How to host a fondue night the classic Swiss way

Fondue from Milk the Cow, Melbourne.
Fondue from Milk the Cow, Melbourne. Photo: David Hyde

God bless Switzerland and its inventions. Without the Swiss, we wouldn't have muesli for breakfast or velcro to fasten smartphones to our arms while jogging. There would be no cellophane to wrap toffee apples, a lack of milk chocolate and, most horrifically, an absence of fondue for the dark days of winter.

"Fondue is a very social thing," says Daniel Frutiger, president of the Swiss Club of NSW. "There's certainly a lot of fun to be had by dipping bread in warm cheese when it's cold outside."

Most food historians agree that modern fondue originated in the 1800s when Swiss villagers would make the most out of stale bread and old cheese by melting gruyere and emmental with wine and garlic for the ultimate in Alpine comfort.

The cheese fantasia rose to global prominence during the chalet-chic days of the 1970s and most Australians still associate fondue with Number 96 parties and ABBA karaoke.

If you haven't made fondue since Jack Thompson stripped for Cleo, then it's time to track down the burner and get bubbling. There's more to fondue than kitsch and calories.

Serious fondue comes with a serious pricetag and some recipes suggest blending up to 800 grams of high-end imported cheese to satisfy four people.

If you haven't made fondue since Jack Thompson stripped for Cleo, then it's time to track down the burner and get bubbling.

"You can be as creative as you like with your fondue cheese combination but there are a few ground rules to keep in mind," says a spokesperson for Milk the Cow, which holds winter fondue nights at its St Kilda and Carlton fromageries.

"You want cheeses with good melting consistency. Comte, gruyere and semi-aged mountain-style cheeses such as emmental and appenzeller have good elasticity and moisture. Never use parmesan alone, for instance. It's too crumbly and needs to be combined with great melting cheeses."

Dry, slightly-acidic white wine is a vital ingredient to balance the fondue's fat and decrease the danger of it splitting. Cornflour will also reduce the risk of heated cheese separating into a milky, curdled mess and lemon juice can work a treat too.

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When it comes to extra flavouring, white pepper, nutmeg, paprika, mustard seeds and kirsch (cherry brandy) are common additions. "Some Swiss will even add curry powder," Frutiger says.

Crudites and potato are valid dipping vessels, but nothing holds fondue better than cubes of stale bread. (Fresh bread is too soft and floppy for cheese to get a proper grip.)

Just don't drop your bread in the pot as tradition dictates you'll be tasked with the washing up or buying a round of drinks.  

Fondue recipe by Milk the Cow

Serves 1

This is our in-house Milk the Cow recipe for our Kaas Mit Wein Zu Kochen fondue. Translation: "to cook cheese with wine". It's our take on a classic fondue.

Ingredients

90ml white wine

1/2 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp cornflour

15ml kirsch

50g gruyere, cubed

20g appenzeller, cubed

20g comte, cubed

60g emmental, cubed

1 pinch nutmeg

1 pinch salt

1 pinch pepper

cubed bread to serve

Method

Heat a pan and add the wine and garlic. Allow to heat but not boil. In a separate bowl combine the cornflour and kirsch to make a paste.

Add paste to wine and garlic, stirring to combine.

Add cheese to the mixture, stirring occasionally until cooked down.

Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, stirring until smooth.

Pour your fondue into cast-iron pot set over a tea light and garnish with thyme or rosemary. Heap bread alongside, dip in and indulge.