Already a storied tradition in Switzerland, fondue famously burst onto the scene in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s, when modish fondue pots, with their slender, two-tined forks and miniature burners, became the quintessential American wedding gift. While that may define fondue in modern memory, the communal art of leaning over a warm pot of melted cheese and wine, dipping in bread, vegetables and fruit, grew from the peasant traditions of Neuchâtel, a French-speaking canton in western Switzerland.
Fondue, from the French word fondre (“to melt”), was first a means of feeding families a thrifty winter meal, melting scraps of beloved local cheeses like Gruyère and Emmenthal to make a dip for richly bathing hunks of bread.
In recent years, fondue has branched out and is making another quiet resurgence.
“There is a whole world of fondue that goes way beyond cheese,” writes Hallie Harron, a Costco member and author of the cookbookNot Your Mother’s Fondue (Harvard Common Press, 2010; not available at Costco). “There are five basic categories of fondue: cheese, sauce, oil, broth and dessert.” The influences on this social dish are global: Broth fondues are a nod to Mongolian hot pots, and chocolate fondue is thought to be an American invention.
For cheese fondues, cubes of bread, boiled potatoes and apple slices are common accom- paniments. All manner of modern sauces, from marinara and hummus to peanut sauce and warm crab dip, can be placed in the center of a table for communal dipping, for a sauce fondue. Bite-size pieces of raw meat and sh, and quick-cook vegetables like sliced carrots, celery and mushrooms, are ideal for broth or oil fondues. Cookies, fruit and cake complement chocolate-based dessert fondues.
While a stoneware or cast-iron caquelon(fondue dish) was originally used for fondue, “today we have heavy, wide, fairly shallow metal or earthenware pots in basically the same shape as the classic pot,” says Harron. Long-stemmed fondue forks are used to securely spear ingredients for dipping.
When going for a dip, keep in mind that losing the contents of your fork into the pot traditionally earns you a lighthearted penalty, such as buying a round of drinks or giving a kiss to one of your table mates. Depending on the fondue, be sure to keep it warm or hot by reheating it over the stove or arranging over
a portable burner.
“Four people is an ideal number to share a fondue pot at a small dining table,” Harron suggests.
by LIZ PEARSON