pronounced [fahn-DOO] on the Internet
Some claim it’s Swiss, some say it’s French and others insist it’s Italian: fondue’s history is a never-ending debate between the Alpine regions.
The term “fondue” derives from the French verb “fondre”, which means to melt. If you think that’s a good argument to contradict the Italians, do note that they also say “fondere”.
The earliest record of melted cheese was found in Ancient Greek Homer’s lliad (song XI) around the 8th century BC, describing a nymph mixing Pramnos wine with grated goat cheese and white flour.
Temper’d in this, the nymph of form divine
Pours a large portion of the Pramnian wine;
With goat’s-milk cheese a flav’rous taste bestows,
And last with flour the smiling surface strews.
Knowing that Switzerland was created in 1291 and that cheese is over 4000 years old, it’s safe to say that it couldn’t possibly have taken that long for someone to figure out that melted cheese is awesome.
The first writings mentioning something closer to a fondue come from a 1699 cookbook published in Zurich, under the name “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” (cheese to cook with wine). The legend says the dish came from the Canton de Neuchâtel. At that time the Canton wasn’t part of Switzerland, but was ruled by the King of Prussia and only became Swiss in 1815. It was also said to be peasant food and invented for necessity purposes, by using leftovers like harden cheese and stale bread during cold winters. After melting cheese with wine, the Neufchâtelois also added eggs and dipped the dried bread into the cheesy scrambled eggs to soften it.
Villagers didn’t have the luxury of owning multiple utensils, and they also had to gather around the fire to stay warm. These two factors could probably explain why fondue is eaten out of one pot, known as Le Caquelon.
However the actual word fondue was first mentioned in French chef Vincent la Chappelle’s cookbook, Cuisinier Moderne, published in 1735. The recipe, Fonduë de Fromage, aux Truffes Fraiches, was a more upscale version of “Käss mit Wein zu kochen“, as it also included truffles and a glass of champagne #FoodGasm #PeasantDishNoMore.
French author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante, in 1825, where he acknowledges that fondue is a Swiss dish and describes its making.
Break the eggs into a saucepan and beat well. Then add the butter and the cheese, which has been grated or thinly sliced.
Place the saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat and stir with a [wooden] spatula until the mixture becomes thick and soft. Add some salt, or none if the cheese is old, and a fair amount of pepper, since this is one of the important characteristics of this time-honored dish. Serve the dish on a heated plate. Provide the best wine, which will be quickly drunk, and you will see miracles.
The first known recipe of modern cheese fondue, with cheese, wine and no eggs, was published in 1875, and was already presented as a Swiss national dish.
Maïzena (a sort of corn flour), which was introduced to Switzerland in 1905, completely replaced the eggs as it became much easier to bind the wine and cheese.
Despite its modern associations with rustic mountain life, fondue soon became a city kid’s dish. Most cheeses like Gruyère became a valuable export good for Switzerland and the lower class couldn’t afford it anymore. The recipe was already included in Madame Saint-Ange’s La Bonne cuisine published in 1927, documenting the French cuisine bourgeoise of early 20th century.
During the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) were desperate to increase cheese consumption and used fondue as a marketing tool, like creating pseudo-regional recipes as part of the “spiritual defense of Switzerland”. In the 1950s, after WWII rationing ended, they continued their campaign by sending fondue sets to military regiments. Soldiers would bring the sets back home and teach their sons how to handle the Caquelon. Fondue became (like barbecue in other countries) a man’s affair and a symbol of Swiss unity.
In the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the Swiss Pavilion’s Alpine restaurant served fondue and it became hugely popular amongst Americans. In the mid 60s, a New-York based Swiss restaurateur invented the chocolate fondue to promote Toblerone (and his restaurant) and the rest is history.
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- 290ml / ½ pint white wine
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 500g of cheese (choose a recipe from the list below to know which cheese to use)
- 1 tsp cornflour
- 1 tbsp kirsch (optional)
- cubed bread pieces, for dipping
Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the halves of garlic.
Add the wine and lemon juice to the pot and heat until boiling. Lower the heat and gradually stir in the cheeses until melted, stirring constantly.
If using kirsch, blend with the cornflour, otherwise use water. Add to the cheese mixture and cook gently until the mixture is smooth – don’t let it boil or it will burn.
Using the fondue prongs, dip the bread cubes into the cheese and serve.
- Fondue neuchâteloise: gruyère and emmental
- Fondue moitié-moitié: (half-half): gruyère and Fribourg vacherin
- Fondue vaudoise: gruyère
- Fondue fribourgeoise: Fribourg vacherin (often served with potatoes instead of bread)
- Fondue de Suisse centrale: gruyère, emmental and sbrinz
- Fondue savoyarde: comté, savoyard, beaufort, and emmental
- Fondue jurassienne: comté