How many times have you heard that “fondue is making a comeback”? Well, guess what? The classic pot of magnificently smooth, melted cheese into which we dip long-handled forks speared with chunks of bread, apples, pickled onions, and other morsels never really went away.
From its humble beginnings as a makeshift communal winter meal of stale bread dipped into melted chunks of leftover cheese in poor Swiss villages centuries ago, to its fancier iteration as the national dish of Switzerland in the 1930s, the appeal of fondue has never wavered. (And it’s helped the Swiss government sell lots of cheese.) In the 1960s and ’70s, the appealing concept caught America’s fancy. Fondue and all of its accoutrements became a modern icon of any stylish party. The idea of everyone sharing one dish broke down social barriers; fondue-related traditions involving kissing were invoked; and much white wine was consumed along with the cheese. Brightly colored fondue sets with Jetsons-like designs showed up from coast to coast. And if you got married during those decades, you probably received at least three sets of pots and tiny forks.
Since those more indulgent days, fondue’s popularity may have risen and subsided a few times, but the big comeback we keep hearing about is culinary fiction. Just ask Chef Eric May at Midway’s European-style Blue Boar Inn (theblueboarinn.com). “We go through about four gallons of fondue a week, serve it all year, and always have,” he says. At Adolph’s Restaurant (adolphsrestaurant.com), a European-style Park City mainstay, traditional cheese fondue has been a favorite for 35 winters, with no end in sight.
In addition to Adolph’s and the Blue Boar, you can dip into traditional cheese fondues at Apex at the Montage (montagedeervalley.com) and the Austrian-tinged Goldener Hirsch (goldenerhirschinn.com)—both perfect après-ski destinations. You can also gather a private party for full-on traditional cheese fondue at Deer Valley’s Sunset Cabin (deervalley.com). Down in town, High West Distillery (highwest.com) puts a whiskey twist on the usual. As for dessert fondues, nobody does it better than the folks at Fireside Dining in Empire Lodge (deervalley.com), with their selection of chocolate, caramel, and white chocolate Grand Marnier mixtures.
Over the years, the term “fondue” has been generalized to other dishes in which food is dipped into a communal pot of hot liquid—such as chocolate or caramel, both perfect vehicles for fruit and marshmallows. Fondue bourguignonne is a general term for meats cooked in hot oil and served with a variety of dipping sauces—mighty appealing, but it never became as popular as the cheese version.
In traditional cheese fondue, proportions and types of cheese matter, as does the variety of pot. Generally, a caquelon, a wide, fairly shallow earthenware pot, is the best choice, as it distributes heat evenly. The stand it sits on is called the réchaud. Under the pot, a low flame keeps things smooth. These days the preferred fuel is a “fire gel” rather than the more dicey and combustible alcohol. When it comes to dessert fondues, you want a lower flame, often just from a tea light—or go with a simple plug-in pot. Whatever you do, just be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions.
Most recipes call for a combination of two cheeses: Gruyère, for its deep flavor and high butterfat content, and Swiss or French Emmental (also spelled Emmenthaler or Emmentaler), for its full, nutty flavor and satiny texture when melted. They’re combined because either cheese alone would be too sharp or too bland. Of course, you’ll also see a range of other cheeses, such as luscious Vacherin and Appenzeller, included. Generally, the cheeses are melted in a dry white wine to help keep the cheese from burning over direct heat and to add flavor. Kirsch (a clear cherry brandy) gives the cheesy blend a mellow alcoholic boost and cherry aroma, while a garlic clove rubbed on the walls of the fondue pot adds bite. Flour or cornstarch helps keep the cheese from separating.
Finally, once the cheese is all scooped up, you’ll discover la religieuse—the crisp crust of cheese that remains on the bottom of the pot. This is a delicacy, so pull it off the pot and enjoy the crackly goodness.
High West Distillery’s Five Cheese Fondue
- 4 oz Gruyère cheese
- 2 oz Appenzeller cheese
- 2 oz Vacherin cheese
- 1 oz Emmenthaler cheese
- 1 oz Fontina cheese
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- 7 oz dry white wine
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp High West double rye whiskey
- 1/8 oz nutmeg (freshly grated)
Grate all of the cheeses together and set aside. Rub the fondue pot walls with garlic, then pour the white wine into the pot and set it on the burner. When the wine comes to a boil, add the cheese mixture, then lower the heat and keep stirring constantly.
Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in the whiskey. When the cheese is melted, add the cornstarch/whiskey mixture to thicken the fondue. Just before serving, add the freshly grated nutmeg.
Serve with diced apples, chunks of baguette, and walnut breads.
Deer Valley’s Fireside Dining Caramel Fondue
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice or water
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Mix the sugar and the lemon juice in a heavy saucepan until it resembles wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, over medium-high heat. After a few minutes, the sugar will begin to melt; continue stirring until any lumps dissolve and the mixture turns a deep caramel color, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in a little of the cream. The hot caramel will seize when you add the cold cream, but it will melt again as it cooks.
Return the pan to low heat and gradually stir in the remaining cream. Cook, stirring, until the caramel and cream are homogenous.
Serve warm with sliced apples and bananas, strawberries, wedges of fresh pineapple, cubes of cinnamon pound cake, mini almond biscotti, dried apricots, whole almonds, and meringue kisses.
Looking to throw your own fondue party? Here's a roundup of sizzling sets at every price range.
Mamma Ro Fondue Set
At La Niche
(401 Main St, 435.649.2372)
Curvy, brilliant red, and made to last for generations, this hand-made Italian pottery set comes from Mamma Ro, an Italian company started by two brothers in Lucca.
Swissmar Lugano Fondue Set
At No Place Like Home
(1685 Bonanza Dr, 435.649.9700)
Channel your inner Heidi with this sturdy 2-quart cast iron “Lugano” set from Swissmar, the venerable Swiss cookware company. The cherry red pot is a popular favorite.
Velata Chocolate Fondue Warmer
Into portability with no mess or flame? Velata chocolate fondue warmers come in three styles and a variety of colors. The heat source is a 25-watt light bulb.