Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fondue Through The Ages

Fondue Through The Ages
Chef Michael Hayes

In a world where you can attain anything from a hamburger or other fast food meal in a matter of minutes, to being able to purchase almost any kind of food in the frozen food section of the local supermarket, it intrigues and captivates me when we are able to go back to the basics of traditional “roots” cooking and dining.

Such is the case of fondue and derivatives of this ancient method of food preparation and consumption. When we think of fondue we often think of the dessert fondues and not of the origins and the different types of fondue that have been around for hundreds of years. To get a better understanding of fondue, the origins and history of fondue and the types both traditional and new fusions of this ancient art of cooking me and the soon to be Mrs. Cheffy went out to a fondue restaurant to get a deeper understanding of this little known art.


Fondue refers to different communal dishes shared at a table in a caquelon (earthenware pot) over a rechaud (small burner) which has French and Swiss roots, most notably the Swiss Alps. It is said that fondue was first documented by Homer’s Iliad with a mixture of wine and goat cheese. The word fondue comes from the French “fondre” which means “to melt”.

Although the origin of fondue is not really known, it is speculated that fondue was an invention of necessity by the French-Swiss as a way of using breads, locally grown produce, preserved meats and cheeses that were prepared in the summer and fall months by mixing the locally produced cheeses with wine, and melting the cheese, then dipping the stale bread in the cheese mixture. This method rehydrated the breads, vegetables and meats to make them palatable. Through the course of centuries there have been many varieties and variations of the original fondue.

Swiss Cheese Fondues:

Fondue Neuchateloise-the mixture of emmantal and gruyere cheeses
Fondue Molite-Molite- equal parts of gruyere and Friborg vacherin
Fondue Vaudoise-Gruyere
Fondue Fribourgeoise-Friborg Vacherin (served with boiled small potatoes instead of bread)
Fondue de Suisse Central-Gruyere, emmantal and sbrinz
Appenzeller Fondue- Appenzeller Cheese
Tomato Fondue- Gruyere, Emmantal and the use of crushed tomatoes instead of wine.
Spicy Fondue- Gruyere, red and green peppers and chiles.
Mushroom Fondue-Gruyere, Fribourg Cacherin and mushrooms

There are different methods of cooking proteins and vegetables in non-cheese fondues.

Fondue Chinoise- Meats and vegetables cooked in a vegetable or meat broth with red wine and a variety of herbs and spices which should always have garlic and shallots among other herbs and spices. Fondue Chinoise as well as Fondue Bourguignonne is served with a variety of dipping sauces.

Fondue Bourguignonne- Meats sliced thinly and cooked in a caquelon with hot oil and occasionally butter.

Fondue Bressane- Chicken pieces dipped in buttermilk or some other form of cream, then rolled in seasoned bread crumbs and fried in the caquelon like fondue bourguinonne. Bressane is also served with a variety of sauces.

Dessert Fondues- The most popular dessert fondue, by far, is chocolate fondue although dessert fondues can be made out of fruits, coconut, caramel, and marshmallows to name a few. Chocolate fondue is usually made with milk chocolate melted with the addition of vanilla extract, liqueurs and other flavorings. Dessert fondues are usually accompanied by an assortment of confections such as marshmallows, cheesecake, cookies, brownies, pound cake and with a variety of fruits like bananas, pineapples, strawberries and other berries to name a few.

Although fondue has been around for centuries it did not begin to gain popularity until the 1950’s and 60’s mainly due to the markets of the Swiss and French Alps cheese industry coming to a standstill. So, as with a lot of other industrial ideas the idea was to introduce the fondues to the American market and the rest, so they say, is history. Today, although the preparation of fondues is quick and simple you can buy fondue kits which include all of the necessities to make a successful fondue to purchasing microwavable fondues in a variety of flavors.

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