Fondue refers to several French Swiss communal dishes shared at the table in an earthenware pot ("caquelon") over a small burner ("r√©chaud"). The term "fondue" comes from the French "fondre" ("to melt"), referring to the fact that the contents of the pot are kept in a liquid state so that diners can use forks to dip into the sauce. Though cheese fondues are perhaps the best known kind, there are several other possibilities for the contents of the pot and what is used for dipping ‚Ä" recipes are not entirely fixed and vary depending on the cook.

As with other communal dishes, fondue has etiquette standards ranging from practical to amusing. Some people consider it rude to allow one's lips or tongue to touch the fondue fork, and with meat fondues one should use a dinner fork to remove the meat from the dipping utensil. If the bread or fruit is lost in the cheese, it is tradition for that person to buy a round of drinks or to be punished in another way.

Cheese fondue

Cheese fondue was invented out of necessity. In the remote and isolated mountain villages in the Swiss Alps people had to rely upon locally made food. During winter, fresh food became scarce. The Swiss found that melting stale cheese made it edible. Local wines and seasonings were added and even dry and hard bread tasted delicious after it was swirled in the creamy melted cheese. In some cheese fondues, potatoes or fruit are served instead of bread.

Many varieties of cheese fondue exist, each with a unique name and different blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning, depending on where it is made. They are all cooked in a caquelon rubbed with a cut garlic clove. A small amount of corn starch or flour is added to prevent separation, often diluted in kirsch. Cubed crusty bread is dipped using a fondue fork. The most common recipe requires 1 dl of dry white wine per person, and 200 g of a mix of hard (such as Gruyère) and semi-hard (such as Emmental, Vacherin or raclette) cheeses. Well-known variations include:

Swiss Fondues:
Fondue Neuch√Ęteloise: gruy√®re and emmental
Fondue Moitié-Moitié: (half-half): gruyère and Fribourg vacherin
Fondue Vaudoise : gruyère
Fondue Fribourgeoise: pure Fribourg vacherin (often served with potatoes instead of bread)
Fondue de Suisse centrale : gruyère, emmental and sbrinz
Tomato Fondue: Gruyère, Emmental and crushed tomatoes in the place of wine.
Spicy Fondue: gruyère, red and green peppers and chilli
Mushroom Fondue : gruyère, Fribourg vacherin and mushrooms
French Fondues:
Fondue Savoyarde: comté savoyard, beaufort, and emmental.
Fondue Jurassienne: pure mature and normal comté
Italian Fondues:
Fonduta: is prepared in the French-minority region of Aosta valley in Italy, and employs fontina, milk, eggs, and truffles
In a perfect cheese fondue, the mixture is held at a temperature low enough to prevent burning, but hot enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid. Ideally, when the fondue is finished, there will be a thin crust of toasted (but not burnt) cheese in the bottom of the caquelon. In French, this is commonly referred to as 'la religieuse' ("the nun").

While cheese fondue is a traditionally Swiss dish, it was not common until the 1950s, when the slowing cheese industry in Switzerland needed a way to increase sales. Fondue was a perfect solution, permitting a diner to consume a half-pound of cheese in one sitting.

In 1955, the first instant fondue was brought on the market. Modern instant fondues are surprisingly accurate renditions of the homemade product, requiring little more than to be melted in the caquelon just before serving. Individual portions that can be cooked using a microwave oven are also available.

Fondue Chinoise (broth fondue)
In this variety of fondue, the diner dips rolled shaved beef into a simmering broth. As with fondue Bourguignonne, dipping sauces are served. Fondue Chinoise is named after its relation to the Asian hot pot.

Fondue Bourguignonne (deep-fat fondue)
In Fondue Bourguignonne, small cubes of meat (normally horse meat or beef) and sometimes vegetables or seafood are skewered on the fondue fork and fried by each person at the table. An assortment of sauces are provided for dipping. (Some fondue restaurant chains also provide flavored batters to coat the food with before frying, but it is not traditional.)

Dessert fondue
More recently, in the 1960s, dessert fondue recipes have appeared, typically a caquelon of melted chocolate into which pieces of fruit or pastries are dipped.

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