I’m a ’70s baby, and the badge of my people is our incredibly strong feelings for fondue. And, you know, talking cars and Care Bears and an unwilling affection for the Bee Gees. But fondue endures in a way K.I.T.T. can’t.
Fondue is, in any form, kind of terrible for you. Whether you’re throwing meat into a giant pot of oil, covering pound cake and strawberries with liquid chocolate, or inhaling half a baguette with a cauldron of cheese, your cardiologist would never.
But just as with Morrissey records, sometimes you cannot explain why you love what you love, and cheese fondue is a hit at almost any gathering. It’s perfect for two—in a way that can be shockingly sexy for lactose—and completely platonic when shared with friends around a fire. It’s an easy hit for dinner parties, and even at an actual shindig, a simple cheese fondue setup will become an obvious gathering spot.
Skip the TJ’s fondue kit. You’re an adult. Buck up and make some real damn fondue.
How to choose the best fondue pot
Most fondue pots are made to hold and heat oil, chocolate, and cheese, so they support a wide temperature range. For cheese, you don’t need to get it all that hot; you just want it to stay melty. For that reason, you can actually skip the fondue pot if you are working over a campfire.
I recommend skipping fondue pots that use Sterno as their sole heat source. They simply don’t get hot enough to keep cheese melty. (They don’t do so great with chocolate either, for that matter; I actually find them kind of useless.) You want an electric fondue pot. They’re not expensive and usually come with fondue forks, which can also be had for a song on their own. Pots and forks are inexpensive enough that it’s not worth a visit to the thrift store. You want one with the nonstick coating intact.
What cheese to use for fondue
When it comes to cheese, I am a purist. I believe that cheese fondue should salute its Alpine origins with a combination of gruyere, Comté, and Swiss cheeses. How you split that up is your call. I make these decisions on the fly in the TJ’s cheese aisle, based on what they have. I prefer a less Swiss-y combo, leaning more heavily on Gruyere and Comté, but this is a personal preference. I aim for around half a pound of cheese per person, which is both terrifying and dead-on accurate.
Take the cheese home, and grab your grater. Even better, if you have a grater attachment for your food processor, push all the cheese through that. In either case, throw all the grated cheese into a big bowl and toss it with flour so the shreds are evenly coated.
Grate some garlic. Yes, grate. Don’t mince or slice; grate it with a microplane: It’s fast and makes a nice paste. Grab a whole bottle of white wine. I always choose a sweeter wine like Riesling, but again, this is a personal choice—a dry Sauv would also work.
Leave the fondue pot on the table. We’re going to prep the fondue on the stove in a separate pot. Add the garlic paste and two cups of wine, turn the heat to medium-high, and whisk. Once the wine is just below a boil, start slowly adding cheese, a handful at a time. Whisk as you go, fully incorporating each addition of cheese. Once that cheese has melted, add another handful. Continue doing this until you’ve added all the cheese. Keep stirring until everything is completely melted.
Often, people are intimidated by the idea of melting all that cheese, or have failed before. But once you realize it’s a wine sauce, with added cheese, and that the flour will keep things smooth, the intimidation factor should dissipate.
Now we’re going to adjust the viscosity of the mix and add the final flavoring. You adjust it with wine, and people often add too little. You want the consistency of a really thick pasta sauce, but no gloopier than that. When in doubt, a little wine will help. As this is happening, the flour will meld with the fat to thicken the mixture—much like a roux—and bind it all together.
Lastly, a classic fondue has a hit of Kirsch, a cherry-flavored brandy. Through my lean years, I didn’t have any cherry alcohol just hanging out, waiting for fondue to happen. I skipped it, and everyone was still quite happy. I once added a little maraschino cherry juice, and it was delightful.
But a few years ago I began making this ridiculous concoction called Cherry Bounce. I now add a hefty swig of that to fondue, and it’s been a miraculous addition. I can’t explain why cherries make the cheese happier, or if any other fruit would work, but if you can get your hands on any cherry alcohol, I say add it. You only need a splash.
If these loosey goosey amounts make you nervous (they certainly make my editor cranky), use this simple recipe and scale up as needed.
Easy Cheesy Fondue
- 1 pound of Alpine cheese
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 small garlic clove
- 3 cups white wine
- 1 tablespoon of cherry booze, optional.
Shred the cheese and toss with the flour. Grate the garlic with a microplane, then add it to a pot, along with the wine. Turn the heat to medium-high, and whisk. Once the wine gets to just below a boil, start slowly adding cheese, a handful at a time, whisking all the while. Once that cheese has melted, add another handful. Repeat until you’ve added all the cheese, stirring continuously until the cheese is completely melted. Set up your fondue pot as described below and serve.
It’s easy to grab an assortment of breads and cube them for dipping, but I like to get a little wild. Choose one hearty, crusty bread and cube it. Grab some soft pretzels. Add steamed broccoli spears, cauliflower spears, and really well-roasted baby Yukon gold potatoes to the platter. For a real bump, add some sliced Alsatian or German sausage, already cooked and warm.
If there’s a lull before dinner, zap all the dippers in the microwave for a minute to warm them before everyone sits down.
Set the fondue pot to medium. Pour the cheese into the pot and assign the person nearest the dial the job of Knob Adjuster. They’ll need to keep the cheese below a bubbling boil. (No cheese burns here.) Keep the cord safely secured.
Everyone gets a plate, a fork and at least one napkin. You shouldn’t need a knife if everything was prepped to be bite-sized. This is a dinner to linger over, so drinks should be plentiful, and the pot should always be within reach. Playing some Bee Gees wouldn’t be absurd.