When I hear the word fondue, I am reminded of 1970s dinner parties with four to six people sitting around a table dipping bread into a warm bowl of melted cheese or dipping chunks of beef into a pot of bubbling oil. In either case, much wine was consumed and many opinions were espoused. These meals were simple to prepare and clean up was easy. Back then, judging by how many newlyweds received multiple fondue pots as wedding gifts, people must have thought of fondue as the ideal meal for people with limited cooking ability.

Like most fads, fondue fell out of favor, except in Switzerland. But even there, on one business trip in 1980, I had a hard time convincing my Swiss hosts to take me out for fondue. It wasn’t until a trip in 1996 that I finally ate fondue in Switzerland. Now, many years later, the popularity of fondue seems to be rising again.

In 2004 and 2005, I spent a number of weeks working in the kitchen of a French restaurant in the old village of Gruyères, Switzerland. Just about every restaurant in the village served fondue, but we were the exception. So I still didn’t have a chance to eat fondue in the village, that is, until my last visit when I ate one of the best fondues I’ve ever enjoyed. It was served in the private apartment of the chef, and of course we had to talk fondue. The chef was raised in the Franche-Comte, the region of France just west of Switzerland. He told of how fondue jurassienne was a common dish of the region, and how it was better than the fondue vaudoise we were eating.1 He went on to say how this centuries-old peasant dish was just a way to consume old cheese and old bread.

So is fondue French or Swiss in origin? There isn’t a simple answer, and I was not able to find a definitive answer in my research. If there was one particular day in history when the first fondue was made, no one bothered to make a note of it. Some online sources claim fondue started in Neuchâtel, which would make it not of either Swiss or French origin.2 Neuchâtel was an independent principality until 1815 when it joined the Swiss federation.3

Books about French cookery that purport to provide the history of fondue generally point to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante as the source of the first published recipe for fondue. This work was first published in December of 1825 and is still in print.4 Brillat-Savarin’s fondue is a bit different from today’s fondue:

Pesez le nombre d’oeufs que vous voudrez employer d’après le nombre de convives. Vous prendrez ensuite un morceau de bon fromage de Gruyère pesant le tiers, et un morceau de beurre pesant le tiers de ce poids. Vous casserez et battrez bien les oeufs dans une casserole ; après quoi vous y mettrez le beurre et le fromage râpé ou émincé.

Posez la casserole sur un fourneau bien allumé, et tournez avec une spatule, jusqu’à ce que le mélange soit convenablement épaissi et mollet ; mettez-y un peu ou point de sel suivant que le fromage sera plus ou moins vieux, et une forte proportion de poivre, qui est un des caractères positifs de ce mets antique(!) ; servez sur un plat légèrement échauffé ; faites apporter le meilleur vin, qu’on boira rondement : et on verra des merveilles.5

Or in English:

Weigh the number of eggs you want to use, relative to the number of your guests. Then take a piece of a good quality Gruyère that weighs one-third and a piece of butter that weighs one-sixth. Break the eggs into a saucepan and beat well. Then add the butter and the cheese which has been grated or thinly sliced.

Place the saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat and stir with a [wooden] spatula until the mixture becomes thick and soft. Add some salt, or none if the cheese is old, and a fair amount of pepper, since this is one of the important characteristics of this time-honored dish. Serve the dish on a heated plate. Provide the best wine, which will be quickly drunk, and you will see miracles.

Brillat-Savarin attributed the recipe6 to “the papers of M. Trolliet, bailiff of Mondon, in the Canton of Berne”—a minor error since Mondon was in reality in the Canton of Vaud, which is French speaking and was independent of Switzerland until 1803,7 and not Berne, where a dialect of German is spoken.8

Brillat-Savarin acknowledges that this fondue “is nothing more or less than eggs scrambled with cheese, in certain proportions which time and experience have set.”9 He goes on to say that this is a great dish to serve when unexpected guests arrive. He follows this with a story:

It is a healthful, savory, and appetizing dish, quickly prepared, and always ready to do honor to the table if unexpected guests arrive. What is more, I discuss it here solely for my own pleasure, and also because the mention of it reminds me of something which is still remembered by the old men of the district of Belley.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, a Monsieur de Madot was appointed Bishop of Belley, and arrived there to take possession of his diocese.

Those who were in charge of receiving him and doing him the honors of his own palace had prepared a banquet worthy of the event, and had taken advantage of every resource of the old-time cookery to celebrate Monsignor’s arrival.

Among the side dishes was a generous fondue, from which the prelate served himself without stint. But, oh surprise! Not recognizing its appearance and believing it to be a crème, he ate it with his spoon instead of using his fork, which from time immemorial had been the custom with this dish.

All the guests, astonished by this peculiar behavior, looked sideways at one another, with imperceptible smiles. Respect, however, stilled every tongue, for whatever a bishop from Paris does at table, especially on the day of his arrival, cannot but be well done.

News traveled fast, however, and from the next morning everybody one met would ask, “Well, and do you know how our new bishop ate his fondue last night?” “Of course I know! He ate it with a spoon! I have it from an eye witness…” and so on. The town reported the news to the country, and after three months it was public gossip throughout the diocese.

The remarkable thing about it is that this incident failed to shake the foundations of our ancestors’ faith. There were some seekers after novelty who supported the cause of the spoon, but they were soon forgotten: the fork triumphed, and after more than a century one of my great-uncles was still laughing over it, and told me, with a great gust of laughter, how it was that M. de Madot had indeed one time eaten his fondue with a spoon.10

In the same year that Brillat-Savarin published his recipe for fondue, an English physician, “many years resident on the continent,”11 was publishing a more involved recipe for fondue au fromage.

Make a sort of pap12 with half a pint of cream or good milk and potato flour; add a little salt. When the pap is boiled enough, put to it four yolks of eggs, half a pound of grated gruyère or Parmesan cheese, and lastly, four whites of eggs, whipped till en neige. Stir the whole well together. Next, pour the pap into a mould, place it over a stove covered with a lid, and fire on the top. It will be done enough in ten minutes, when it should be quickly served and eaten.13

This fondue au fromage seems a bit like a cheese souffle.

Antoine Gogué published a recipe in 1856 for fondue ou œufs brouillés au fromage (fondue or scrambled eggs with cheese) that is almost a carbon copy of Brillat-Savarin’s recipe.14 Twelve years later in 1868, Pierre Blot published a recipe for “fondue of eggs” which seems to be a word-for-word copy of the same recipe except he calls for stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon.15 Dumas, in 1873, includes another unattributed copy of Brillat-Savarin’s recipe in his cookbook.16 In 1890, Emilie Lebour-Fawssett presented both Brillat-Savarin’s anecdote and recipe, but she added that the mixture had to be stirred with a silver spoon.17 By the time Madame Saint-Ange includes a recipe for fondue in her La Bonne cuisine in 1927, the recipe no longer includes eggs—just cheese, wine, flour, garlic, soda, and seasoning—what most people today think of as fondue au fromage.18

There are many variations of fondue au fromage, but they differ mainly by which cheese the recipe uses:

The last two fondues in the list refer to regional specialties of France, whereas the others refer to regions of Switzerland.

In modern France, fondue probably refers as much to a manner of preparing and eating food at the table as it does to a specific dish. Step into Kitchen Bazaar20 or the housewares department of one the department store chains in France and you’ll find a variety of fondue pots for sale. There are both ceramic and metallic versions. There are some that heat the pot with a flame and others that plug into the wall. The styles range from plain and highly functional to bizarre and fanciful. And there must be something else that you can do with these appliances besides preparing fondue au fromage. One popular cooking magazine recently published ten recipes applicable to a soirée fondue (fondue party), and only a couple involved dipping cubes of bread into melted cheese.21

Modern fondues can be divided into two categories: those where some ready-to-eat food item is dipped into a warm sauce and those where the food item is cooked in hot liquid. Fondue au fromage falls into the first category. The other common version to fit the first category is fondue chocolat—where fruit or cubes of cake are dipped into a simple chocolate sauce—a fondue that originated in New York City.22

The best known of the second category of fondues is fondue bourguignonne where small cubes of beef are cooked in hot oil and then dipped into a cold sauce before eating. Most references place the origin of beef fondue as New York City in 1956,23 but there is at least one unreferenced source that claims it was first prepared among the grapes during harvest time in the Burgundy region of France.24 They claim that a “lazy monk, Johann du Putzxe, had the idea of heating oil to dunk-cook pieces of the meat taken from the Abbot’s private supplies, so that he could eat on the run.” Sounds interesting, but I’ve yet to find a recipe for beef fondue in any book that is dated earlier than 1956.

[After this article was originally posted, I was sent the illustration to the right that implies that fondue bourguignonne was being served at the Hotel duPort in Villeneuve—a town along Lake Geneva in Switzerland—as early as 1947.]

Other fondue variations include cooking thin strips beef in a mixture of boiling stock from pot-au-feu and wine; cooking seafood in a fumet de poisson;25 marinating pork ribs in garlic, soy sauce, and sugar for 12 hours before cooking them in hot oil; and cooking little packages of mushrooms wrapped in veal, pineapple wrapped in chicken, and beef wrapped in bacon in the hot oil.

Rather than focusing on a particular fondue recipe, it may be best to just think of fondue as a style of eating. Although it is possible to prepare fondue for one, a fondue is best eaten in a group. With fondue, the table conversation is possibly as important as the food. Although I’ve had many, many fine meals in France, some of the most enjoyable ones have been spent sitting around a fondue pot with a couple of friends and a bottle or two of wine. If your fondue pot is secluded away in the back of your closet, I’d suggest digging it out and reintroducing yourself to sharing some fondue with friends.


Fondue jurassienne and fondue vaudoise are both fondues au fromage (cheese fondues) with the fomer being prepared from comté and the later from gruyère.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Translated by M.F.K. Fisher. Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante. New York: Counterpoint Press, 1999, 388.
Brillat-Savarin, 387.
Brillat-Savarin, 388-9.
French Domestic Cookery Combining Economy with Elegance, and Adapted to the Use of Families of Moderate Fortune. By an English Physician, Many Years Resident on the Continent. London: Thomas Boys, 1825, title page.
Semi-liquid food, such as that considered suitable for babies or invalids, usually made from bread, meal, etc., moistened with water or milk; bland soft or moist food. Now archaic. and historical. Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989 (online).
French Domestic Cookery, 289.
Antoine Gogué. Les Secrets de la cuisine française. Paris: Libraire de L. Hachette et Cie, 1856, 351. In French. Reprint, 2003 by Elibron Classics.
Pierre Blot. Hand-book of Practical Cookery for Ladies and Professional Cooks Containing the Whole Science and Art of Preparing Human Food. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1868, 362-3.
Alexandre Dumas, Le Grand dictionnaire de cuisine. 1873. In French. Electronic version (3.2MB file size) available online: pitman.com.
Emilie Lebour-Fawssett. French Cookery for Ladies. London: J.S. Virtue & Co., 1890, 271-3.
E. Saint Ange. Translated by Paul Aratow. La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2005, 455-6.
A pair of housewares stores located in Paris.
Cuisine Actuelle, February 2005, page 44-51.
“In the early in 1960s [Konrad] Egli [chef-owner of the Chalet Swiss restaurant], who noticed that many of his diet-conscious customers avoided his rich chocolate desserts, consulted with his public-relations agent, Beverly Allen, and came up with a chocolate fondue (introduced on July 4, 1964) into which one dipped pieces of cake, fruit, or cream-puff pastry.” John F. Mariani. The Dictionary of American Food and Drink. New York: Hearst Book, 1994, 126.
Mariani, 126.
See Cheese Fondue at the Melting Pot. (No longer available.)
This variation is similar to a Mongolian hot pot or Japanese shabu-shabu where thin slices of meat, seafood, or vegetables are cooked in hot broth at the dinner table.
©2006, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.
This dish benefits from patience. The slower the egg mixture is heated, the smoother the final dish will be. If heated too fast, curds will form in the eggs like standard scrambled eggs. It will still taste very good, but the texture will not be like thick cream.
fondue (œufs brouillés au fromage)
3 extra-large (about 165 grams)
eggs, beaten
55 grams, or 1/3 the egg weight
grated Gruyère
27 grams, or 1/6 the egg weight
soft butter
fine salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and set over medium-low heat. While whisking continuously, slowly heat the mixture until it thickens but remains soft. Do not overcook.
Spoon the cooked mixture onto a heated serving plate.
Yield: 1 serving.
Ref: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante, 1825, as reprinted in French-language bulletin of SlowFood (n.d.).
©2006, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.
This fondue is essentially the same as served in the Jura and is sometimes called fondue jurassienne. The wine used in the Jura would be a côte de Jura made from the chardonnay grape. A local marc would be substituted for the kirsch. This fondue is usually served only with bread cubes and cooked potatoes, but I like the flavor of the raw vegetables with the melted cheese.
fondue au fromage
1 clove
garlic, peeled
300 grams
grated comté
1/2 tablespoon
200 milliliters
dry white wine
25 milliliters
freshly ground black pepper
dipping garnishes:
1/3 of a baguette
stale bread cut into bite-size cubes
4 or 5
small new potatoes cooked in salted water, cut into bite-size pieces
1 stalk
celery cut into 3-cm long pieces
1 small
carrot cut into 3-cm long pieces
1 small
red bell pepper, cored, cut into bite-size pieces
3 or 4
red radishes
Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic. Mix the cheese with the cornstarch and add to the pot along with the wine. Place it over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spatula until the mixture is melted and smooth. Do not heat too fast, or the cheese may separate. Mix in the kirsch and black pepper.
Transfer the fondue pot to a burner on the table and serve with the dipping garnishes.
Yield: 2 servings.
Ref: E. Saint-Ange, La Bonne cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, 2005, page 455.
©2006, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.
Chocolate fondue can be as simple as melted chocolate or as complex as a chocolate sauce. The one described below is essentially the same as a recipe for genache. If the fondue is placed over a burner on the table, it is very important to keep the heat low so the chocolate doesn’t get burned. Any firm fruit can be used for dipping into this fondue.
fondue au chocolat
100 grams
chocolate (70% cocoa mass), broken in small pieces
75 milliliters
heavy cream
5 grams
1/4 teaspoon
powdered vanilla
2 teaspoons
dark rum
dipping garnishes:
a large piece
leftover cake cut into cubes
small apple cut into wedges
8 to 10
1 small
tangerine, separated into wedges
Place the chocolate and cream in bowl. Place the bowl over simmering water. Stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and rum.
Transfer the mixture to individual dipping bowls and serve with the dipping garnishes.
Yield: 2 servings.
Ref: Cuisine Actuelle, February 2005, page 48.
©2006, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.
Beef fondue can be served with any combination of dipping sauces you want. The ones listed here are only a suggestion. I have seen recipes that suggest sauces as simple as bottled mayonnaise, ketchup, and barbecue sauce.
fondue bourguignonne
neutral oil for deep-frying
50 grams
300 grams
well-marbled beef, cut into 2‑cm cubes
dipping sauces:
Place the oil and butter in a fondue pot over high heat. Bring to about 180 °C (355 °F).
Transfer the fondue pot to a burner on the table. Dry the meat of any accumulated juices with absorbent paper and serve along with the dipping sauces in individual bowls.
Yield: 2 servings.
Ref: Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Cuisine de Mapie, 2004, page 434.
I make the shallot-vinegar-wine reduction used in this sauce as a flavoring base in quantity. The finished reduction stores well in canning jars in the refrigerator. It takes no more effort to make it in quantity than to make a single serving of it.
sauce béarnaise
egg yolk
11/2 tablespoons
50 grams
chilled, unsalted butter, diced
fine salt and freshly ground white pepper
fresh minced tarragon
finely minced shallots
fine salt
dry white vermouth
white wine vinegar
fresh chopped tarragon
freshly white ground pepper
To prepare the sauce base, heat some butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, sprinkle lightly with salt, and sweat until soft.
Add enough vermouth to cover the shallots and followed by an equal amount of vinegar. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and reduce the liquid almost totally. Add the tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to use immediately or can and refrigerate for later use.
Whisk the yolk and water together in a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously until airy and thick.
Whisk in the butter until the sauce thickens. When all the butter is incorporated, season the sauce with salt and white pepper, add the tarragon, and stir in a tablespoon or two of the previously made shallot reduction. If not serving immediately, keep barely warm over very low heat.
Yield: 4 servings.
Ref: Frédéric Médigue, Gruyères, Switzerland, and Michel Huser, Marlenheim, France, October, 2005.
Althgough this sauce is presented as a dipping sauce for beef fondue, it is usually prepared as a pan sauce to accompany a steak.
sauce moutarde
1 tablespoon
dry vermouth
100 milliliters
heavy cream
1 tablespoon
strong Dijon-style mustard
fine salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon
finely minced fresh thyme
Remove cooked meat from the frying pan and discard any grease. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth. Reduce slightly.
Add the cream, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the cream is thick and reduced by about half. Mix in the mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the thyme.
Yield: 2 servings.
Ref: Guide Cuisine, June 1997, page 37.
©2006, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.