Swiss Fondue 101

From October to March, fondue pots are bubbling all across Switzerland. Thanks to the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) and huge advertising campaigns over the course of the 20th century, fondue has become the iconic Swiss dish. As a result, many travelers arrive in the Land of Cheese and Chocolate in search of a good pot of fondue.

Since the simplicity of traditional Swiss fondue takes many unsuspecting consumers by surprise, I wanted to give you the basics for eating fondue in Switzerland. Let’s call this little lesson Swiss Fondue 101.

Fondue is a simple meal.
When you order fondue at a restaurant in Switzerland, you will get a heavy pot (called a caquelon) of melted cheese stationed on a chafing stand (réchaud). With your cheese fondue, you’ll have a basket of bread cubes for dipping, and possibly some boiled potatoes, too.

But that’s about it.

No meat, no side dishes included.

Like I said… fondue is a simple meal.

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Fondue is *a little* expensive.
On average, a cheese fondue costs about 30 CHF per person. That price gets you the basic entrée as previously described. For budget travelers, the restaurant price tag may seem like a setback, but remember this is Switzerland… where a casual dinner out will cost you about 30 CHF anyway. So, why not take the plunge?

Fondue is made of different Swiss cheeses.
Usually, Swiss fondue involves a blend of cheeses. The most popular fondue cheeses are Gruyère, Fribourg vacherin, and Emmental cheese. Occasionally, you’ll find Apppenzeller and Sbrinz cheeses on the menu.

For first timers, I recommend ordering the Moitié-moitié, a smooth “half and half” blend of Gruyère and Fribourg vacherin. It’s not too strong, and if prepared well, you’ll reach the bottom of the caquelon in no time.

Fondue is better with some extras tidbits.
Typically, you have the option to order additional items for your fondue. Gherkins (aka small pickles) and pearl onions are often available sides, as they are suspected to help with digestion. I really enjoy dipping fruit, like pears and pineapple, into my fondue. The sweet and savory combo is really delicious!cheese-fondue-in-switzerland

Fondue is a hearty meal.
After a dozen dips in the pot, your stomach starts swelling with all that ooey-gooey goodness. A common misconception is that you should not drink any water with fondue, only wine (preferably a white wine from Switzerland), kirsch, or tea. While new research proves that philosophy is more myth than fact, your server may warn you to steer clear of other beverages.

Fondue is for finishers.
Any Swiss person will tell you that the best part of fondue is the semi-burned cheese at the bottom of the pan. To get it, you have to scrape and scratch it off the surface… sound appetizing?

fondue-crust

Fondue is for meat-lovers and sweet-tooths, too.
While cheese fondue is THE classic dish, there are several other variations of this fondue. Fondue Chinoise and Fondue Bourguignonne allow you to cook bites of steak, pork, veal, or chicken in beef broth or hot oil, respectively. [Buyers Beware: meat is more expensive than cheese in Switzerland!]

Chocolate fondue is a rare find in Switzerland, as it’s considered a dessert. You’ll have the most luck finding it in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, called the Romandie. 

Fondue is best shared with friends.
This is a very interactive meal, and it’s a lot of fun to enjoy with others.

As I mentioned in my post Wintertime in Zurich, the Swiss often prefer to make fondue at home with friends and family. Since most travelers don’t carry a cast-iron pot in their suitcase, I’ve compiled a list of the top restaurants in Zurich to eat fondue to help you find the rich dish in Switzerland’s biggest city. En guete!


Hello Cheese Lovers! Did you learn anything new about fondue? Have you had fondue in Switzerland before? If so, what was your experience like?

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