How to make a classic cheese fondue at home.
Cheese melted in white wine … could there be anything more delicious?? In Switzerland, cheese fondue is hugely popular, and this is hardly surprising given that the country is a proud and world-famous producer of many excellent varieties of cheese.
Cheese fondue is traditionally an alpine dish, something you would eat after a long day of hiking or skiing in the mountains. But its popularity extends to the cities as well and, in Zurich, many temporary (but stunning) wooden chalets are erected each winter to serve cheese fondue to city-slickers in an alpine-chic setting. While the German-speaking regions of Switzerland only serve fondue in winter, this dish is popular year-round in the French and Italian parts of the country.
Making cheese fondue at home is really easy, especially since you can often find specially prepared packets of grated cheese at the supermarkets for making fondue. Some packets even come complete with the wine already incorporated, so all you have to do is simply open the packet and heat up the contents.
I love to make my cheese fondue from scratch, mainly because I like my fondue to be mildly-flavoured and not too overpowering.
A classic Swiss cheese fondue mix calls for half Gruyère and half Vacherin Fribourgeois, also called moitié-moitié. Gruyère is a popular hard Swiss cheese which is strong tasting, often compared to cheddar in other countries (although I think the flavours are completely different). Vacherin Fribourgeois is a semi-hard mild cow’s cheese, also from Switzerland, which helps to make the fondue really creamy.
Personally, I also love to add Camembert to my cheese fondue. It is a really mild soft cheese which is good for melting, and it makes for a less over-powering fondue than if you were to use just Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois. Camembert is, originally, a French cheese produced with unpasteurised milk, but I quite often buy a variety made in Switzerland using pasteurised milk.
But once you start making your own fondue at home, it’s easy to start experimenting with other combinations of cheese, especially with varieties which are local to you. There have been a few occasions where I have made fondue from leftover cheeses from a large cheese platter served to guests the evening before – sometimes it is the quickest and easiest way to eat leftover cheese!
For me, no cheese fondue is complete without the following accompaniments:
* Fresh bread – Find a good loaf of bread with a nice crust and soft interior, and slice them into large bite-sized cubes. I like to use a mix of white and wholemeal bread, just to give a bit of variety at the table. Most recipes will often tell you to use slightly stale bread – and this is what the Swiss would have used when the dish was first created – but my personal preference is for fresh bread (we never seem to have any stale bread at home anyway!). In countries where fondue is very popular (especially Switzerland, France and Austria), some bakeries and supermarkets also sell bread loaves especially made for fondue, where small cubes of bread can be broken off like mini bread rolls.
* Boiled new potatoes – Potatoes make the fondue more of a meal and they should be served piping hot. We keep our boiled potatoes in a special calico bag which is lined with a layer of cherry seeds; the bag needs to be placed in the oven so that the cherry seeds can be warmed through, and they will keep your potatoes nice and hot throughout the meal. New potatoes are commonly served with fondue, but varieties such as Kipfler, fingerling and even purple potatoes, are also great with melted cheese. New potatoes are probably favoured because you don’t have to peel them, but there exists special little prongs which are used to hold hot potatoes if you wish to peel them at the table. The potatoes should be eaten from your plate, but it is not uncommon to see people dip their potatoes into the fondue.
* Cornichons – Cornichons are pickled mini gherkins, and which are very popular in France and its surrounding countries. My preference is for really teeny-tiny cornichons (1-2 inches long) which are extra tart and crunchy. My favourite brand is Maille, but any good quality cornichon (preferably made in France) would be ideal. The sourness of the cornichons helps to cut through the richness of the cheese and somehow lightens the meal. We are always disappointed when restaurants don’t serve cornichons with their fondue, and even more dismayed when they serve pickled gherkins instead, i.e. like the pickles you find in sandwiches. I find the latter to be too sweet to be served with fondue, and definitely too soft in texture.
* Pickled baby corn – I’m not sure if these are commonly available outside of Switzerland, but I grew up eating pickled baby corn with fondue and raclette and, for me, leaving out the picked baby corn is almost like omitting the bread.
In many Swiss restaurants, a cheese fondue is comprised simply of a pot of melted cheese and a bottomless basket of bread cubes. You won’t always find the option to order potatoes or even pickles to eat alongside. But at home, I think it is sometimes fun to deviate a little from the traditional recipe. To make your cheese fondue truly special, I would offer some of the following to make it a more substantial meal:
* Sliced green apples – These work a bit like the cornichons and pickled baby corn by lending some tartness to offset the richness of the cheese. I don’t dip the apples into the fondue, but I eat them alongside, almost like a palette-cleanser.
* Bacon – Any meatlover would appreciate some slices of crispy bacon with their melted cheese. At home, we simply serve a plate of cooked, crispy bacon to eat from our plate (and this also keeps the vegetarians happy). But some restaurants offer a small bowl of bacon bits which you can mix directly into the fondue; the bacon will flavour the cheese and stick to the pieces of bread … heavenly!
* Pineapple – I might be denied Swiss citizenship for serving pineapple with my cheese fondue, but who doesn’t love pineapple with melted cheese??
* Green salad – The Swiss eat salad with absolutely everything, and it is actually not a bad idea to offer a simple green salad to add a healthy component to the meal. I like to make a spikey vinaigrette to dress the salad which, like the pickles, balances the flavours in the meal.
As for the equipment, I like to use a heavy cast-iron fondue pot as it retains the heat very well. I make everything first on the stove before transferring to the table to serve on a fondue stand. At a push, you could use any saucepan you like.
There are many different types of stands and burners available. I actually use a set which is more common for a Chinese-style fondue; in Switzerland, they call it a fondue chinoise, but it is really a Swiss version of a Chinese steamboat where finely sliced meat is dipped into a pot of simmering stock. Perhaps this is an idea for a later blog post 😉
And last, but not least, as the other major component of a cheese fondue is the white wine used to bring the different cheeses together, make sure you use a good quality wine. To make things easy for myself, I simply use the same wine which we also serve during the meal. Others like to drink schnapps or grappa instead. The recommended non-alcoholic drink to serve with a cheese fondue is hot black tea and never cold water; it is believed that any cold beverage might lead to some digestive difficulties, but this small research seems to dispell that myth.
Classic Cheese Fondue
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 15 mins
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: Serves 3-4
For the cheese fondue
- 500 g (18 oz) Camembert
- 400 g (14 oz) Gruyère
- 400 g (14 oz) Vacherin Fribourgeois
- 625 ml (2 1/2 cups) dry white wine (see notes)
- 6 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
- 3 tablespoons Kirsch
- 2-3 small cloves of garlic
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 loaf of crusty bread (white or brown bread, or a mix), cut into bite-sized cubes
- boiled small new potatoes
- pickled corn and/or pickled onions
- Remove the rind from the Camembert and chop the soft cheese into small cubes.
- Cut the Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois into small cubes.
- Heat the wine in a large fondue pot until it starts to simmer.
- Add the cheese and use a large whisk to slowly melt the cheese into the wine.
- Meanwhile, mix together the cornflour (cornstarch) and Kirsch in a small bowl.
- Once the cheese has fully melted into the wine, slowly whisk in some of the cornflour (cornstarch) mixture. You may not need all of it – use enough until you have a thick consistency, but still light enough to easily coat a piece of bread. If your fondue is too thick, simply thin it with some more white wine.
- Add the garlic cloves and season with some pepper.
- Serve the fondue immediately on a stand over a medium flame.
- The fondue needs to be stirred constantly so that it remains emulsified. So as you are dipping your bread into the cheese, swirl it around the pot to give the cheese a good mix, and also to coat your bread nicely.
- Once you get to the bottom of the pot, you will find that a lovely layer of golden cheese will have formed. In our home, this is considered to be the prize of the meal and everyone always fights for a piece.
- A classic Swiss cheese fondue uses half Gruyère and half Vacherin Fribourgeois.
- You can experiment with different types of cheese by substituting one of all of the varities specified in this recipe. I would suggest only 2 to 3 cheeses for a fondue, and preferably of French or Swiss origin. Some good varieties include: Comté, Emmental and Beaufort.
- If you don’t like the flavour of alcohol in your fondue, you can try to cook off some of the alcohol in the white wine by letting it simmer for 3-5 minutes before adding the cheese. You could also substitute the Kirsch with white wine.
- I use a dry white wine in this recipe, which also happens to be the wine we like to serve alongside the fondue. As the wine is one of the major flavours in this dish, you definitely need to use a good quality wine which you would be happy to drink; the wine does not need to be expensive, but it needs to taste good.
- Kirsch is a strong cherry brandy. You can substitute it with grappa, or even whisky is a delicious alternative.
- The garlic cloves gently flavour the cheese during the meal. If you don’t want to use whole garlic cloves, the more traditional method is to simply rub one garlic clove all over the inside of the pot before starting this recipe.
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