The king of molten cheese, the classic Swiss fondue is a product of the 18th century, developed when cheese, bread and wine were the staples of the Swiss diet. Before fondue, the Swiss found that by the dead of winter their cheeses had dried out and their bread got so hard, it took an axe to hack off the pieces.
The solution must have seemed obvious for the nation that brought us the hemstitch sewing machine, Velcro, the multi-purpose pocket knife, chocolate bars, precision time pieces and secret bank accounts: Melt the cheese in wine and use it to soften the bread. And because the Swiss are, well, Swiss, they developed a precise set of rules by which fondue should be eaten: The fondue fork should never touch one’s lips, and absolutely no double dipping. Should bread fall off a man’s fork and stay behind in the pot, he must buy a bottle of wine. If the same happens to a woman, she kisses the man to her left. More recently, youthful Swiss natives have skipped the wine-buying and kissing and adopted a unisex practice of diving naked into the snow.
Swiss fondue’s close relatives include a rich Italian cousin called fonduta (fontina cheese fortified by butter, cream and egg yolks), the flaming ouzo-stoked kasari of Greece and queso fundido (KAY-soh fuhn-DEE-doh), Spanish for “melted cheese.” Swiss Fondue is traditionally made with Gruyere cheese—the sweet nutty cheese named after the town, Gruyeres, Switzerland. But other cheeses in this family, such as France’s Comté and the Swiss Emmental, work equally as well.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.