The Down Low on Fondue


  • In order to melt cohesively (no clumping or separating) cheese fondue must contain 3 components: cheese, acid and starch
  • Acid typically comes in the form of dry white wine but fondue can be made with beer or apple cider or sweet wine with lemon juice added for necessary acidity
  • I include lemon juice even when using a dry white because I like the extra insurance and that additional hit of acidity brightens and lightens what may otherwise feel like a fat-and protein overload. It also takes pressure off which wine I use.
  • Without acid (which prevents casein proteins from clumping together) you’ll wind up with cheese strings instead of a smooth, dippable cheese bath
  • The most common starch used in fondue is corn starch though some recipes call for a flour-based roux. I’m of the opinion that one of the magical things about fondue is its simplicity so why make a roux if you don’t have to. And: corn starch does the job with no starchy flavor, letting you focus on the cheese
  • Without starch, you’re far more likely to get a pot with some wine and some globs of melted cheese. The starch prevents clumping and breaking
  • Finally, there’s the cheese. Traditionally, fondue hails from Switzerland. The style of cheese most commonly found there is what’s called Alpine Cheese. That means: firm (low moisture), sweeter (less acidic), lower salt (than, say, Cheddar), and often brine washed during aging which imparts some aromatic funk. During cheesemaking, the curd of these cheeses is heated (cooked) and then pressed (to remove moisture). They are then aged for 4-20 months. The resulting cheese is dense, smooth, pliable, nutty-tasting and incredibly melt-able (once the hard, crusty rind is removed)
  • Not all cheese is melt-able. Think of the little curdy flecks that make up fresh goat cheese; chunks of feta; even good old Cheddar which (unless it’s very young, with a fair amount of moisture and not mucy acid) goes greasy when exposed to heat
  • You don’t have to use Swiss or Swiss-inspired cheeses to make great fondue, but you do have to select your cheese for meltability. Avoid sheep milk cheeses; super dry, grainy cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano; aged Cheddar; and fresh or pickled cheeses like chevre, feta or Halloumi
  • Classic Swiss fondue recipes call for kirsch, an unaged (clear) brandy distilled from fermented cherry juice with pits added. It’s not sweet, and its main contribution to fondue is a subtle fruitiness
  • It’s not necessary, and since it’s expensive and can be hard to find many may prefer to exclude it all together
  • I include it in the universal fondue recipe as optional, along with some alternatives

Universal Fondue Recipe

If you can keep your pounds, cups and tablespoons straight, ratios don’t get much easier than this!


1[optional]:1:1:1:1:1 [optional]

1 glove of garlic [optional]

1 cup dry white wine

1 pound of cheese

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon kirsch (or fruit brandy, or cognac) [optional]

Technically serves 4 but in my house is more likely to serve 2

This recipe can be easily scaled up, but a word of warning: fondue must be made over medium-low heat. As you make an increasingly larger batch you’re more likely to be working in a big pot over a big flame. High heat will break your fondue (causing the separation of cheese and wine). You can make a double boiler by fitting a stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water and be guaranteed a smooth, glossy, gooey melt.

Equipment Needed: A fondue pot


  1. If using, cut garlic in half and rub the inside of your pot (I like Le Creuset) or stainless steel bowl if you’re making a double boiler
  2. Add wine and heat until steaming (not boiling)
  3. Grate cheese on a box grater or grater attachment of food processor
  4. Sprinkle corn starch over grated cheese and toss with your hands
  5. Add cheese/starch mixture to steaming wine 1 handful at a time

**At this point it is critically important that you keep the heat low enough that the cheese mixture doesn’t simmer or boil. Simmering will cause breakgage/separation. It won’t take more than 10 minutes to melt down a pound so be patient**

  1. Stir each handful of cheese until melted before adding the next
  2. Once all the cheese is melted, add lemon juice and kirsch (if using)
  3. Transfer to a prewarmed fondue pot (I fill mine with hot water, dump and wipe it immediately before pouring in the cheese fondue)
  4. Serve over sterno/candle to keep warm, along with Dippers (see below)

3 Cheese Fondues

Given the limited ingredient list of fondue the quality of the cheese used makes a profound difference. This isn’t the place to cheap out! Along with specialty cheese shops and supermarkets with specialty cheese departments (in the Deli section) remember that retailers like Trader Joe’s and Costco carry great cheeses at incredible prices (often in bulk, perfectly suited to fondue).

Remember, too, that diversity makes tastier fondue. Aim for a minimum of 2 cheeses for every pound used. This way you can balance price and flavor.

Fondue #1: The Classic

It all starts with Swiss. Or French. Or American alpine cheeses that deliver nutty, roasty, toasty flavors. Remove the rind on all of these cheeses before grating. To drink: Light, fruity red like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

Cheeses to consider (listed in order from mildest to strongest in flavor; tweak based on your flavor preferences and budget): Jarlsberg, Emmentaler, Appenzeller, Comté, GrandCru (Roth Cellars), Beaufort, Alpha Tolman (Jasper Hill Farm), Gruyère, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Scharfe Maxx, Tarentaise (Spring Brook Farm), Rupert (Consider Bardwell Farm), Challerhocker

Fondue #2: The Stinker

Inspired by Italian Taleggio, this blend includes the orange washed rind on pungent Trappist style cheeses for amped up salt, bacony, meaty and lingering fruit flavors. Because these cheeses are higher in moisture they won’t grate cleanly. Instead, dice into ½” cubes. Except where noted, keep the rind on! That’s where the stink lies. To drink: Aromatic whites like dry Riesling or Gewurtztraminer.

Cheeses to consider (listed in order from mildest to strongest in flavor; tweak based on your flavor preferences and budget): Taleggio, Quadrello di Bufala*, Gres des Vosges, Oma (Cellars at Jasper Hill), Red Hawk (Cowgirl Creamery), Schloss from Marin French Cheese Company, Försterkäse**, Époisses**

*=Remove the rind

**= So soft it’s best to scoop directly into the cook pot

Fondue #3: The Crowd Pleaser

Looking to everyday noshing cheeses like young Gouda and Havarti, this fondue is all about easy, buttery flavor that's a foil to a wide range of sweet and savory pairing options. Only at the most intense end of the flavor spectrum will you find some aromas and flavors that cross over with the Stinkers (above). This is the fondue for Superbowl Sunday. Remove the rind on all of these cheeses before grating (in many cases the rind is wax). To drink: Chardonnay (oaked)

Cheeses to consider (listed in order from mildest to strongest in flavor; tweak based on your flavor preferences and budget): Havarti, Toma (Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company), Tetilla, Young Gouda, Asiago Fresco, Wagon Wheel (Cowgirl Creamery), Kinsman Ridge (The Cellars at Jasper Hill), Fontina (val d’Aosta), Pawlet (Consider Bardwell Farm), Raclette

A Universal List of Dippers (note especially good pairings)

Typical fondue recipes include dippers of cubed bread (baguette) and raw or lightly blanched veggies often of the cruciferous persuasion—things like broccoli and cauliflower, as well as carrots, asparagus and raw apple.

Perhaps the rationale is obvious—you’re eating a pot of melted cheese for dinner and these dippers add textural balance (crunch) and lighten the fat/protein load. 

When I’m pairing anything with cheese, here’s what I’m thinking about:

1. Balance: Classic pairings are all about balance. Opposing flavors and textures balance one another out.

2. Texture: A seriously understated element of successful pairing is texture, and I think that’s especially true for a fat-and-protein-rich food like cheese. Soft, slippery cheese paired with oily foods feels greasy rather than good. Introducing some crunch preserves balance. Pairing isn’t just about flavor, it’s also about mouthfeel.

3. Sugar and Spice and Everything Acidic: Let’s be real. Cheese is deliciously salty (and fatty). My strategy for balancing these qualities is to pair with something sweet, or, more likely with fondue something acidic or spicy. I rely on sugar, acid and heat to balance salt, fat and protein. 

Some of my favorite atypical dippers include:

1. Pickled fruits and veggies: There are dozens of great store-bought options from Rick Pick’s spicy smoked okra (S’mokra) to Boat Street Pickles’ Pickled Figs to Brooklyn Brine’s Chipotle Carrots. 

Or make a simple quick pickle at home. Since I love stinky cheese I gravitate toward a pairing especially suited to that salty, meaty flavor profile:

Quick Pickled Fennel

  • Make the brine in a saucepan: 1 c. white wine vinegar, 1 c. water, scant ¼ c. sugar, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve sugar and salt
  • Pour into a bowl and cool for 5-10 mins
  • Add 1 thinly sliced fennel bulb and steep for 20 mins
  • Drain and eat

2. Sliced Chorizo-ish Cured Meat: normally dipping slices of cured meat into warm melted cheese wouldn’t qualify as “balancing” richness. But when that meat is firm and dry, and permeated with insistent spice and/or lingering smoke the whole thing works beautifully. Look for Olli Salumeria Hot Chorizo, Red Table Meat Co. Boldog, Fra’Mani Salametto Piccante, Palacios Hot Chorizo

3. Dried Fruit or Fruit Crisps: Depending on the fruit you can achieve the crunch of bread crust and the sweet/tart balance of fruit in one dipper. 

Do-it-yourselfers can dry sour cherries or apple slices in 6-8 hours in the oven.

  • Preheat oven to 200
  • Slice apples into thin rounds 
  • Lay apple slices or cherries on wire racks above baking sheets
  • Bake for 6 hours, flipping apples every 2 hours for even drying

I love Simple & Crisp, a “dried fruit cracker” made from apple, pear, orange or blood orange (the citrus works well with the mellow, buttery tang of The Crowd Pleaser while the others are better suited to The Classic and The Stinker).

Or, polish off the last swipes of any fondues with good old dried fruit: cherries, apricots, Medjool dates are my picks for desserting up the cheese.

4. Root Vegetable Chips: Their natural sweetness can rival fruit while earthy and nutty undertones complement cheese. Baking ensures crispness so you can skip the bread if you’d like.

Consider using: beets, golden beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, celery root

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Slice a selection of veg on a mandoline (1/16” thick)
  • Lay single layer on paper towels, sprinkle with kosher salt, let sit for 15-30 mins and then blot dry
  • Arrange in single layers on parchment-lined baking sheets
  • Bake until crisp, 20-25 minutes
  • Sprinkle with kosher salt and cool 5 mins
  • Transfer to serving bowl and repeat until all veggies are baked