This page tries to distill every useful thing learned from hundreds of fondues and especially from having to adapt to the UK and watching Robb learn.
First I am a wine merchant so let's get the drinking wine out of the way and then we can get on with the Fondue making. What to drink with Fondue? crisp, bold but not too aromatic white wine.
In Switzerland we traditionally drink crisp white Chasselas, black tea (no milk), and kirsch with cheese fondue. To vary we might go for Doral, Heida, Chardonnay or Johannisberg or a sparkling. I still feel Chasselas is the best, as much of its complexity is in the mouthfeel not the nose.
In Savoie they drink Jacquere for the same reason, as well as Altesse.
For people accustomed to more acidity in their white wine, Chasselas can feel "not enough" with Fondue. The Savoie wines will work better for you, as would the Alpine Italy whites.
You can drink red, but follow the same rules as for the white: dry, crisp (we say "crunchy" when it's a red) and unoaked.
- 200g of cheese per person
- 10 cl (100g) of wine per person
- half a teaspoon (flat) of corn starch per person, or a full teaspoon of flour per person (in that case, toss with the cheese)
- garlic, salt, pepper to test, nutmeg optional - if you have fondue often, you can vary with anything you like.
- Kirsch to taste
(if you don't usually eat fondue, reduce to 150g of cheese blend and a little less wine - 7.5cl - it's what the French do)
0. rub the pot with garlic (we don't do this)
1. Put the cheese in, add the wine (keep a little bit of it aside for the binding agent, should you not use kirsch), and the (optional) garlic slivers.
2. Heat slowly, stirring often. Smooth steady motion in a figure of 8 works quite well. It can take a while to it's nice to have someone around for conversation (they can be preparing the bread) and a glass of wine to sip.
3. Once the cheese has started to melt, dilute a teaspoon of corn starch --if you are making a fondue for two-- in a little bit of kirsch, and add it to the mix. If you don't want to add kirsch, use a bit of wine, or even a small amount of water if you forgot to set some wine aside. The cheese should bind. If it doesn't bind, stir more (typically, in a figure of 8)
4. Keep stirring regularly as the cheese melts. It must reach "slow boiling" temperature (think witches' cauldron)
5. Add a dash nutmeg and generous amounts of pepper to taste finish the fondue (or other spices/herbs should you feel adventurous)
Ready? Bring the fondue to the table, everyone must be sat, poised, bread on the fork, ready to dip in and stir. No, the fondue won't immediately fall apart if people don't stir, but it is traditional to pretend. The guests' duty is to stir regularly, *never* lose their bread, and enjoy.
It really helps to have fondue forks, with a long stem (to protect the hands), long teeth and a little notch to keep the bread from sliding. Get the teeth through the crust to make sure it stays put.
It is traditional, in a restaurant party setting, to assume that whoever loses their bread cube (or a big chunk of their bread cube) has to buy the next wine bottle. At home, make up your own penalty ?
What to serve with Fondue?
In Switzerland traditionally very little is served with Fondue, unless we know one of the guests is not used to that much cheese.
There would typically be a salad as a starter, and perhaps some pickles and spices on the table.
When we want to be fancy or want to diversify it a bit we have alternative dippers (veggies, or bits of sausage).
In France they make smaller amounts of fondue and tend to pair it with a large platter of salads, cold cuts, salamis to compensate.
On the bread, You can prepare thick slices in a basket, pre-cut cubes (this will help your fondue novices, making sure there's always a bit of crust), or, for that real rustic feel, let people tear their own chunks.
Robb and I do not agree AT ALL on the appropriate size of a fondue bread piece.
Ask you cheesemonger to make you a fondue blend. They probably already have one, or can grate the cheese mix for you. Good sources of cheese in the UK are Yumi and the Comté shop in Borough Market, Kaese Swiss in druid street market, Alpages.co.uk for exceptional mature cheeeses and specialist cheesemongers like La Fromagerie.
If your cheesemonger makes a good mix, let us know and we'll add a link ?
If you don't have access a cheesemonger that makes the blend, or want to experiment, you can of course make your own. We do!
It is fairly easy to make a good blend providing you follow one simple rule: At least half the cheese should be "easy to melt" cheese.
Mature cheese does not melt as well so you have to have a "melt-ier" cheese. Half your fondue should be a mild, easy melting cheese then add some more mature cheese to get the flavour you want.
Buying a big block of raclette well in advance and keeping it a while to "age" it, it is a good way to get stronger fondue without losing "melt-iness".
In Switzerland the blends are based around Gruyere, with Appenzeller, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Tilsiter or even Emmental in the mix. The classic "moitié-moitié" if half Gruyere half Vacherin Fribourgeois (100% my terroir of origin - Joelle). I often use raclette/alpage cheese.
In Savoie the blends will focus on Beaufort with Raclette or Tomme de Savoie. In other parts of France, Comté is the default.
Variants: The "Fondue au Vacherin" is 100% vacherin fribourgeois. It is trickier to make - it needs to be kept at a lower temperature and is usually made with milk and not wine, as too much alcohool would remain in the dish otherwise.
What wine to use to make the fondue?
Use a dry, crisp white. Any clean dry white will do. Stay away from oaked wines, sweet wines, or aromatic ones like Gewurztraminer. You can of course use the same wine you are drinking. If you're drinking a really good Fendant, don't waste it in the fondue, use a more generic white.
Cider works in a pinch. I'd probably use cider before I used a heavily oaked white.
Fondue is a heavy meal, and people often overindulge. As a result, many "urban legends" exist about what can make fondue more (or less) digestible. They're pretty much all false.
- A tiny dash of Sodium bicarbonate just at the end can make it fluff up. This supposedly aids digestion. It's traditional, all Swiss have some just for that purpose, but, just like the "don't drink cold water" rule, I don't think it really does anything. I still do it ?
- Cold water. Drinking cold water supposedly makes the cheese "block up" in a way tea or wine or kirsch doesn't. This not true, but every few years some clever university students devise another research project to have lots of free Fondue nights by testing this claim. A similar claim is made about ice cream as a post fondue dessert, just as untrue.
- Kirsch. It might be traditional to drink a bit of Kirsh or other white spirits with Fondue, or dip the bread in Kirsch before putting it in the pan. It might be fun, but it won't help you digest it better, sorry.
Tools: Pot and burners
A fondue pot is traditionally made in clay or enamelled cast iron, with a long handle to bring it to the table. It has rounded edges at the bottom to minimise places where cheese might get stuck and burn. Of course a normal pan can be used if you're only going to make fondue once. Try to pick one that is wide enough for enough people to dip in, and with high "thermal mass" so temperature does not swing widely.
Most fondue pots do not work with induction, you have to pick special ones for that. The Kuhn Rikon UK web shop usually has a full selection.
Traditional fondue cookers use little dish burners which burn spirit. In Switzerland, we use what we call Burning Alcohol (alcool a bruler or Brennspirit). In the UK, this is called methylated spirits. Be careful with these, as a spill from a burning burner can set a tablecloth on fire. Also, never refill them while hot, as this could catch fire while you pour.
If you use these and the flame goes out, everyone just needs to hurry up eating ?
There are also "paste" insets available - called fuel paste or fondue gel - these are safer and fairly easily changed should you run out but they can be hard to find. Good cookshops or hardware shops should have them, but if you don't have a local shop, Kuhn Rikon UK and Amazon are good places to start.
If you cook fondue a lot, you can now buy gas burners - they also work for other types of "fondue" like the oil based bourguignonne and are easy to refill.
If you don't have a fondue burner a "camping gas" burner could do just fine, although a bit clunky. And of course a portable electric hotplate also works if you have one that can maintain a low setting (that's what we use for demonstrations as venues don't like any form of open flame)