You probably haven’t dusted off your fondue set for a while – in the UK this dish has largely been confined to memory alongside other remnants of the 1970s like platform shoes, hot pants and the Space hopper. Not so in Switzerland, and if you decide to travel here you’re more than likely to find yourself dipping into a big bubbling bowl of cheese with your dining companions, in fact it’s an absolute must on Swiss holidays. Here, ‘la fondue’ means a cheese fondue, not meat or anything else. A fairly shallow round pot is used, and in it goes a cheese sauce usually made up of two or more types, with Gruyère a must, as well as white wine, Kirsch, a little garlic and lemon juice. Only bread is dipped into the fondue, cut into cubes, which you spear on your long, thin fork.
What began in the 18th century as a way of using up ageing cheeses and stale bread in the winter when access to fresh ingredients was limited, is now a much-loved Swiss tradition. And, as with any tradition, there are some dos and don’ts to ensure you do the right thing and eat just like the locals. Plan to have between two and four people sharing a pot – more than that and the cheese will get over-stirred and the pot will be crowded with too many forks. Believe it or not, there is a right way to dip your bread, and that is to scrape it on the very bottom of the pot, either in a slow zigzag motion or in a figure of eight. This means that everyone stirs the cheese, releasing its full flavour. Allow any excess to fall from the bread, which also cools it a little before eating.
You must not double dip, and never put your fork directly into your mouth. You can grab it off with just your teeth, but the best way is to slide it onto your plate and use a regular fork to eat it. If you like a tipple, the good news is that it’s recommended that you drink white wine rather than water with your fondue. It is said that the acidity in the wine helps with digestion and stops bloating.
There are even some party games to help you enjoy your fondue. If your bread falls into the pot, you have to drink a shot of Kirsch. If you forget to stir, you have to serve your next forkful to the person on your right. And if you break the golden rule and put your fork into your mouth, you must kiss the person to your left!
A shot of Kirsch
At the end of your meal you’ll be left with a hard slab of cheese on the bottom of the pot, and this is considered a real treat. If you feel you just can’t manage one more mouthful, apparently a small shot of Kirsch knocked straight back regains your appetite. It’s certainly worth a try.