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Fondue: Dipping into Social Dining
A number of historical influences have been melted into the delicacy known as fondue. Pluck out a few morsels of knowledge with Groupon’s look at the form.
Dip. Devour. Repeat. Given fondue’s simplicity—pots of melted cheese, hot oil, or chocolate, paired with bits of bread, deep-fried morsels of meat, or fruit—it might seem a little odd that it should be linked with such a relatively recent cultural phenomenon as the lively American dinner parties of the 1960s and ’70s. In fact, the origins of fondue, which simply means “melted” in French, can be traced back as far as the 1600s. Neuchâtel, Switzerland, is often cited as the birthplace of the classic cheese fondue, typically a smooth, melted mixture of gruyere, wine or cider, herbs, and kirsch and possibly invented as a means of making stale bread and dried gruel more palatable.
Other cultures put their own influences into the pot. The Asian hot pot—a cauldron of broth heated over hot coals for cooking meat and veggies—sizzles in a wide range of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese eateries, but it was New York’s Chalet Swiss Restaurant that seems to have kicked off the most popular variation in the mid-20th century: chocolate. This sweet dip is so easily melted that many dessert fondues are heated by a single candle placed underneath a ceramic pot. (As thrilling as tabletop cooking may be, all fondues are typically heated on a traditional stove before they reach the table so that hungry guests don’t start sneaking sips of half-melted emmental.)
As you might expect with such an interactive, communal meal, a host of traditions have grown up around the fondue pot. In Switzerland, diners often take shots of the same cherry kirsch brandy that goes into cheese fondue between bites. Wherever you are, you should keep a tight hold on your cube of bread—if it falls off the dipping fork, you may be required to buy the next round of drinks, smooch your tablemates, or, if you’re at a European ski resort, run outside barefoot in the snow.