What is Cheese Fondue?

Janis Adams

Finding its origins in the Swiss tradition, cheese fondue is a mixture of various types of cheeses, wine, and spices. It is served warm from a communal pot, where chunks of bread and fruit are dipped, swirled, and coated with the melted cheese mixture before being consumed. Cheese fondue is also credited with having some of its beginnings in French culture, as its very name, fondue, is in fact a French word whose translation is melted or to be melted.

Thick slice of Gruyere cheese, which is often included in cheese fondue.
Thick slice of Gruyere cheese, which is often included in cheese fondue.

While a variety of cheeses are commonly found in fondue. Kirsch, a colorless brandy, is the most favored liquor to be added to the fondue. One of the reasons Kirsch is often chosen is that, as it is colorless, it does not change or ruin, as many chefs may tend to feel, the natural hue of cheeses used in the fondue.

Cheese wheels aging on shelves.
Cheese wheels aging on shelves.

Cheeses chosen for fondue must first and foremost be those that melt well. If they do not melt well, the mixture will appear lumpy and inconsistent and obviously unappetizing. Cheeses most commonly featured in traditional fondue recipes are Gruyere and Emmentaler cheeses.

Blocks of sharp cheddar cheese, which is sometimes used in fondue.
Blocks of sharp cheddar cheese, which is sometimes used in fondue.

To create a truly successful cheese fondue, the temperature of the cheese must remain consistent. The preparer must keep it melted and not allow it to separate or clump. To do this, a fondue pot is typically used, although some choose a traditional pan with a flame device placed underneath it. The fondue pot keeps the cheese at a regulated temperature, while making it easily accessible at a traditional table setting. The cheese must be kept at a consistently warm temperature without allowing for it to burn.

Whether or not fondue actually was invented in Switzerland, it is still popular there.
Whether or not fondue actually was invented in Switzerland, it is still popular there.

Cheese fondue is offered most commonly as an appetizer, with some type of bread or fruit served alongside for dipping. Long, skewer-type forks called fondue forks are used to dip the bread or fruit. These keep the hands of those using them from getting burned on the edge of the fondue pot, as it tends to maintain a level of heat that is often dangerous.

Though there are many other types of fondue, such as chocolate, cheese fondue remains the most popular of all. Cheese fondues can be made from any variety of cheese that has a successful melting rate. Flavorings from savory to spicy can be added to the fondue mixture. Even vegetables can be crushed or pureed and added to the melted mixture. Whatever the combination, cheese fondue has continued to be a crowd pleaser for decades.

Bread is a popular item to dip in cheese fondue.
Bread is a popular item to dip in cheese fondue.

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