Countrymen who lived in the Swiss mountains created the dish to use up leftover bread and cheese when it was cold and fresh produce was scarce.
Fondue was first mentioned in Iliad, a poem by Homer, around 800 to 725 BC. Back then, it was described as a blend of goat’s cheese, flour and wine. A Swiss cookbook called ‘Kochbuch der Anna Margaretha Gessner’ from the late 17th century mentions cooking cheese with wine. Other stories say that countrymen who lived in the Swiss mountains created the dish to use up leftover bread and cheese when it was cold and fresh produce was scarce. However, modern fondue, which involves melted cheese and wine in a pan set atop an open flame, was developed in the late 1800s. It is believed to have roots in the French Rhône-Alpes region, which is close to the Geneva border. In 1930, fondue was declared the country’s national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union.
The history of fondue is layered and tracing it may prove to be a challenge. However, the dish’s connection to French-speaking Switzerland makes Geneva a good place to find it. Geneva’s medieval Old Town, where fondue is made with gruyère and Fribourg-style ‘vacherin’ (cow’s milk) cheeses, has the aroma of cheese emanating from restaurants and homes.
Gruyère is a popular Swiss cheese, with origins in the town of Gruyères along the Alpine foothills in the canton of Fribourg. Made with cow’s milk, vacherin from Fribourg is a firm cheese with a creamy flavour. The two are grated and melted together with some garlic, a splash of white wine and cherry brandy. When ready, the fondue is served in an earthen pot called a ‘caquelon’, which sits atop a stove. The mixture bubbles and is eaten with bread dipped into it.
Eating fondue is meant to be a communal activity. It is considered the ideal après ski. An evening spent among snow-covered Alps and friends is made more memorable with a pot of fondue on the table.