Want to make a classic Swiss cheese fondue? Here are some key terms to help you get started. For example, did you know that the word fondue (past tense of the French verb: fondre) means “melted?” Keep reading to discover more about what many consider to be Switzerland’s national dish.
The same word applies in German and French to describe the ceramic fondue pot. You add the grated cheese to the caquelon, after rubbing the inside of the pot with a sliced clove of fresh garlic. Before you add the caquelon to the burner on your table, you start heating the cheese on the stovetop, until it reaches the desired consistency.
Fourchettes / Fondue-Gabeln
To serve the cheese fondue, you skewer pieces of bread or boiled potatoes onto long forks, known as fourchettes (French) or fondue-gabeln (German). Be careful! Try not to let your bread fall into the fondue pot. Some people enforce silly rules when this happens, such as kissing the person next to you or singing a song.
A dry white wine traditionally used to make and serve with a Swiss cheese fondue. The Swiss canton of Valais uses another name for wine made with the Chasselas grape variety. They instead refer to it as Fendant.
If you would prefer to make a fondue that omits the wine, you could use apple juice as a replacement, for example. Another option is to make a cheese fondue with 100% Vacherin Fribourgeois. This traditional fondue calls for water, instead of wine. Many recipes also instruct you to heat the cheese in the oven.
Tea, especially black tea, remains another popular drink served with fondue, for a non-alcoholic option.
Fécule de Maïs
The French term for cornstarch, which you can add to a cheese fondue to help thicken the mixture. In German, it’s known as maisstärke. You will also see this ingredient referred to by a common Swiss brand name, Maizena. In addition to cornstarch, recipes will also sometimes call for a squeeze of lemon juice. Like the wine, the acidity in the lemon juice helps to stabilize the cheese mixture and maintain its creaminess.
This clear cherry liqueur can make its way into your Swiss cheese fondue experience in several different ways. First, it’s commonly used as an ingredient in the cheese mixture. For example, Chef Melissa Kelly has a recipe via Food & Wine that adds 1-1/2 tablespoons of kirsch to the caquelon. About halfway through your cheese fondue experience, or after the meal, you may also be offered a small glass of kirsch to sip. It’s supposed to help you digest this heavy meal. Finally, another way that people enjoy kirsch with fondue, is to quickly bathe your bread in it before dipping it in the melted cheese mixture.
One of the most common cheese fondue mixtures in Switzerland is the Moitié-moitié (half and half). This fondue consists of an equal mixture of Gruyère AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) and Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP. You can make this yourself or buy a packaged fondue mix at Swiss cheesemongers or at the supermarket.
Achti / Huit
A common recommendation for stirring the fondue is that you make a figure eight with whatever tool you use for stirring. Achti represents the word for eight in Swiss German. In French, huit means eight. While this is a standard practice, stirring in a circular motion is certainly okay too.
Religieuse / Grossmutter
If the heat is on too high or if you don’t eat the cheese fondue quickly enough, a thin layer may start to cook on the bottom of the pot. This hardened cheese crust carries the name of la religieuse (the nun) in French-speaking Switzerland. On the Swiss German side of the country, they refer to it as the Grossmutter (grandmother).
To cut the richness of a Swiss cheese fondue, people will often serve pickled vegetables, such as cornichons (little sour cucumbers) and tiny onions. Not surprisingly, these are also served with another popular Swiss cheese dish, Raclette.
Vacherin Mont-d’Or AOP
For a mini-fondue, you can use a wheel of Vacherin Mont-d’Or AOP. Production of this cheese takes place in the Swiss canton of Vaud. The wheels of this soft cheese with a rind are wrapped in thin strips of spruce, creating a round box. To serve this cheese, you add garlic and wine and bake it wrapped in foil until it becomes fully melted. You can then dip potatoes directly into the cheese (Recipe: Whole Oven-Baked Vacherin). Given its storage in a wooden container, the nickname of this dish is boîte chaude (hot box). In addition, the production period for this cheese starts on August 15 and continues through until March 31.
Updated: January 16, 2023