Do You Fondue?

By Leeanne Griffin

Creamy, bubbling cheese, gooey melted chocolate, sizzling meats cooked to perfection in boiling oil. If those phrases don’t get your mouth watering, then…no fondue for you!

Fondue does double duty as both the ultimate comfort food and as an entertaining party treat. Though it hit the height of its popularity in the 1960s, it’s making a comeback at dinner parties and trendy restaurants everywhere. In Worcester, Block 5 Bistro boasts a classic gruyere and fontina version on its appetizer menu. The Florida-based Melting Pot restaurant chain just opened its newest location in Framingham and offers several varieties of appetizer, dessert and entrée fondues.

Though it’s become a hip menu item, fondue’s roots are far from fashionable. It was invented out of necessity during cold winters in the Swiss Alps. Because it was difficult to find fresh food during the hibernation season, the Swiss made do with what they had ~ bread, cheese and wine. The bread was often stale, and the Swiss realized that dipping it in melted cheese made it more edible. Add wine and seasonings and voila ~ fondue was born.

Making fondue at home is quick and easy if you’ve got the right tools. Department stores sell several kinds of fondue pots ~ some with an electric heating element, some with Sterno candles or another kind of flame to keep the mixture warm. The pots most often come with a set of long, thin dipping forks and a booklet of creative recipes. A decent-sized pot can average from $20-$50, with more upscale models in the hundreds.

Once you have the right equipment, you’re ready to whip up your own creations. The classic cheese fondue incorporates Swiss cheese (Emmenthal or similar), white wine, Kirsch (a cherry-flavored brandy) and garlic. Other popular recipes call for cheddar, brown mustard and beer; some even suggest Brie, Camembert or feta. It’s your fondue, so it’s your call!

You can have just as much fun choosing your dipping items. Though thick, crusty bread cubes are the favorite, fondue enthusiasts also love cut-up vegetables, meat, seafood and potato. Block 5 serves their cheese fondue with broccoli, carrots and Italian sausage. Some more gourmet options: cooked shrimp or apple slices.

Dessert fondue is a sweet ending to any meal ~ it’s pretty hard to say no to melted chocolate and cream. Popular dessert dippers include strawberries, banana slices, marshmallows, pound cake, or brownies ~ or my favorite, pieces of cheesecake.

But don’t forget your manners: There’s a bit of etiquette involved in partaking in a fondue. Swirl the dipper in the fondue, turn the fork and let the liquid drip off before you eat the piece. Try not to let your mouth touch the fork, since it’s going back in the pot. In fact, if you’re super-concerned about etiquette, pull the fondued item off the fondue fork with a normal dinner fork and let it cool on your plate before eating. And please refrain from double-dipping. That’s just wrong.

There are some traditional rules to fondue, too, like if you drop something off your fork into the fondue pot at a party, you have to buy a bottle of wine for the host/hostess, or you have to kiss the person on your right. But it’s way more fun to make up your own rules depending on the people you’ve invited to the fondue party, so get creative!

With winter fast approaching, make it a fun, inviting meal for all your friends ~ or a warm, cozy, romantic dinner for two. Fondue makes any gathering a festive occasion!