberg or Emmenthaler, shredded
  • 1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch (use cornstarch if cooking gluten-free)
  • 1 garlic clove, halved crosswise
  • 1 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Assorted dipping foods such as cubed day-old French bread (skip for gluten-free version), cubed ham (skip for vegetarian option), blanched broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, chopped green bell peppers, peeled and chopped apples or pears

Special equipment recommended

Method

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1 Place the shredded cheese and cornstarch in a plastic freezer bag. Seal, shake to coat the cheese with flour or cornstarch. Set aside.

2 Rub the inside of a 4-quart pot with the cut garlic, then discard. Add the wine and lemon juice to the pot, and bring to a low simmer on medium heat. Bit by bit, slowly stir the cheese into the wine. Stir constantly in a zig-zag pattern to prevent the cheese from seizing and balling up. Cook just until the cheese is melted and creamy. Do not let boil. Once the mixture is smooth, stir in kirsch, mustard and nutmeg.

3 Transfer the cheese to a fondue serving pot, set over a low flame to keep warm. If your pot is thin-bottomed, a lit candle will probably do. If thick-bottomed, you can use a small Sterno.

4 Arrange various dipping foods around the fondue pot. (A lazy Suzan works great for this.)

To eat, spear dipping foods with fondue forks or small forks. Dip to coat with the cheese, and eat.

Serves 4.

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Recipe inspired by reader comments in Epicurious and adapted from a fondue recipe by Tyler Florence of the Food Network.

Links:
Aged cheddar and Guinness fondue - from Jaden of Steamy Kitchen
Peter Hertzmann on Fondue
Fondue party with oven baked fries from Nupur of One Hot Stove
A proper Swiss fondue from Maki of Just Hungry
Mr. Obermayr's Cheese Fondue with gherkins, onions, and sausages for dipping, from the Passionate Cook

31 Comments

  1. Charlene

    Sounds like a great recipe we’ll be sure to try. When our children were young, we decided that each New Year’s Eve we were going to have a fondue party. I set about purchasing fondue pots at garage sales for $1.50 – $2.00 a piece and ended with quite a collection. The kids always enjoy dipping and dunking the night away with good friends. Thanks for giving us another recipe to try.

  2. Sharon

    Remember it’s bad luck to drop your food in the pot and if you do, females need to kiss the person to the right and males need to down their glass or buy a new bottle of wine. But I’ve heard a few variations on that so I guess it depends on who’s hosting the party and what mood they are in :P

  3. jennifer

    I love fondue, about a month ago I bought 2 pots and ate fondue pretty much every day for a week. Yummy. I tried a fontina fondue and a cheddar fondue. Both were good, although the cheddar was really stringy.

  4. jonathan

    My favorite part is the crusty disc of browned cheese at the bottom of the pot. (La religieuse, or “the nun”) Yum.

    Most important? NO double-dipping! Yuk. :p

  5. merd

    The Melting Pot (http://www.meltingpot.com) uses PBR (yes, Pabst Blue Ribbon) in their blend of cheese fondue. no joke. It was revealed that it the flavor of that beer blends better than other common brands they tested to come up with the recipe. It’s funny that one of the cheapest beers you can get is used in a rather pricey place. It is very good in fact. I personally think the hops flavor blends well in it and hear people will even order a PBR there to compliment the flavor. I however, went with the scotch.

    Thanks for your version of this recipe!

  6. Tammy

    There is no way to go wrong with a meal based around cheese sauce. I am partial to the beer-cheese version: cheddar or other sharp cheese with good beer (or, in Alton Brown’s version, hard cider – MMMM!) and a splash of lemon. Crusty bread is a must, blanched broccoli is my second-favorite dipper. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. merd

    Re:beer/stringy factor question.

    I did see the alton brown good eats episode too. I think he said something to the effect of adding something with acidity into the recipe to act as an inhibitor to the stringiness (you know how he gets all scientific sometimes).

    I just googled a recipe of his also and he does in fact add lemon juice. If I recall correctly I think he said it allowed the bonding agents to stick molecules together without causing the stringiness, because stringiness in fondue just isnt good eats.

    I see there is another comment here from someone stating that they didnt care much for the “brown crusted cakiness” or something to that effect that is left over at the bottom of the fondue pot. Well Alton in that episode concluded that that was one of his favorite parts if I am not mistaken. ;) Have a great day!

  8. jan

    I make a sweet fondue by combining cream with brown sugar, reducing it, then adding rum…yum! Or cream, icing sugar then apple liquer. Chopped fruit for dipping.

  9. Tammy

    Re: the stringy factor with cheddar:
    I’ve had good luck with the cornstarch trick and the addition of a little lemon. Of course, it all depends on the cheese – as much as I love super-aged-ultra-sharp cheddar, it’s hard to melt. I would never make a fondue with processed cheese food (horrors) but a regular, decent brand of cheddar with a slightly softer consitency will be better off in the loong run. I’ve been known to cheat, as well, and include a better melting cheese (like fontina.. mmmmm) to help the cheddar along. But really, slow heat and a watchful eye are the biggest factors.

  10. Mary

    I lived in Switzerland for 9 years married to a hotelier/chef. His family’s traditional fondue was made from the valley’s local cheese, Val de Bagnes. The wine base was a local white wine, thickened with flour. It included a generous amount of garlic, a dollop of mustard of the Grey Poupon type and white pepper. Freshly ground black pepper was added at the table. We also made Gruyere fondues but the Bagnes were the best. My favorite variation is the tomato fondue, stewed San Marzanos with a bouquet of fresh herbs are added and the fondue is ladled over steamed baby potatoes.

  11. Christine

    Thanks for all those tips! I’m a big fondue fan (especially cheese fondue) and we just recently had an entire fondue night (from appetizer to dessert) which I wrote about here: http://gypsysoul73.blogspot.com/2007/01/do-you-do-fondue.html and included some recipes. It was amazing, all of it, and we hope to do it often! :)

  12. Steve Lewis

    I just toured a “Champagne” factory in Switzerland,where they produce a pre packaged fondue using their own Champagne. They also recommend the use of Champagne instead of white wine, which they say gives the cheese mixture a lighter and more frothy character.

  13. Texas Mom

    This is the BEST fondue recipe! My hubby and I have made cheese fondue several times and it always takes awhile to get the consistency right. We love fondue, but could never seem to get it quite right at home. We tried this one last night and it worked like a charm! It was so easy and totally delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Florian

    2 quick points –
    The photo at the top of this recipe gives an incorrect impression. It is absolutely essential that you use a ceramic caquelon pot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fondue. Get a traditional one that is wide and flat, heavy and with a handle. Everything else is a gimmick. You should find them at Garage sales – most people don’t know what they are good for ;-)
    Any type of metal is a no-no with cheese and you will never get a decent crust at the bottom

    Even more important: Check and read the link in the recipe on Cherry Brandy. You need Kirsch – this is distilled Cherries – it looks like water and is a spirit with an amazing Cherry smell and taste. DO NOT use anything that is a liqueur – anything you cannot see through and that is sweet is unusable. Better us a bit of anything else transparent – Gin is brandy of berries; Wodka is brandy of potatoes – better than the sweet cherry-stuff sold as Cherry Brandy. Caveat emptor!

    And use good cheese – it is tempting to buy cheap “Swiss-style” cheese – that once heated separates into an oily top and an off-white heavy bottom part and can be used to insulate the garage but not much else….

  15. Nate

    Very good tips, Florian.

    Why cherry brandy? Is there something special about the cherry flavor that is essential to fondue? Or is it just that the Kirsch goes well with that particular cheese?

  16. Sara

    Thanks for all the tips. I really need to do a fondue night!

  17. Monica

    Yum yum. This is what we had for NY’s here tonight in Lausanne, Switzerland! I was taught by my Swiss hubby how to make fondue, and have since modified his recipe slightly- instead of just rubbing a garlic clove in the pot, I press 2-3 cloves of garlic directly into the pot- we love the extra garlic flavor. We buy a prepared mix from our cheese guy at the local market- it’s half gruyere, half vacharin friborgois. Not sure if you could find the second one in the US or not. I tend to heat the white wine first, with the garlic, then whisk in a couple tbsp of cornstarch, then add the cheese to the hot wine. Les stirring involved since the cheese melts quite a bit faster when added to the already warmed wine. I may try shaking the cheese up in the corn starch next time though, as it’s the only part of the process that I don’t really like with my current method. Splash of kirsch goes in just at the end, when the fondue is melted and completely smooth. Yummy.

  18. georgia

    After reading all the above I just may have to try a cheese fondue. Many years ago our daughter gave us a fondue set. (It’s Harvest Gold, so that’s how long ago.) We never used it. This Christmas same daughter gave us another fondue set! Secretly we stored it in the basement along with other “gadgets” we don’t use. Granddaughter suggested we do a chocolate fondue sometime when she is visiting and have fruits and cake to dip in. Now will smeone suggest a good recipe for a chocolate fondue with no spirits in it?

    We have a lovely chocolate fondue recipe here on the site. Have fun! ~Elise

  19. Jane

    We did a cheese fondu last night for New Years. We used Comté, Beaufort and Appenzeller. Maybe those cheeses aren’t available in the States (We’re in France). I’m an avid bread baker, so I baked three big, crusty “boules” for the occasion and we served cold cuts, braised endive, baked potatoes and pickles. It was much better and more fun than a “fancy” meal.
    Some ideas are to add wild mushrooms to the cheese, whisky instead of kirch. When you get to the very bottom where a layer of cheese is left, you can add an egg and pepper quickly, stirring. That last little omelette is delicious!

  20. Caroline

    We often have cheese fondue for New Year’s. I don’t have a fondue pot, but I find it works great to prepare the fondue in a pot on the stove, then transfer the fondue to a crock pot to stay warm while eating (the only downside is the electric cord). It keeps the cheese fondue just the right temperature. We prefer cheese fondue made with beer – while baguette pieces are traditional, we also dip hot dog pieces (or grilled kielbasa, if we have it), boiled potatoes and carrots, and steamed broccoli or cauliflower.

  21. peter

    That bit about PBR in the fondue is funny. With the exception of using a can of Schlitz on occasion, my mom has always used pabst blue ribbon beer in the fondue for 30 years. It’s got the perfect taste, they’re right.

  22. Coco

    I just made a very minimalist fondue based on the recipe here: bread cubes and apples dipped in a fondue of about equal parts of a mild Gruyere and a strong Appenzeller, pinot grigio (it’s what I had…), a squeeze of Meyer lemon, a rub of garlic, and cornstarch. For my first homemade fondue effort ever, it was pretty rocking. I had a moment of total panic as I was first adding the cheese, but kept the faith and it wound up perfectly smooth.

  23. Heidi

    I can’t believe I have not seen this post before. Nice fondue pot. Did it come from the Filene’s closing sale when Filene’s was sold to Macy’s – closeout price of $29?. We had fondue Thurs in Jackson during vacation week. Have a great new recipe to give you with Ementhaler, Boursin, Blue Cheese, Crabmeat and Scallions. Surprisingly the girls loved it.

    Indeed! This is the pot from Filene’s that you picked up for me. Though I have bought a ceramic fondue pot since then, and I think if I buy yet another fondue pot, it will be a double boiler type, less likely to burn at the bottom. Love the additions of blue cheese, boursin, crabmeat and scallions you mentioned. xoxoxo ~Elise

  24. Michele

    I used this recipe tonight to make my first fondue! It came together very nicely. I’m not a huge fan of Swiss cheese so this wasn’t my favorite fondue, but it was still good! Next time I’ll have to scrounge up a recipe that uses cheddar.

  25. Anna

    Nice recipe! I missed out the kirsch, but even so it was delicious!

    I also did a test-run with cheddar instead of swiss cheese, and that was very nice too!

  26. Karen

    My husband and I just rediscovered the treat of swiss fondue and I have been making it the way I learned when I worked in an authentic fondue restaurant in college. We use a Le Creuset medium size all purpose pot, (you don’t need the expensive fondue pot version) like we had in the restaurant. I use a 50/50 combo of Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheese with a good white wine and flour, not cornstarch. A dash of nutmeg with the salt and pepper but no kirsch is really necessary if you get the real cheese from Switzerland or very similar tasting one.

    A really good day old french bread cut in cubes is a must. Too soft it falls off the fork into the pot, too dry it is stale with less good flavor.

    You make the fondue on your regular stove burner and when ready, transfer to the table to eat, with the little warming sterno or candle light under the pot. (Candle is too low of heat, but it works if you eat faster.)

    It is good to do the figure eight stirring motion now and then at table.
    In college, we all loved when people ordered the double order version since we had more chance of them not finishing and there would be the browned crust in the bottom of the pot which is delicious.

    *Don’t substitute other cheeses for gruyere and emmenthaler cheese until you at least try it as the authentic version with a good white wine, not too sweet. My college roomie and I actually visited the town of Gruyere, Switzerland and the cheese factory. I understand that this cheese is now made in the US and just look for the good quality and real flavor, as it is SO worth it!

  27. Kathryne Rintharamy

    I enjoy adding a spoon of brown sugar to my fondue. It makes the flavours POP!

  28. Kathy

    We made this cheese fondue recipe tonight for Christmas Eve following the ingredients to the letter. It was PERFECT! We ate every drop of it with pumpernickle chunks, french bread chunks, and 2 kinds of apple chunks….absolutely wonderful!

  29. Anonymous

    I just made this it was amazing but I substituted the kirsch for Sam Adams cherry wheat and it came out awesome tasted just likeit at the.melting pot!

  30. Jess and Zoe

    We have a question. If the cherry brandy (we used cherry juice) is added before the cheese will it affect the taste of the fondue? We don’t think it will, but we are just curious. Thanks and Happy New Year!!

    Good question, I think you’ll just have try it and see! Happy New Year to you too! ~Elise

  31. Lori Thompson

    I followed this to a “T”, yet it still was too thick. Any tips?

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