Grab your fondue forks and dial up a few friends, because nothing says “share me” like a big pot of melted cheese. Cheese fondue, that is. Yep, this ’70s-style Swiss dish is ready to make a comeback-starting at your dinner table.
Some might regard fondue as a kitsch dish, but I find it incredibly fun. Though cheese fondue is certainly not something I’d serve every night, it’s the perfect fit for a last minute potluck. Have family and friends bring over their favorite dippers, like crunchy bread, raw veggies or cooked potatoes. It’s always a fun, communal feeling to gather round the pot.
With the help of our Test Kitchen experts (and my years of gorging on cheese), we’ve compiled the secrets to making the perfect cheese fondue.
Tip #1: Pick a variety of cheeses
Use a few different types of cheese to produce a well-rounded flavor. Single-cheese fondues tend to be a little one-dimensional. Experiment with two or three of your favorite hard cheeses and see which you like best.
Tip #2: Shred the cheese by hand
Pre-shredded cheese in a bag is an easy shortcut, but shredding by hand is much better: you’ll get a smoother texture and more pronounced flavor.
Tip #3: Use dry wine
Fondue is more than just melted cheese. We add a bit of dry wine, too. Why? The tartaric acid in wine keeps the cheese from becoming stringy when it melts. You can use pretty much any type of dry white wine, from pinot grigio to chardonnay.
Don’t want to use alcohol? Use some low-sodium chicken broth plus a little lemon juice or vinegar for that must-have acid touch. Or try apple cider fondue. It’ll taste different but still good.
Test Kitchen Tip: Go ahead and buy the cheap stuff. It’ll make very little difference in taste of the final fondue. Just stay clear of sweet wines, like moscato, as this will make your fondue noticeably sweet.
Tip #4: Heat it low and slow
It’s important to keep the heat low as you cook. If the cheese gets too hot, the fondue may break, burn or separate. If you’re nervous, you can always melt everything in a double boiler, which has a more gentle heat than a pot right over the burner. (Of course, you can use a special fondue pot if you have one, but it’s not vital.)
Tip #5: Make sure you’re not just serving fondue
Guests will end up feeling queasy if all you’re serving is cheese fondue. Balance the night out by offering a hearty salad or even a main dish of meat. Here’s an apple halibut kabob that’s a perfect fit. That’ll keep fondue as a fun appetizer, rather than a belly-filler.
Here’s our complete recipe for cheese fondue:
1-1/2 pounds of your favorite cheeses, shredded. (We recommend Emmenthaler, Gruyere and Jarlsberg, but you can use just about any quality hard cheese you like as long as it’s a good melter.)
2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
4 teaspoons cherry brandy (also called kirsch)
2 cups dry white wine (or beer + 1 teaspoon lemon juice)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon paprika
Dash cayenne pepper
Step 1: Combine ingredients
In a large bowl, combine cheeses and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. In a small bowl, combine remaining cornstarch and brandy; set aside.
Test Kitchen Tip: Cornstarch helps the cheese melt smoothly instead of clumping together. Don’t substitute flour for the cornstarch-it won’t work the same way.
Step 2: Heat the cheese
In a large saucepan, heat wine over medium heat until bubbles form around the sides of pan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add a handful of the cheese mixture. Stir constantly, using a figure-eight motion, until the cheese is almost completely melted. Don’t try to rush the melting by cranking up the heat!
Step 3: Stir in more cheese and brandy
Continue adding cheese, one handful at a time, allowing it to almost completely melt between additions. Stir in the brandy mixture in between handfuls. After all the cheese is added, throw in the spices. Cook and stir until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
Step 4: Serve
Transfer to a fondue pot or slow cooker to keep a big batch warm. Or pour individual portions into ramekins. To be honest, if we’re feeling casual, we’ll even set the saucepan on a trivet right in the center of the table.
Of course fondue would be nothing without things to scoop it out. Here are a few ideas for what to serve on the side:
- toasted bread
- roasted potatoes
- steamed vegetables
- cubes of cooked chicken or ham
If you want a fondue-like experience without all the stirring, you can bake some deliciousness in a bread pot. For even more ways to share, check out our 25 Favorite Dip Recipes for a Crowd. We break down favorite recipes from beer dip to tropical guacamole. Just be sure to buy an extra bag of chips, because your guests will be snacking all night long.