Chocolate And Fondue: Switzerland Knows How To Indulge
Image Credit: Chocolate fondue | Unsplash

There are few products more intricately associated with Switzerland’s culinary history than chocolate and fondue. Fondue is the Swiss national dish, perhaps representative of the country’s humble beginnings. In the late 16th century, farm families used fondue to help stretch their rations during cold winter months. The first recipe featuring the modern rendition of the dish was published in 1875 under the name ‘cheese fondue’. There isn't a traditional recipe for the concoction but several hundred recipes were in circulation long before the dish was chronicled and promoted as the country’s national dish. That said, there is a rough outline to most recipes.

The most widespread iteration of the dish is prepared using a mix of white wine and gruyere cheese in a caquelon (fondue pot), and served with pieces of bread. The dish is consumed by dipping the bread in the fondue mixture using wooden skewers. The exactness of cheese and alcohol used may vary depending on the region in consideration, in large part due to the dish’s history as a survival food. Starting in the 1900’s, corn starch was increasingly added to the dish’s preparation to prevent the cheese from curdling. This made the mixture more homogenous. Recipes may use any fast melting cheese, such as Emmental, and swap out the white wine for a tart red, or even beer. Kirsch, a Swiss cherry brandy, was also increasingly added to the recipes. The mixture is oftentimes flavored with herbs and ingredients like tomatoes, morels, and peppers.

So, just how did a cheese dish become so damn popular? Fondue’s commercial success across the world can be attributed to the Swiss Cheese Union’s aggressive marketing campaigns. The union, which was established in 1914, was considered a cartel. It limited the production of cheese to just two varieties, gruyere and emmental, and purchased the cheese from producers at prices set by the Swiss Federal Council, thereby establishing a monopoly in the market. The union capitalized on the popularity of the fondue, promoting it throughout its 85 year long reign. The campaigns were immensely successful owing to the ease of preparing the dish, and the flexibility attached to the recipe. By the 1960’s, every other household in America would have a caquelon, or an electric fondue pot. The dish remains extremely popular to this day, with supermarkets across Europe selling microwaveable packs of fondue for as little as four euros.

Cheese fondue | Unsplash

The Swiss produced chocolate as early as the 17th century. The confection grew in popularity across the Alps, with the country seeing its first chocolate factory in 1819 thanks to François-Louis Cailler (Cailler is the oldest Swiss Chocolate brand, and among the oldest in the world, second only to Baker’s). Several Swiss entrepreneurs would go on to open factories all over the country, mastering innovative processes with great emphasis on quality. Swiss chocolate is among the best in the world, largely due to the various Swiss chocolate associations that have protected the interests of artisans over the years (currently, the Chocosuisse, headquartered in Schwyz, Switzerland). Brands use the best available cocoa and cane sugar that is flown in, along with heritage Swiss dairy products to make the chocolates.

Swiss Chocolates have seen worldwide commercial success since the early 1900’s, a large part of which can be attributed to one phenomenally successful company. Nestlé was founded in the 1860’s with a focus on applying Swiss technology to commercial chocolate production in factories across the globe. In the early 1900’s, Nestlé began to get in on the premium market segment by buying out heritage Swiss chocolate brands, namely Cailler and Chocolat Kohler. Nestlé would expand production under both brands and use its distribution channels to get the much beloved bars to every corner of the world. Nestlé today is the largest publicly held food company in history and has expanded its repertoire to include several other F&B Products under an umbrella of over 2000 brands.

Lindt is another name synonymous with the Swiss chocolate industry. The company was founded in 1836 although it acquired the Lindt name only in 1899 from Rodolphe Lindt (one of the greatest Swiss chocolatiers, the first to use cocoa butter in chocolate production), along with his factory and intellectual properties. In the 1990’s, the company would massively increase production, acquiring two legendary brands, Caffarel (based in Italy) and Ghirardelli (based in the US). The brand continues to be popular to this day, with nearly every convenience store and airport in the world stocking Lindt bars.

Switzerland celebrates both these delicacies with ‘chocolate fondue’, a mixture of milk chocolate and rum heated in a fondue pot and served with fruit and pastries. The origins of this dish remain unclear though its popularity today can be attributed to efforts by Swiss chocolate giants.