How to host a fondue party

Meatball dipped in cheese fondue

There is nothing like a piece of crusty sourdough dipped into melted cheese accompanied by a fine glass of wine. Fondue is the very nature of comfort food or après-ski perfection. I find fondue delicious any time of year; it is excellent for a gathering.

Fondue originated in Switzerland when, during the winter months with little fresh food, the Alpine farmers would turn to leftovers and make do with stale bread and hard cheeses. The farmers prepared a mixture of wine, garlic, herbs and melted cheese. The stale bread softened when dipped in the pot. The cheese mixture was prepared in a caquelon, which can be made of stone, ceramic, cast iron or porcelain. Fondue was the rage in the U.S. in the 1970s; cheese and chocolate were the most popular dips.

“Anytime you can gather together with friends for a meal without having to sit down, it’s more interactive. It’s a more social experience than a typical table dinner.”
–Sean McAlindin

Fondue is a great way to bring people together and enjoy a communal meal. Cheese, dry white wine, a tad of cornstarch, lemon juice, garlic and pepper are the essential ingredients for a cheese fondue. Gruyère and Emmentaler (aka Swiss cheese) are traditionally used to make fondue; a 50-50 ratio works best, but there are plenty of types of cheeses to use. French cheeses, Beaufort and Comté, are close cousins to gruyère and can also be used. If you like to experiment, try Gouda, Jarlsberg or fontina. Some suggest adding a soft cheese such as Laughing Cow.

For the wine, try a dry white wine like Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. Some recipes add kirsch, a colorless unsweetened cherry brandy and nutmeg.

I recently hosted a fondue party and invited the Tahoe Weekly staff. I used an Instant Pot to prepare my fondue. You can transfer it into a traditional fondue pot when you’re done or serve it directly from the Instant Pot.

All the goodies for dipping

Preparing the fondue
I wiped garlic around the pot; some cooks mince the garlic finely and add it in directly. While the cheese simmers and melts, I prepare the things to dip into the fondue. In addition to pieces of bread, there are so many foods that are complimentary for dipping. My menu included meatballs, roasted artichoke hearts, steamed broccoli, roasted baby potatoes, Granny Smith apples and Beyond Meat sausage links.

Once everything was ready, I laid it out on a platter. In addition to savory cheese fondue, I also made a chocolate fondue served with strawberries.

I wasn’t quite ready when fellow writer Tim Hauserman and his friend Joyce Chambers arrived. We chatted while I continued to chop. Entertainment Editor Sean McAlindin, Art Director Alyssa Ganong, Family Editor Michelle Allen, Publisher Katherine Hill and my friend Jeff Brunings arrived shortly after to an array of appetizers and a large pot of my cheese fondue.

The fondue was paired with a Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay and a red wine blend. The chocolate percolated in the cast-iron fondue pot for dessert. For appetizers, I laid out cured salami, olives, roasted almonds and hummus.

Once everyone settled, I invited everyone to dive in. The fondue dipping began.

“Anytime you can gather with friends for a meal without having to sit down, it’s more interactive. It’s a more social experience than a typical table dinner,” said McAlindin, whose favorite foods to dip were the vegetarian sausage, meatballs and roasted artichoke hearts. “That was the best fondue I’ve had.”

It took about two and a half hours for me to put together the fondue party for eight. It’s a relatively easy and a fun way to share a meal together. The most effort comes from chopping and cutting everything up and there are several shortcuts to cut down on prep time such as pre-cut broccoli, prepared meatballs — there’s even packaged fondue.

Fondue variations are endless. For a Mexican-themed fondue, use Monterey Jack cheese, cumin, jalapeños, diced red pepper, lime juice and cilantro and serve with chips. Go Indian by adding curry, turmeric and garam masala to a mild cheese and serve with naan. Try Italian with a pesto added to the cheese with Italian bread.

Priya’s Cheese Fondue
(for Instant Pot)
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner

12 oz. gruyère cheese
12 oz. Emmentaler or Jarlsberg cheese
8 oz. fontina
2 T cornstarch
1 T Lemon juice
1 C dry white wine
1 t fresh ground pepper

Dash of nutmeg

Grate all the cheeses into a bowl, add cornstarch and mix. Set aside. Add the wine and lemon juice to the Instant Pot; put on sauté function. Allow it to get hot. Add cheese mixture and stir until the cheese melts. Add nutmeg and pepper.

Serve with cubes of sourdough or French bread, meatballs, sausage, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, roasted artichoke hearts and roasted potatoes.