The Swiss sure do love their fondue (although not so much in summer months). What’s great is that it takes little prep and is truly a community meal. Heck, it is even considered the symbol of Swiss unity!
There is special equipment that one whips out only when having fondue. For example, all fondues are served in a pot called a caquelon. Food is dipped with a fondue fork, which often have a color dot at the end for differentiation purposes (forks are used for all the following fondues unless otherwise stated). As it turns out, there are many different types of fondue, which fall into 5 broad categories: cheese-based, broth-based, oil-based, wine-based, and dessert fondues.
Cheese-based. With cheese-based fondues, the tradition is to eat them with bread (potatoes are possible in some regional variations), but I also like dipping miniature corn and small pickles. Double dipping never seems to be an issue for people. To prepare the caquelon for a cheese fondue, first rub it with a piece of cut garlic and you’re good to go. Once you have successfully consumed your cheesy meal, there will be a crusted piece of cheese at the bottom of your fondue pot (la religieuse = “the nun”). You can take it out and eat it like a cracker if you’re still hungry!
Honestly, I don’t even know all the possible combinations of cheeses for different types of cheese fondues. Ones I have tried since moving here include the common “half and half” (1/2 Gruyere and 1/2 Fribourg vacherin), a fondue that was 1/2 cheese and 1/2 tomato sauce, and a cheese/champagne fondue for New Year’s Eve one year. To prepare a cheese fondue, my husband and I typically buy ready-to-use packs of cheese from the local cheese shop in Provence (French-only website). The cheese from Les Ponts-de-Martel is also divine (also French-only), and you can take a tour to see how their cheese is made (although I haven’t gotten around to that yet).
Cheese fondues also make for an easy outdoor meal. There is even a group of people who look for the most extreme ways to enjoy their cheese-fest!
Broth-based. These next three types of savory fondues are served at the table alongside platters of raw meat (that you cook in the fondue pot piece by piece) as well as dipping sauces (garlic, cocktail, herb, and curry are the four go-to sauces in my hubby’s family). These three can also be served with a starch & veggies to balance out the meal.
In Switzerland, the most famous broth fondue is Chinese fondue (broth with thin noodles and black mushrooms). In fact, it is the traditional Christmas meal in many families! There is also a Mongolian fondue (dip meat with mini-ladles) with different spices. Instead of meat, you can also opt for a seafood fondue (when dipping seafood, a basket is needed).
Oil-based. The most popular oil-based fondue is the Bourguignonne. You heat the oil in the caquelon (you can put a potato in the bottom so it won’t splash as much!) and can cover your meat or seafood in egg and breading before cooking it. It’s typically polite to warn your guests ahead of time that you will be serving an oil fondue as it does tend to splash onto your clothing (the smell also tends to permeate, so plan on washing your outfit before you wear it again).
Wine-based. The Bacchus fondue (typically red-wine-based) is the final option for a dinner fondue. Another variation is the Indian fondue that my neighbor loves, which uses white wine and curry.
If you’d rather have a fondue at the end of your meal instead of as the main attraction, you’ll be more interested in the dessert fondues! Most of these are made with melted chocolate, but I’ve also heard of using butterscotch. In Switzerland, most opt to dip fruit in these fondues if they ever have one. Strange but true; in this land of chocolate and fondue, I have NEVER had a chocolate fondue! In America, I know a lot of people who enjoy dipping donuts, cakes, and/or Rice Krispies treats in their chocolate fondue, but most Swiss consumers find this too sweet.
Well, there you have it: your Swiss-style guide to fondues! Bon appétit!