When we hear the word fondue, this is the fondue most of us think about. This cheesy concoction actually started to become popular in the 1950s when it was introduced to New York City diners by the restaurant Chalet Swiss. As a result, the fondue pot started becoming a popular wedding present for the ’50s bride.
As America’s interest in international cuisine started growing, the 1960s wanted something informal yet cool. Fondue was the answer for them. By the 1960s there were nine different brands offering premade fondue in packets or cans to make throwing one of these parties even easier. There was a huge influx of fondue cookbooks in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Also on the market was thirty seven different brands of fondue pots in a variety of price ranges.
The hip and swanky fondue parties of the 1960s and 1970s has it’s origins from Switzerland. The word comes from the French verb fondre which means “to melt”. It was originally a way for the Swiss to use up hard cheese and stale bread. Essentially it was peasant food and I am sure none of them imagined what a trend it would end up becoming.
Fondue is usually made from cheese in the Swiss family that has been slowly mixed and melted with a dry white wine flavored with some Kirsch. It is recommended to try using a good Swiss cheese such as Emmentaler or Gruyere as lesser quality cheese won’t melt as smooth. The fondue is then transferred to a fondue pot that has most likely been rubbed with a garlic clove. Crusty bread is then dipped into the gooey mixture.
The fondue is traditionally served in wide mouthed cast iron or ceramic fondue pots as pictures above from cookbooks of the day. Though it is perfectly acceptable to use the metal pots that were super popular in the ’60s and ’70s such as the green one I used in my pictures. The way they are kept warm depends on what the manufactur decided to use. It can either be a candle, Sterno or an alcohol burner that uses denatured alcohol or methanol. Remember to follow the directions to what source of heat that your pot uses.
Though bread is the traditional dipper, in the ’60s and ’70s, other dippers were being used such as boiled potatoes, cherry tomatoes or cooked mini meatballs. Also other cheeses started to be used such as the 1950s using the newfangled processed Swiss cheese. Beer, dairy or canned soup substituted for the wine in many variations of the recipe.
When setting up a fondue pot, you want not more than four to six people so not to crowd the pot and just all around make it comfortable for everyone. So if you have eight people then you need two pots. Every guest should have a plate and a fondue fork with easy access to the items to be dipped. When placing the bread on to the fork, it is recommended that you spear through the soft part into the crust. Then you take the bread and swirl in a figure eight pattern as this keeps the cheese mixture moving. According to Tante Heidi’s Swiss Kitchen, one should guide “the fork skillfully back to his mouth without dripping, or decorating the table with threads of cheese”.
Be warned as many cookbooks say there is a penalty for dropping the bread into the fondue. If you are a man you need to buy a round of drinks but according to a 1969 Life magazine article the woman’s “less expensive” penalty is to kiss someone next to her. Others say now matter who drops the bread, they need to kiss someone at the table. Don’t worry there is a prize if you don’t drop anything in the cheese. The crust that forms on the bottom of the cheese fondue is called “la religieuse” and is considered a delicacy. It is often given as a prize to the person who did not drop any bread into the fondue.
The popularity of fondue and the parties attached to them did start to wane considerably by the mid 1970s but, by the late 1990s and early 2000s, cheese fondue became hip again. One article from 1998 said that “this retro fashion food is making a comeback as a hip party dish”. Time Magazine proclaimed that it was “hip to dip”. Again, as in the the past, fondue pots became a very popular wedding gift. Cooking stores were selling out of fondue pots because they became so popular again. Also many restaurants started adding the dish to their menus.
Fondue parties are fairly easy to put together with most of the effort going into making the actual fondue. Most parties would just serve a simple salad with it and maybe a soup as a starter. If you are looking for something retro to try at your next party, this might be it. Vintage fondue pots are fairly easy to find on Etsy and Ebay as well as newer ones on Amazon.
A recipe for the classic fondue that took the 1960s and 1970s by storm.
- 1 clove of garlic, split
- 1 lb Swiss cheese, shredded
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup Kirsch or brandy
- Optional: a dash of nutmeg, pepper or paprika.
- 1 loaf of crust bread cut into one inch pieces with a some crust on each pieces.
- Rub fondue pot with the garlic and set aside.
- Toss the shredded cheese with the cornstarch and set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium-low, heat the wine till bubbles start to form but not boiling.
- Slowly add the cheese one handful at a time constantly stirring until the cheese is melted. Don’t worry if it looks like this is not coming together. Just keep stirring and it should get smooth. Add the kirsch (or brandy) and any of the spices if using.
- Pour into the fondue pot. Carefully light the burner according to the directions that comes with the pot and place the fondue on top.
- Dip your bread using fondue forks and have a swanky time doing it!
NOTES: Better Homes and Gardens in their 1970 cookbook, Fondue and Tabletop Cooking, tells the reader to not fret if the fondue begins to separate just combine one tablespoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of wine and stir into the mixture. Also if it starts to thicken while eating the fondue just briskly stir in a little extra wine.
Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997.
Borer, Eva Maria. Tante Hiedi’s Swiss KItchen. Great Britian: Redwood Press Limited, 1973.
“Date with a Dish: It’s Fun To Fondue”. Ebony Magazine. October, 1969.
Dooley, Don (Ed.). Better Homes and Gardens Fondue and Tabletop Cooking. New York: Better Homes and Gardens Books, 1970.
Fondue for Fun. Illinois: Roberts Colonial House, Inc., 1969.
Flora, Donnie and Kees, Beverly. Fondue on the Menu. New York: Golden Press, 1971.
Graves, Eleanor. “Great Dinners: Part 58”. Life Magazine. January 31, 1969.
Grimes, Donna. Fondue. North Carolina: Potpourri Press, 1970.
Lalley, Heather. “Fondue?”. Spokesman-Review. February 26, 2003.
Lovegren, Sylvia. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1995.
Schremp, Gerry. Kitchen Culture Fifty Years of Food Fads: From Spam to Spa Cuisine. New York: Pharos Books, 1991.
Ward, Carol J. G. “Fondue is Getting Hot Once Again”. The Free Lance-Star. December 23, 1998.