Rediscovering the fun of fondue

Fondue is more than a recipe — it is a way of cooking that was developed by Swiss peasants back in the 19th century as a way to use hard/dried-out cheeses to make it more appealing.

The word fondue comes from a French verb that means to melt or to blend.

So, in preparation, the cheese was melted in a communal pot made of heavy earthenware (called a caquelon or fondue pot) and wine (or brandy) was added.

Betsy Crisp has had this fondue pot since she was married, in 1973. (Betsy Crisp)

Crusty bread was cut into cubes so the peasants could take turns dipping the pieces into the pot using long-stemmed forks or skewers.

Not only did this make a great meal, but it became a social event.

Promoted as the national dish of Switzerland in the 1930s, fondue officially made its way to the United States by the 1960s and premiered at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 – I was there!

Like many food trends, fondue’s popularity has waxed and waned.

It became quite trendy for parties in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Other recipes were developed to cook meats and vegetables in oil or broth, and even melt chocolate for dipping fruits or pastry for desserts.

A widely known restaurant chain based in Tampa was established in 1975 and expanded franchises across the United States, into Canada and Mexico, as well, to promote this rather unique way of eating.

If you are a baby boomer like me and looking for a bit of nostalgia, try pulling out the old fondue pot and try one of these recipes. (My fondue pot is electric and dates back to when I married in 1973)

If you are from a younger generation and looking for a new — although actually old — food experience, you can purchase  a new electric fondue pot and be somewhat adventurous.

Typically, metal fondue pots are best for cooking meats/vegetables in the pot with wine, beer, oil or broths because the food cooks in the pot.

For cheese, chocolate or other dessert fondues that require a lower temperature, ceramic pots work well.  However, these days you can get a practical combination pot that can be used for both.

When it comes to cheese selection, it is recommended that you do not mix families of cheeses. For example, here are seven families that work well together within their group:

  • Brie, Muenster, Camembert, Limburger, Port du Salut, and Bel Paese
  • Blue Cheese and Roquefort
  • Cheddar, Colby, Longhorn, and Monterey Jack
  • Cream Cheese/Neufchatel, Ricotta and cottage cheese
  • Gruyere and Emmentaler (Swiss)
  • Mozzarella, Provolone and Scamorze
  • Parmesan and Romano

As for liquids, you never use water, only liquids with flavor, such as beer or wine, or broth. Alcohol will lower the boiling point. You don’t want to boil when using cheese or it will curdle. When doubling a recipe, you will need to reduce the amount of liquid.

When planning a meal or a party, figure about 1 ½ pounds of food per person (a combination of bread, meat/seafood, fruit/vegetables and pastry/cake cubes). All these should be cut into bite-sized pieces (approximately 1-inch cubes).

In general, the recipe is prepared on the stovetop and transferred to the fondue pot to keep warm. The new electric pots (versus candles or food-warming fuels) make life simpler, allowing you to set the desired temperatures (cheese and desserts/chocolates about 120 degrees Fahrenheit for dipping fruit/pastry). Oil is kept at approximately 375 degrees Fahrenheit for frying the meats/vegetables.

Remember to remove the piece of food from the pot and place on a clean plate to cool before eating. Be sure not to use the same plate that raw meat was on, to avoid cross-contamination.

And, because others are sharing the pot, never return a fork that has been touched by tongue or lips back into the pot. In other words, “no double-dipping.”

Betsy Crisp is a Professor Emeritus, UF/IFAS Extension – Family & Consumer Sciences.

Fondue recipes

Classic Swiss Fondue

1 pound Swiss cheese (or 8 ounces Gruyere plus 8 ounces Emmenthaler), shredded

1 clove garlic

2 cups dry or semi-dry white wine (Swiss Fendant, Sauvignon Blank or California Riesling)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoons flour

1 dash each ground paprika and nutmeg

3 Tablespoons kirsch (optional)

Finely dice or coarsely shred the cheese.

Cut the clove of garlic in half. Rub the cut side around the inside of the pot using the back of a wooden spoon and then discard what is left.

Pour the wine into the pot and warm over medium heat. When hot (never boil), add lemon juice.

Lightly toss the flour with the cheese and drop by handfuls into the wine.

Stir constantly with wooden spoon, allowing each handful to melt before adding the next.

Continue stirring in a figure-eight motion until all cheese is melted.

Add and stir in the spices (and kirsch = optional) before serving.

Note: Good for dipping cubed crusty French bread and some raw vegetables.

Basic Meat Fondue
2 pounds beef/boneless sirloin and/or boneless chicken breasts

Enough oil, (peanut*, canola or sunflower – all have a relatively high smoking points**) to fill the electric fondue pot half full.

Trim fat from meat and cut into bite-sized pieces (approximately ½-1” cubes).

Add oil to electric fondue pot set at 375°F.

Pieces of raw meat should be speared with fondue forks off one plate and returned/removed off fork to a clean plate when cooked to avoid cross-contamination. (It takes approximately 30 seconds for medium rare beef, longer for well-done and chicken.)

Let pieces cool. You can season or dip into sauces before eating.

Note: Plan 1 ½ pounds of food per person, including cheese, meat, vegetables, and pastry (3 ounces raw to 5 ounces cooked, lean meat/poultry is considered one serving of protein – about the size of a deck of cards).

*Always be aware of food allergies. **And DO NOT use olive oil, sesame oil, or walnut oil – they are more likely to create smoke at higher temperatures.

Delectable Chocolate Fondue
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (or milk chocolate), broken into pieces

½ cup heavy cream

Combine ingredients in a fondue pot on very low heat (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit).

Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Variations: 1) Add 1 Tablespoon instant coffee powder; 2) add ½ cup crushed nuts; 3) add 1-2 Tablespoons of flavored liquor (coffee, almond, etc.).

Note: Good for dipping pound cake cubes, cookies, marshmallows, assorted fruits, and pretzel rods/sticks.

Published September 19, 2018

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