1 It’s not French
It’s pretty clearly documented that fondue is, in fact, Swiss. But it’s also true that it’s very popular and widely available in France, especially in Alpine areas along the Swiss border.
The history of melting down bits of cheese and dipping bread into the resulting goo goes back centuries – but the modern form of fondue comes from Switzerland in the 1930s, and was then popularised in France’s ski resorts.
These days you’ll find fondue a staple on winter menus in areas such as Savoie, Jura and Hautes-Alpes, while away from the Alps its common to find fondue restaurants in cities such as Paris.
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2 It’s all about cheese
When you hear the word fondue you might be thinking of dipping meat and vegetables into a pot of hot oil, or even a chocolate fondue.
But the most common form of fondue in France is cheese.
It’s made by melting cheese in a pot along with wine (and sometimes Kirsch) and seasoning. To eat it, you keep the pot over a low flame – fondue kits usually have a gas burner underneath to keep your cheese warm and molten – and then dip in pieces of bread on long forks and eat the bread and warm, melted cheese.
You might have a green salad alongside it, but in general a fondue dinner consists of nothing but bread and cheese.
3 But there are many different recipes
But being merely bread and cheese doesn’t mean that there isn’t controversy over the fondue recipe – in fact the French and Swiss like nothing more than sniping at each other over the best way to make it.
The key is the cheese that you use.
In Switzerland, the main ingredients are Gruyère and vacherin from Fribourg.
In France, it is often made from French cheeses like Comté, Beaufort and Emmental – which is the recipe for the classic Fondue Savoyarde, from the Alpine region of Savoie.
However there are regional variations on the recipe in both countries
4 Drink wine
One thing that both countries agree on, however, is that you should drink white wine with it. A crisp white is the best thing to cut through the fattiness of the cheese, and areas where fondue is served often produce particularly dry and fresh whites that are the perfect accompaniment.
Some areas also produce a vin jaune – yellow wine – that is also good with fondue.
Old ladies in both countries like to tell you that drinking water with fondue can be fatal – apparently the cold water solidifies the cheese in your stomach and causes a blockage. We’re yet to see any documented cases of this actually happening, however.
5 Don’t forget the nuns
Once you have nearly finished your fondue, you get to the best bit – the slightly burned and crispy bits of cheese scraped from the bottom of the pot.
These are known as religieuse, which means nun and exactly how it got this name is not clear.
Swiss sources suggest it may refer to either the practice of people leaving leftovers for nuns, or the nuns of Valère, who apparently saved leftovers of cheese and grilled them over a candle in their cells.
Away from fondue areas, a religieuse refers to a French pastry – it’s two choux pastry buns, one larger than the other, with a filling of usually chocolate or coffee mousse. It’s extremely delicious, but trying to eat one after polishing off a full fondue might be a challenge too far.