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Fondue

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Fondue is a Swiss communal dish shared at the table in an earthenware pot (caquelon) over a small burner (rechaud). The term is derived from the French verb fondre (to melt), in the past participle fondu (melted).

Left: A full cheese fondue set in Switzerland. Apart from pieces of bread to dip into the melted cheese, there are side servings of kirsch, raw garlic, pickled gherkins, onions and olives.

Diners use forks to dip bits of food (most often bread) into the warm semi-liquid sauce (commonly a cheese mix). Heat is supplied by a wick or gel alcohol burner, or a tealight.

There are many kinds of fondue, each made with a different blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning, mostly depending on where it is made. The caquelon is first rubbed with a cut garlic clove, then wine and cheese are slowly added until melted. A small amount of potato starch (or corn starch, cornflour or flour) is added to prevent separation and the fondue is almost always further diluted with either kirsch, beer or white wine.

The most common recipe calls for 1 dl (100 ml) of dry white wine per person and a 200 g mix of hard (such as Gruyère) and semi-hard (such as Emmental, Vacherin or raclette) cheeses. The mixture must be stirred continuously as it heats in the caquelon. Crusty bread is cut into cubes which are then speared on a fondue fork and dipped into the melted cheese.

A cheese fondue mixture should be held at a temperature warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot as to allow any burning. If this temperature is held until the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted (not burnt) cheese at the bottom of the caquelon. This is called la religieuse (French for the nun). It has the texture of a thin cracker and is almost always lifted out and eaten.

As with other communal dishes, fondue has an etiquette. Most often, allowing one's tongue or lips to touch the dipping fork will be thought of as rude. With meat fondues, one should use a dinner fork to take meat off the dipping fork. A "no double-dipping" rule also has sway: After a dipped morsel has been tasted, it should never be returned to the pot.

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In Swiss tradition, if a nugget of bread is lost in the cheese by a man, he buys a bottle of wine, and if such a thing happens to befall a woman, she kisses the man on her left.

Left: A cheese fondue.

Those who succeed in following the etiquette of fondue can share the cheese cracker-like la religieuse left at the bottom of the emptied caquelon.

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