Let’s get cheesy – a brief history of fondue


cheese2 flickrThis week’s food term post will talk about how melted cheese, white wine, garlic, bread pieces, kisses and dares are related to each other in a typical Swiss dish, which can commonly also be found in France and Italy: cheese fondue.

It is said to have its origins in poor Swiss alpine valleys of the 18th century, when there was not much fresh food available during the rough winters and cheese was one of the few foods that could be kept for months, although it became very hard the longer the cold season lasted. To use up this hardened cheese and stale bread, the Swiss would melt cheese with white wine (helps reducing the gooeyness of the dish) over fire and dunk in pieces of bread to make them soft. Accordingly, the word “Fondue” is French and simply means “melted”. As cheese hardens quite fast when not kept on the heat, it had to be kept in the pot and bread was dipped directly into a centrally placed and shared pot (the “caquelon”).

Later, other ingredients such as garlic and spices (mainly nutmeg and pepper) as well as Kirsch (a cherry brandy or schnapps) were added and the nowadays known and beloved traditional fondue was born. These days, it also comes with several special tools such as extra-long forks to facilitate everyone’s access to the common pot and a réchaud, a little stove to keep the fondue melted, with candles or fire gel as a heat source. The mixture of cheese and the other ingredients vary from region to region and family to family. Also, most supermarkets offer at least two or three types of ready-made fondue.

As the dish is quite heavy, the preferable drink with it is either tea (to calm the stomach), white wine and in between Kirsch shots (to numb the stomach). In addition to this, some families also dip fresh fruits (grapes and pears) and sausages into the cheese to make it lighter. However, true fans would add a raw egg to the last liquid layer of cheese and mix it up, before they reach the Grossmutter (German for grandmother) or la religieuse (French for the nun), a crusty, golden, unburnt layer of cheese at the very bottom of the pot. It is normally shared between all the dining companions.

So, what about those kisses and dares? If someone loses a bread piece in the pot, the group will choose a small punishment. For men, it is normally the duty to take care of the next round of drinks, whereas women have to kiss their two (male) neighbours. The tipsier the dinner gets, the more likely are other dares such as running once around the house barefoot (through the snow), singing a song or drinking some extra shots.


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Written by Martina Christen
Study visitor at TermCoord

Student in Multilingual and Multicultural Communication