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.
5 Tips to Making Perfect Cheese Fondue
- Use the right cheese: Avoid cheeses that are stringy when melted, like cheddar or Mozzarella. Use a good Gruyere for a classic fondue, or Monterey Jack. Aged cheeses do well. Raclette is classic for fondue.
- Coat the grated cheese with cornstarch: Coating the grated cheese with a starch like cornstarch or flour will help stabilize the sauce and keep it from separating.
- Don't over-heat the cheese after it has melted: Cheese tends to ball up and separate at higher temps, so once the cheese has melted, just heat it enough to keep it warm.
- Don't over-stir the cheese, doing so will encourage stringiness or cause the cheese to clump.
- Serve the fondue warm: Don't let the cheese cool down too much before serving, as it tends to get stringier and tougher as it cools.
Wine and Cheese in Fondue: A Perfect Pairing
Food science author Harold McGee suggests several things in his book On Food and Cooking to ensure a perfect fondue: "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 moist 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."
What is Fondue?
The word fondue comes from the French word "fondre" which means to melt. While it's most often associated with cheese, fondue is also made from chocolate, tomatoes, and even oil. Cheese fondue was probably the first type, though, created in Switzerland in the 1800s to stretch out food during the lean months.
The Best Pot for Cheese Fondue
Cheese fondue doesn't start out in a fondue pot. It's made in a heavy-bottomed pot on the stovetop and transferred into a fondue pot that's designed to keep the cheese warm and melted. Some use a flame underneath to keep the fondue warm. Others are electric.
Fondue pots can be metal or earthenware. While both are effective, the earthenware ones may distribute the heat more evenly. Some enameled cast iron and earthenware ones, such as Emile Henry Flame Ceramic, can even be heated on ranges so you can cook the fondue directly in the fondue pot you'll be serving it in.
If you're in the market for a fondue pot, check out thrift stores and garage sales. There always seems to be one or two someone is getting rid of.
What To Serve With Fondue
Recipe inspired by reader comments in Epicurious and adapted from a fondue recipe by Tyler Florence of the Food Network.
For the Fondue:
8 ounces Swiss-style cheese such as Jarlsberg or Emmenthaler, shredded
8 ounces 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 freshly grated nutmeg
Day-old French bread, cubed (skip for gluten-free version)
Cubed ham (skip for vegetarian option)
Green bell pepper, chopped
Apples, peeled and chopped
Pears, peeled and chopped
Toss the grated cheese with cornstarch:
Place the shredded cheese and cornstarch in a plastic zipper bag. Seal, shake to coat the cheese with flour or cornstarch. Set aside.
Rub the inside of the pot with garlic, then add wine and lemon juice:
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.
Slowly stir the cheese into the wine:
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.
Add the kirsch, mustard, and nutmeg:
Once the mixture is smooth, stir in kirsch, mustard and nutmeg.
Transfer to a serving pot and keep warm:
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.
Arrange the dipping foods around the pot:
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 36g||46%|
|Saturated Fat 21g||105%|
|Total Carbohydrate 6g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||4%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|