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Fondue pots may initially make you think of naff '70s dinner parties and cheesy (sorry) parlour games, but they're making a major come-back.
Still stuck and home, tiring of take outs, and looking for new ways to make dinner time seem remotely interesting: fondue provides a simple answer to families and flatmates looking for something different on a cold winter night. With a fondue pot, you can make an easily assembled dinner that's delicious - while also enjoying the theatre of dunking and twisting long forks in melted goodness.
For those missing the ski slopes, too, it's a great way of creating the experience of après ski - put the pot on, bubble up some cheese (feel free to through in those unappetising heel ends of whatever blocks you have) - then just add a glass of chilled wine and a cosy woollen sweater.
The History of Fondue
Think of fondue, and chances are you'll think of it's Swiss heritage: tales of how peasants in the Swiss mountains created it as a means of using up stale cheese and bread and staving off a bitter winter.
However, it has a far more storied (and surprisingly balmy) past than that. First mention of it shows up in Homer's Iliad - in Song XI, he sings of a melted mixture of wine, grated goat's cheese, and flour. That's the rudimentary fondue recipe, simply missing the forks and the pot.
For that, we can credit the Swiss, when modern fondue - melted cheese cooked in a pot over an open flame - was first recorded as being cooked in Switzerland's Canto de Neuchatel. The pot is known as a "caquelon."
It was created out of necessity: stale cheese was too hard to eat, as was bread. But melt the cheese mixed with wine over a fire - edible! and delicious. And the rock-hard bread - suddenly yielding in the cheese. The term 'fondue' is a derivation of the French word fondre - to melt.
From humble beginnings, then, fondue has developed into a culinary triumph. You can indulge in fondue bourguignonne - whereby cubed, raw beef is submerged into a caquelon full of boiling oil (not for kids, this one!), cooking near-instantly.
Or, for the sweet-toothed, a chocolate fondue. Dunking marshmallows or cubed fruit into rich melted chocolate - it's dessert as it should be. We've indulged in a salted caramel fondue ourselves, and this is not recommended for confectionery amateurs - it's a serious sugar load (glorious, though).
Tips for fondue preparation: the fondues and fondont's
While fondue is the work of mere moments to throw together, there are some guiding principles. Most importantly: you need a great pot (for that, read below).
For cheese fondues, the fromage selection is your paramount concern. Of course, if you have stale cheese ends in your fridge, throw them in - that's the essential point, after all! Beyond that, opt for well-ripened cheeses, such as gruyère, comte, or reblonchon.
Culinary chemist Hervé This explains, “Well-ripened cheese are best suited to the preparation of fondues because, in the course of ageing, enzymes called peptidases have broken up the casein and the other proteins into small fragments that are more readily dispersed in the water solution.” Simply put: the fondue will melt more readily.
When it comes to chocolate fondue, two things. Firstly - the Swiss will turn their nose up at you, deeming chocolate fondue a bastardisation. Let them sneer: you'll be wallowing in deliciousness. Secondly: you can't really screw this up. Just throw the ingredients into your pot and allow them to melt, and you'll be engaged in a Willy Wonka style dessert in no time.
There are key factors to consider when purchasing a fondue pot.
First is how it heats - it is electric or manual? (we would recommend electric for any families with small children getting involved - it's easy than an open flame).
Secondly, what is is made of? There's a choice of stainless steel, ceramic, or enamelled cast iron.
And finally - what size? This will be determined by whether you're looking for fondue à deux, a small family, or (someday) looking to host a party.
Here are a few of our favourites on the market:
Staub 20cm Cast Iron Fondue Set Cherry
If one of your qualms about buying a fondue pot is their limited usefulness, this pot will well and truly put paid to that.
Staub are beloved by professional chefs for their excellent cast iron cookware, and this fondue pot is no exception - the quality is brilliant. The best feature here is that you can easily use this pot as a standard pot to cook on a hob, when you're not doing fondue (it's great for tempura).
As a fondue pot, it is great, useable for cheese, chocolate, or boiling oil. The ceramic interior wipes clean very easily.
H.Koenig Electric Fondue Maker 6 Forks 2L Stainless ALP1800
Children about? Keep open flames out of the fondue equation. This electric set is a doddle to use - indeed, the kids can create the melted mixture themselves - and takes the risk out of dunking your bread.
Its adjustable thermostat from 25 ° to 190 ° C ensures an ideal temperature for all your preparations.
Non-stick with a resistant coating, it's huge: 2 litres, so you can feed an army of hungry mouths. Six forks and a splash resistant covering means every can get involved and not worry where the gruyere ends up.
It lasts well, too - a fun family investment.
Artesà Deluxe Fondue Set
Author David Sax attributes the popularity of the fondue pot in the 60s and 70s to "the advent of the pill and swinging. Fondue cannot be enjoyed solo."
We're certainly not advocating that kind of party - especially in the current global climate - fondue is terrific fun enjoyed with a crowd (yes, even the naff party games - we have to admit, they're rather fun).
The 22-piece Artesa fondue set has taken fondue to party perfection with a Lazy Susan-style turntable, and dip pots, to ensure you're always reaching the cheese without reaching or burning yourself.
The pot is stainless steel with a wooden handle (no scorching your hands here), and long stem pots. Everything you need for a good time.
Ruffoni Limited Edition Opus Prima Candle and Gel Warmer
Looking to set the scene for you and your partner?
This gorgeous Italian stainless steel candle powered warmer will make for an evocative centrepiece on your dining room table.
Ideal for sweet, chocolate fondue desserts for two - remember, nothing is more flattering than candlelight.
Staub Mini Fondue Set
We're big fans of the cast iron option for three reasons: they look great, they'll last you through a nuclear winter, and they are terrific for even heating.
This mini set - resplendent in cherry red - is ideal for a cosy cheese night with your flatmates.
Boska Marie Chocolate Fondue Set
When there's just two of you (or one - we don't judge) and you fancy a spot of chocolate indulgence without fuss, this ceramic, Bain Marie style pot is just the ticket.
The water bath heating ensure smooth, non-gritty, consistently melted chocolate, while the ceramic make means this is very easy to clean. There's no big muss or fuss - we have been known to melt a pot of chocolate of an evening to enjoy dunking marshmallows in while watching movies. Hey, it's getting us through lockdown.