This page tries to distill every useful thing learned from hundreds of fondues, 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 so 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, Johannisberg or a sparkling. I still feel Chasselas is the best, as much of its complexity is in the mouthfeel not the nose. The nose being cheesed out anyway.
In Savoie they drink Jacquere for the same reason, as well as Altesse.
For people accustomed to high acidity in their white wine, Chasselas can feel "not enough". 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. Gamay, Pinot or a light Mondeuse all fill these roles.
- 200g of cheese per person (see below for blend)
- 10 cl (100g) of wine per person
- half a teaspoon (flat) of corn starch or potato starch per person, or a full teaspoon of flour per person (in that case, toss with the cheese)
- garlic, pepper to taste, nutmeg optional - if you have fondue often, you can vary with anything you like.
- Kirsch to taste
- Crusty bread
(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)
1Rub the pot with garlic (we don't do this, we add chopped garlic). Put the cheese in (if using flour as a binding agent, toss it with the cheese at this stage). Add the wine and the (optional) chopped garlic.
2Heat slowly, stirring often. A 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 and a glass of wine to sip.
3Once the cheese has started to melt, dilute the corn starch 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).
To finish, add a dash of nutmeg and generous amounts of pepper to taste.
It's now ready to bring to the table.
4The cheese should bind. If it doesn't bind, stir for a bit longer. Keep stirring regularly as the cheese melts. It must reach "slow boiling" temperature (think witches' cauldron) and be a nice thick cheese sauce (but not too thick since it will continue to thicken as you eat). If it doesn't bind - which can happen if the cheese is too dry/old - a tiny amount of acidity (dash of lemon, vinegar, mustard) can help.
Before you bring the fondue to the table, make sure the fire on the burner is lit and the diners are ready with bread on their fork.
Everyone must be sat, poised, bread on, 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.
Accompaniments - 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) or add flavouring (dried mushrooms or herbs) to the fondue. This is only a good idea when people have fondue a lot.
In France they make smaller amounts of fondue and tend to pair it with a large platter of crudités, cold cuts, salamis, pickles, pâté to compensate. It's probably a safer approach when your guests have not had cheese fondue before.
Key Ingredients: The Bread
For 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.
A crust is a must, you are actively stirring the fondue with your bread. Without any crust the bread could fall apart and get lost in the fondue.
In the UK, you can usually trust the good old "French Stick" to have crust, and not much else.
PS: Whatever size you like is fine. Robb and I do not agree AT ALL on the appropriate size of a fondue bread piece. His are 3x the size of mine.
Key Ingredients: The Cheese
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 Kaese Swiss online and in Bermondsey, Yumi and the Comté shop in Borough Market, Alpages.co.uk for mature cheeses (still on COVID pause) and of course specialist cheesemongers like La Fromagerie.
If your cheesemonger makes a good mix, let us know!
Note: thanks to brave customers we can report that all the fondue kits available in UK supermarkets are extremely bland. This is to be avoided if you have had proper fondue and want that, but can be a safe introduction. It's usually better to buy cheese there and grate it yourself.
If you don't have a good cheesemonger made 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:
Half your fondue should be an easy melting cheese
then add some more mature cheese to get the flavour you want.
Mature cheese does not melt as well so you have to have a "melt-ier" cheese.
Buying a big block of raclette in advance (so it matures a bit in the fridge) is a good way to get "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). I often use raclette/alpage cheese.
In Savoie the blends will focus on Beaufort with Raclette, Emmental or Tomme de Savoie. In the rest 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 so feels quite cold. It is usually made with milk and not wine, as too much alcohool would remain in the dish otherwise, and poured over potatoes. The fondue à la tomate is similar but with chopped tomatoes added.
Key Ingredients: The Wine
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.
But: 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.
Myths about eating fondue
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, you've just eaten too much. 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. It's fine to eat ice cream if you haven't already overindulged too much.
- Kirsch. It might be traditional to drink a bit of Kirsch 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 big handle only used to bring it to the table (and when scraping the rest of the cheese at the end).
Fondue post have 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. Induction friendly cast iron ones are not always easy to find but for example 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 à brûler 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 OR you put the fondue back on the cooker while the burner cools down)
Most of them have holes around the side and you can open/close them to control the temperature.
We have a fancy alcohol burner with a wick that can be moved up/down to control temperature, but I haven't seen these in an age so they must be out of fashion because they don't work with the fondue paste insets.
The "paste" insets - called fuel paste or fondue gel - are safer and fairly easily changed should you run out but they can be hard to find. Good cookshops or ironmongers should have them, but if you don't have a local shop, Kuhn Rikon UK (search for "fuel paste") as well as Ebay (search for "fondue gel") and Amazon are good places to start.
If you cook fondue a lot, you can 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)