What Is Fondue and What Does That Word Really Mean?

What is fondue? Grab your pointy sticks and grab your cubes of bread, because today we’re taking a look at fondue, the communal favorite that has long delighted family gatherings all over the world. Let’s find out all about this gooey greatness! 

What does fondue mean?

Fondue is derived from the French word “fondre,” which means “to melt.” But you can’t just call any melted cheese or chocolate fondue. Fondue also about the social activity of gathering around the pot to enjoy some melted goodness together. 

What is cheese fondue?

Larousse Gatronomique describes cheese fondue as, “A Swiss specialty consisting of one or more cheeses melted in a special pottery fondue dish with white wine and flavoring. When the mix becomes creamy, the dish is placed over a spirit lamp on the table to keep it hot.” Then, people dip cubes of bread and other ingredients into the mix using a two-pronged fork.  

The cheese is traditionally a blend of Gruyère and Emmental, melted with white wine, garlic, and sometimes a touch of lemon juice or kirsch (cherry brandy). But there are many cheese fondue variations. There’s fondue normande, made with Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, and Livarot, cream, milk, Calvados, and shallots. There’s fondue piemontaise made with Fontina, butter, melt, and egg yolks with white truffles. There’s even a fondue variation from the legendary Brillat-Savarin made with scrambled eggs and cheese. 

What to dip in cheese fondue?

If you can fit it on a two-pronged fork, you can dip it in cheese fondue. But, traditionally, you dip cubes of crusty bread, such as baguette or sourdough, as well as produce like steamed broccoli and cauliflower, or even apple slices to complement the savory cheese. Finally, for all you carnivores out there, cured meats like salami or prosciutto are always a reliable option when considering what to coat in melted cheese. 

What is chocolate fondue?

Chocolate fondue is essentially the same idea as cheese fondue, but differs in (hopefully) obvious ways. The chocolate fondue process involves melting chocolate to create a smooth, velvety dip. Dark, milk, or white chocolate can be used, and the melted concoction becomes a decadent dip for various sweet and sweet-adjacent dippers. 

What to dip in chocolate fondue?

Chocolate fondue offers a different array of dippables. Pretty much everything in the dessert realm is on the table! Fresh fruits like strawberries, bananas, and pineapple are popular, but you can also go full “decadent treat” mode by using things like marshmallows, pretzels, cubes of pound cake, cookies, brownie bites, churros, or waffles as your base. Heck, you’re covering it in chocolate; anything’s going to taste good! 

Where did fondue originate?

Fondue is from Switzerland, of course! (Though it was also popular just over the border in the Haute-Savoie region of France, but don’t tell the Swiss that.) The first known recipe for a fondue-esque meal (cheese melted with wine, then served with bread for dipping) was published in the book Kochbuch der Anna Margaretha Gessner in 1699 in Switzerland. Some believe it originated as a means for Alpine farm families to stretch their limited resources during the winter months. With some remaining cheese, cubes of stale bread, and a dash of wine, the family could gather around the hearth and consume a hearty, simple meal. 

But modern day cheese fondue didn’t come about until the 1800s. And it didn’t become the national dish of Switzerland until the 1930s when the (now defunct) Swiss Cheese Union declared it to be so. (If you want to find out more about the Swiss Cheese Union and why it no longer exists, read this NPR story.) 

This same organization was also responsible for fondue’s popularity in America in the 1970s. They pushed it hard in ad campaigns featuring fun-loving Swiss folks gathered around red pots of melted cheese; and it worked. Of course, it didn’t take much to convince people. After all, this is before folks had phones they could look at instead of engaging in an interactive meal with their friends and family. Plus, melted cheese is good.  

Fondue is notable not only for being delicious and relatively easy, but it holds the distinction of being one of the only things one might be delighted to see in a bubbling cauldron. The list isn’t very long, and we salute fondue for making the top! 

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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