The origins of the ultimate sharing dish are the cause of some contention. Way back in the eighth century BC, Homer’s Iliad refers to a mixture of goat’s cheese, wine and flour. Fast forward a few centuries to the 1600s and a similar concoction appears in a Swiss cookbook by Anna Margaretha Gessner.
Many believe fondue to have been developed by peasants in the mountains of Switzerland in order to use up surplus bread and cheese during winter when fresh produce is dwindling—a far cry from the apres ski indulgence enjoyed in mountain resorts around the world today—while others claim it originated in France (the name ‘fondue’ comes from the French word fondre which means ‘to melt).
However, the recipe was officially bestowed Swiss citizenship in 1930 when it was named as the country’s national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union—a cartel of cheesemakers who basically wanted to shift more, you guessed it, cheese. The union disbanded by the end of the century, and fondue had become one of Switzerland’s most famous exports. The fabled dish made its way across the Atlantic in the 1964, showcased at the World Food Fair in New York—the city that then spawned chocolate fondue (though it could also be argued that the Mayans, who also enjoyed their thick chocolate drinks in pots, invented the craze more than two thousand years prior).
The traditional Swiss dish comes in a variety of guises. The most common concoction arrives moitié-moitié —or ‘half-and-half’—with the pot’s steaming, aromatic content comprising grated Gruyère—a pungent, hard cheese with a hint of nut—and Emmental—the traditional Swiss cheese with holes—melted and mixed with garlic, white wine and a dash of cherry brandy. As for dipping, most opt for a crusty loaf, though other popular options include potatoes, cornichon, sliced capsicum, carrot batons, or pearl onions. As for drinks, stick with the same wine, or tea.
“Since fondue is a group activity, the Swiss have developed a few hijinks over the years,” writes Kayla Lewkowicz in Paste magazine. “If you lose your bread in the fondue, it’s considered bad form, and depending on the mischievous nature of the group, you’ll be assigned a bet…”
Fondue experiences—and recipes—vary between region too. “A rich, buttery fondue at night in a mountaintop village blanketed by snow is magical,” notes Caitlin Zaino for the BBC. “So too is a silky fondue served on a Zurich terraces, where guests wrapped in woolly blankets plunge potatoes into steaming pots.” While in the Italian region of Ticino, one should “forgo the pizza and sample a fondue with fontina cheese or truffles”. But as for the where to find the best fondue, the Swiss, she reveals, will often give the same answer: “At home.”
Words Jamie Christian Desplaces
250g block of chocolate
2 tsp liquer or brandy (optional)
Sliced fruit or marshmallows
1. Break up a 250g slab of good quality chocolate (Whittaker’s works well).
2. Add to a pan with 80ml of heavy cream, and an optional two tablespoons of liqueur or brandy.
3. Heat on low, stirring until the mixture has been velvety for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add to a fondue pot and serve with sliced fruit or marshmallows—and don’t forget the long toothpicks to dip them with.
CRAFT BEER FONDUE
1 ½ Tbsp corn starch
1 ½ Tbsp water
1 small bottle of craft beer – a pilsner or pale ale
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of grated nutmeg
340g cheddar cheese, grated
Dash of hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco (optional)
1. Mix the corn starch and water then add to a pan with the beer and whisk until smooth.
2. Place on heat, add the garlic and simmer, whisking until thick.
3. On low heat, gradually add the cheese and continue whisking until it the cheese has melted and the fondue is smooth.
4. Transfer into a fondue a pot (a slow cooker is a good substitute)
5. Sprinkle with the nutmeg (add Tabasco if required) and serve with French or crusty bread, and cooked potatoes.