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These days, you’ll find cheese fondue all over the country, but it’s really a speciality of Suisse-Romande. The word “fondue” refers to the broad, shallow earthenware or cast-iron pot used to heat the cheese … but that’s where agreement runs out, and you’ll find myriad varieties served across the country. The classic style, mainstay of eateries in the fondue heartland of Fribourg and the Vaud countryside, is a moitié-moitié, or half-and-half, using either Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois, or Gruyère and Emmental. Others may use several grades of Gruyère, or mix in some local Alpine cheese, Valaisian raclette cheese or Appenzeller. Whichever, it’s a winter dish designed to be sampled with friends: a restaurant offering it in the summer is a restaurant to be avoided.
The cheeses are melted together behind the scenes, generally with a shot of some kind of alcohol (cider in the orchard-rich east, Kirsch in the cherry-growing central regions, white wine in Neuchâtel and Vaud), and small cubes of bread (or in some places boiled potato) are speared with a long fork and swirled through the cheese. Lose your bread in the pot, and traditionally the drinks are on you.
With roughly 250g of molten cheese consumed per person, a fondue can be quite a heavy load on your system: the Swiss-German remedy is to gulp plenty of hot herbal tea throughout, making sure the cheese doesn’t solidify in your innards, but the fearless Romands go the other way and favour plenty of chilled white wine. Their coup de milieu of a shot of Kirsch halfway through supposedly helps things settle.
You’ll also see fondue chinoise, an entirely different thing where you dip slivers of meat into spicy bouillon; fondue bourguignonne, only for the stoutest of constitutions since it involves dousing lumps of red meat in hot spitting oil; fish fondues, Valaisian fondue Bacchus using mulled wine, and even novelty chocolate fondues.
Since they’re never eaten alone, fondues are rarely priced per person; you’re more likely to see them listed as a two-person (or more) deal and as “fondue à discrétion” or “fondue à gogo” (both of which mean “all you can eat”).
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