Few foods are more festive than warm, comforting fondue. This holiday cheese recipe is great for entertaining at Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or any time it’s cold outside and you’re craving luscious molten cheese. (If you love melted cheese but don’t have the special equipment, check out our easy raclette dinner recipe.)
All you need are the right cheeses and some special equipment to make and serve cheese fondue for your holiday celebration. Here’s how to make it happen.
Where Is Cheese Fondue From?
Fondue originated in Switzerland in the eighteenth century as a way to use stale bread and cheese.
Firm Alpine cheeses made in the region were grated and melted over a low flame. Alcohol—traditionally white wine—was mixed in to add flavor and help keep the cheese smooth and melted without burning. Once the cheese was luscious and molten, crusts of bread were dunked in and eaten, made much tastier when dipped in the mixture.
Fondue grew in popularity in the 1930s, when it was promoted by the Swiss Cheese Union as a national dish of Switzerland. The group later marketed fondue in America in the 1960s and 1970s—which is why you’ve seen so many fondue pots at thrift stores and vintage shops in bright, trippy colors.
While the original fondue is made with cheese, other foods have been melted or cooked in a communal heated vessel in the style of fondue since the mid-20th century. Chocolate may be melted to create dessert fondue served with bread, fruit, and other sweets, while vegetables, meat, and seafood may be cooked in boiling hot broth or oil.
What Are the Best Cheeses for Fondue?
Alpine cheeses are classic for cheese fondue—after all, they’re the signature style of Switzerland.
Gruyère is the standard go-to, with a combination of flavor and meltability, but other Swiss cheeses like Emmental or Appenzeller (or a combination) may be used instead. A common approach is to blend a firmer, more flavorful aged cheese with a younger, milder cheese with better meltability
While Alpine wheels are traditional, you can make fondue with other types of firm cheese that melt well. Sharp and mild cheddar or young and aged Gouda are nontraditional combinations to try. Other cheeses that melt well are fontina, raclette, Colby, Monterey Jack, and pepper Jack.
How Much Cheese Per Person for Fondue?
Plan to purchase around eight ounces of cheese per person when serving fondue. An intimate date night meal for two would require about a pound of cheese, while a meal for four would require two pounds, a dinner party with eight guests would need four pounds, and so on.
If you have leftover cheese, store it well and enjoy it on a future cheese board. If you end up with extra fondue in the pot once everyone’s had their fill, save it to re-melt and enjoy on toast or over potatoes the next day.
Which Fondue Pot Is the Best?
Yes, you need special equipment to make fondue. But the result is totally worth it.
A classic fondue set includes a pot to hold the cheese, a tabletop stand, a burner or candle, and a set of long-handled forks.
Ceramic pots are the most traditional, but enameled cast iron pots also hold heat well without burning the cheese, as do copper-coated pots. Stainless steel pots will also work, provided they have a heavy bottom. Look for a pot with sturdy construction, a heavy bottom, and easy-to-grip handles. (Sadly, those vintage aluminum fondue pots aren’t great at holding heat.)
Fondue is typically heated in the pot on the stove, then moved to a candle or burner with solid fuel, such as a Sterno. Some burners use liquid fuel or even butane to keep the cheese warm and melted at your table. Other fondue pots are electric, meaning the heat is easily adjustable. However, electric fondue pots must be plugged in, which can pose a difficulty depending on how your dining space is set up.
Fondue pots come in a range of sizes, from tiny two-person models to punch bowl-sized vessels for big parties. A pot in the one-to-two-quart range that comes with between four and eight forks should work well for most people.
Can You Just Melt Cheese for Fondue?
Unfortunately, you can’t simply heat some grated cheese on the stove or in the microwave and expect to have the classic fondue experience. Adding alcohol and another ingredient, cornstarch, keeps the cheese fluid and smooth, while the low, sustained heat of the burner keeps it molten without burning.
What Do You Serve With Fondue?
In addition to cheese and a fondue set, you’ll also need tasty accompaniments to dip in. Artisan bread or baguettes, apples, pears, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, roasted potatoes, and even nontraditional options like meatballs, crispy bacon, soft pretzels, and potato chips are delicious when dunked into the pot.
You’ll also want to include some lighter fare that’s not necessarily for dipping to balance out the richness of the cheese. Think acidic, bright-tasting fruits like grapes or berries, pickles, or a simple green salad dressed in a zippy vinaigrette.
How to Make Fondue
You’ve gotten your fondue pot, your cheese and other ingredients, and your accompaniments. It’s time to make fondue!
First, take care of any accompaniment prep, like slicing baguettes or cooking vegetables, earlier in the day. You can also grate your cheeses the morning or afternoon of your gathering. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge until it’s time to melt.
When you’re ready to melt, toss the grated cheese with cornstarch and rub a cut garlic clove on the inside of your fondue pot. Put the pot on the stove over medium-low heat (except for electric fondue pots, which don’t go on the stove—follow the manufacturer’s instructions for heating the cheese).
Add the cheese mixture and the alcohol to the pot, stirring for a few minutes as the cheese melts. Once it’s melted, light the burner on your fondue pot, turn off the stove, and move the pot to its stand over the burner. Grab your forks, spear some goodies, and dip in!
What are your favorite cheeses to use for fondue? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!