Ah, fondue. This mouth-watering mid-century throwback can instantly class up a dinner party. Here's a bit of history to impress your guests and some recipes and party tips to make your fondue night a success.
Originally conceived in a 1699 Swiss cookbook, fondue was popularized in America in the 1950s and made an appearance at the 1964 World's Fair, held in Flushing Meadows, New York City. Since that time, fondue has become pervasive enough in American culture that there are even restaurant chains specializing in fondue of various sorts. Having tried homemade fondue at a dinner party and the sort you get at such restaurants, I would argue that the quality of food at a well-planned fondue party is much better than anything you can order off a menu. But that's just me.
If you're looking to host a fun yet classy get-together, a fondue night might be the way to go. Depending on how large your guest list is, you might want to consider more than one variety of cheese fondue. You can also cook meat in a seasoned boiling oil, but I tend to find my guests would prefer the cheesy goodness of traditional fondue, so I usually skip the meat/oil combination. That being said, charcuterie and cheese fondue are a wonderful combination.
In addition to meats (and even other cheeses), you can serve crackers, crusty breads, pita, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, cauliflower, olives, potatoes, nuts, pickles, or even shrimp. Essentially anything that would taste good with cheese and is large enough to spear on a fondue fork is fair game. Yum!
Here's a recipe for cheese fondue that works quite well. If you don't have a fondue pot, a double boiler most closely approximates it. The internet claims you can also use a crockpot, but I've never personally tried that. I think you'd have to be very careful that the cheese didn't burn or crust to the sides of the pot.
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 c. white wine
1 1/2 lb. cheese (I like Gruyere, Swiss, Cheddar...a mix of cheeses is best.)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. lemon juice
White pepper to taste
Nutmeg to taste
Cut the garlic in half and rub the inside of your fondue pot with the garlic. Crush the garlic and add it to the pot. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Once the liquid is lightly bubbling, begin to add the cheese, stirring as you go. Reduce heat.
Dissolve the cornstarch in the lemon juice in a separate bowl. Add to the cheese mixture. If you wish, add white pepper and/or nutmeg to season the cheese. Freshly ground black pepper also gives a nice flavor.
A great activity to accompany a fondue night is a wine tasting. Set out a few bottles of wine, ordered from dry to sweet, and put scraps of brightly colored paper nearby. Put some pencils in a mug, and invite your guests to sample the wines and make notes about their favorites. Want to know which wine wins the night? Have everyone mark down their vote and put it in a small basket or box near the paper and pencils.
Once guests have had their fill of cheese fondue and wine (some may not reach that point with the wine), it's time to start dessert--chocolate fondue! This recipe is very easy. If you used the double boiler method for your cheese fondue, you can swap out the top bowl and keep your pan of boiling water for the chocolate fondue.
1 lb. semisweet chocolate
2 c. heavy cream
Combine chocolate and cream in your fondue pot. Let the mixture bubble, and stir well. Reduce heat and keep warm to serve.
Accompaniments for chocolate fondue are varied, and the variety makes this an extremely delicious undertaking. Try nuts, cookies, pound cake, brownies, candy, fresh fruit, dried fruit, marshmallows...yum! Again, anything that would taste good with chocolate is fair game. Have a few spoons handy for items that aren't easily speared by the fondue forks; you can always drizzle some chocolate on them on a small plate.
In general, a fondue party should be relaxed, elegant, and classy. Jazz or classical music is nice in the background; simple colors on your table and fresh flowers in a vase are great for decorations. Understated is fine, because guests are there for the food!
Prep time for a fondue night can be significant, as all of the cutting and chopping of food into small pieces is no small feat. Invite a friend over ahead of party time to help you get ready. This is the perfect type of gathering for sneaking snacks as you prepare, so they should be interested.
Winter is a great time for a fondue party, so plan one soon. On a smaller scale, it makes a nice Valentine's Day night in with your significant other. I hope you enjoy your fondue!