Swiss Fondue: History, Interesting Facts & More

fondue history facts

Want to know more about fondue, the iconic pot of melted cheese that’s considered the national dish of Switzerland? Then you’re in the right place because this guide is full of (fun) facts about fondue!

When it was invented, what it means to the Swiss, and the proper way of eating it are just some of the things covered in this guide. Keep reading to learn more about fondue, and what you should and shouldn’t do when you share it with your friends!

What Is a Fondue?

cheese fondue
Cheese fondue

Fondue is essentially just a pot of melted cheese that you dip bread into. Modern fondue recipes call for cheese, wine, and seasoning, but it’s worth noting that there are many different variations. Beer can be used instead of wine, it can be made with either one or multiple types of cheese, and the seasoning is generally adjusted to personal preference.

However, melted cheese fondue is no longer the only version of fondue that exists in the world. Fondue bourguignonne is another popular iteration of the famous dish. This was invented by Egli, even earlier than the chocolate fondue (1956). It’s essentially hot oil fondue, in which you’re supposed to dip small cut-up pieces of beef. The meat cooks in the hot oil, and you get other dipping sauces on the side.

Chocolate Fondue
Chocolate fondue

Unlike hot oil fondue, chocolate fondue or fondue au chocolat is a sweet iteration of the famous Swiss dish. Konrad Egli also invented chocolate fondue sometime in the 1960s, as a way of promoting the iconic Toblerone chocolates. It’s pretty much a melted chocolate mixture in which you’re supposed to dip small pieces of fruit.

History of Fondue

The first mention of fondue, or at least a fondue-like dish, can be traced all the way back to Homer’s Illiad, in which it was described as a combination of cheese, wine, and flour. One of the first mentions of the dish in modern history dates back to a 1699 Swiss cookbook. The author mentioned Käss mit Wein zu kochen – cooking cheese with wine. This recipe called for grated cheese and wine, which were to be mixed, cooked, and eaten with bread.

But that dish still wasn’t known as cheese fondue; in fact, that phrase was used to describe a different dish, one which consisted of mainly cheese and eggs. It wasn’t until 1875 that the word fondue came to mean cheese fondue, and there were already suggestions to make it the national dish of Switzerland.

Interesting Facts About Fondue

Fondue is the national dish of Switzerland

Cheese fondue
Cheese fondue

In 1930 the Swiss Cheese Union (yes there is such a thing) promoted fondue as the Swiss national dish, and the rest is history. The main reason for promoting fondue as a national dish was to increase cheese consumption, and the aggressive campaign continued for decades.

The union also promoted regional fondue varieties, to get people from different parts of the country to use up their cheese and stale bread. This was particularly popular during World War II rationing when access to other food and ingredients was severely limited.

After the rationing ended, the Union got even more aggressive with its fondue campaign. They would send fondue sets to various event organizers and military regiments as a way to get rid of all the leftover fondue sets in their possession.

Fondue didn’t become a quintessential part of Swiss national heritage overnight. Its popularity increased slowly but surely, and over time it became a symbol of Swiss unity.

Don’t drop your bread in the fondue pot

Bread in Fondue
Bread in fondue

Dropping a piece of bread in the communal fondue pot is a faux pas, and something you should never do. In Switzerland, it’s tradition to “punish” the person if they drop a piece of bread into fondue – a man has to buy a round of drinks for the entire table, and a woman has to kiss all her neighbors!

Forks used for fondue are usually of different colors

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If you ever had fondue at a restaurant, you probably noticed that all the dipping forks are color-coded. There’s a method to this madness – the purpose of the color-coding is to help people differentiate between the different forks, so they don’t accidentally mix them up. So, when you’re eating fondue at a restaurant (in Switzerland or elsewhere) make a mental note of the color of your fork as soon as you get it.

The fondue dipping etiquette doesn’t stop there. You’re not supposed to put the fondue fork in your mouth because that constitutes double dipping, which is frowned upon. Instead, when you dip a piece of bread (or meat, fruit, etc.), you’re supposed to take it off the fondue fork, place it on your plate, and then pick it up with a different fork before you can eat it.

Fondue became well-known in the US in the mid-’60s

Fondue was relatively unknown in the United States until 1964 when the New York World’s Fair took place. There was a Swiss Pavilion’s Alpine restaurant at the fair, and as you might expect, fondue was one of the items they brought to the States to promote.

Americans apparently loved fondue so much that for the next two decades, it was all the rage in the country. This even led to the establishment of the first fondue chain restaurant in the world. The Melting Pot was established in Florida of all places, and today it has more than 125 franchises in countries all over the world.

There are more than 100 varieties of modern cheese fondue

Cheese fondue
Cheese fondue

And I’m not even exaggerating. The most common version of Swiss fondue is the Moitié-Moitié, which is made from equal parts Gruyere cheese and Vacherin cheese. But that’s just one of the numerous different varieties of fondue that exist. Cheese fondue can be made with virtually any cheese out there, and it can be made from one, two, three, or even more types of cheeses in the same pot.

Most restaurants don’t experiment too much, at least in Switzerland. They tend to offer the most popular varieties of cheese fondue, which are the perfect introduction to this lovely dish. But go to a fondue-only restaurant, and you’ll discover a whole new world! Locales that serve only fondue tend to experiment quite a bit, meaning you’ll be able to try unique cheese combinations and discover new tastes.

The biggest fondue set was created by the Football Club Semsales in Switzerland

In June of 2010, players of the football club Semsales decided to create the world’s largest fondue set to celebrate their 75th anniversary. This set included a fondue pot that was 2.6 meters wide and 1.61 meters deep. They also created two massive fondue forks to go along with the pot, both of which were 2.61 m long. You can easily dip an entire loaf of bread into a fondue pot with such a large fork, but I’m not quite sure how you would go about eating one.

The players didn’t stop there – what’s the point of a massive fondue set if you’re not going to use it to melt copious amounts of cheese? They combined equal parts of Vacherin and Gruyere cheeses, to create a monstrous fondue that weighed 922.5 kg. Obviously, the fondue made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, and they’ve managed to hold onto this record ever since.

Where to Find the Best Fondue in Switzerland

Fondue House Lucerne
Fondue House Lucerne

You can have amazing fondue pretty much anywhere in Switzerland. Every city and village has at least a dozen restaurants that have fondue on the menu, and it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed with the dish.

That being said, Geneva apparently has the highest number of restaurants that have delicious fondue on the menu. And all the restaurants that serve fondue in Geneva present you with a high-quality iteration of the dish, that is finger-licking good. But, that’s to be expected, considering that Geneva is one of the priciest cities in Switzerland, and its restaurants are by means cheap or affordable.

Additionally, I think Gruyeres is a great destination to visit if you want to try the most authentic cheese fondue in Switzerland. After all, it’s where Gruyere cheese is produced, which happens to be the most popular type of cheese used in the Swiss version of fondue.

But again, you can have excellent fondue no matter where you are in Switzerland. You’ll find a variety of restaurants that serve excellent fondue in Zurich, and you can even go on a fondue cruise on river Limmat and Lake Zurich. Dip chunks of bread into melted cheese while admiring the scenic views from a boat – what’s not to love about that?

There’s also an excellent selection of restaurants that serve fondue in Lucerne, with more than a dozen high-rated options. The city even has restaurants that serve only fondue, where you can try all the different variations of the dish that aren’t usually available in classic Swiss restaurants.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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