Fondue: It's a cheesy Seventies revival

Fondue sets are making a big comeback as we fall in love with the alpine flavours of gruyère and comté. Anthea Gerrie finds out how to make a magical melt

Messy, monotone and more retro even than the prawn cocktail, fondue is enjoying an unexpected renaissance. Bridal couples beware: this year, that beribboned gift-box is more likely to contain a chafing-dish and six pronged forks with colour-coded handles than at any time since 1979.

Some people will use their fondue sets, of which there is once again a wide choice in the stores, to heat oil in which to sear cubes of fillet steak destined for dipping sauces. Others will fill them with chocolate in which to bathe berries, bananas and marshmallows for a sinful communal dessert. But the vast majority will melt Swiss or French alpine cheeses with white wine and kirsch to make a highly aromatic goo into which they can dunk cubes of good bread and twirl them expertly into possibly the most sensuous mouthfuls known to man outside an oyster shell. Is this all about nostalgia, with the recession driving middle-aged householders to the comfort food they grew up with? That's the view of Louise Selwood, Selfridges's cookshop and dining buyer, who has seen sales of fondue sets increase by 120 per cent since last year.

"Seventies food has had a serious revival in 2010, from prawn cocktail to black forest gâteau, and fondue is the most iconic of all Seventies dishes," she says. And clearly those sets are actually being used, since Selfridges also reports sales of classic fondue cheeses – emmental, gruyère and comté – up 20 per cent on average, and an increase of a third in sales of sachets of pre-made mixes.

It could also be a vogue for comté itself, the rising cheese star of the past few years. Waitrose reports a 27 per cent rise in gruyère sales and a staggering 153 per cent increase in sales of its Entremont comté, while London's fashionable Borough Market has one stall that sells nothing but this elegantly pungent slab, which is to be found on every respectable cheeseboard in France.

"I would certainly put comté into any fondue I was making," says aficionado Huw Mainwaring who, following years of selling cheese on market stalls, is now the product developer for Marks & Spencer. But he warns against the temptation to bung in the cheaper versions of Swiss cheeses that now feature in every supermarket's budget range or, worse still, to use imitators such as jarlsberg, which are not the same thing at all.

"You want only the best ingredients in there if you're not going to end up with an insipid fondue," says the man who is fielding an unpasteurised, single-estate gruyère as an alternative to stilton for the Christmas cheeseboard this year. "It has a delicious mix of salt and caramel notes, and I don't think it's in any way wasted in a fondue, where it complements the mild fruitiness of a good emmental. I wouldn't use the entry-level gruyères and emmentals, which can have a rubbery texture, but might use a mixture of comté and beaufort with the emmental instead."

This latter mix is the choice of Julien Ledogar, who took the surprising gamble eight months ago – in the middle of a recession – to open a restaurant based entirely on cheese cuisine. "Being French, we don't use gruyère like the Swiss, though we do use emmental – for the consistency," he says. "The French cheeses add the flavour: comté brings fruitiness and beaufort, underlying strength."

Ledogar ran a cheese restaurant in France for three years previously, but had no idea whether it would go down well with Brits. "It was a gamble," he admits. "I saw there was a market gap in London. But I discovered the English love cheese even more than the French."

He finds customers – 70 per cent of whom order a fondue, raclette or cheeseboard as a main course – consider comté right up there with brie and camembert as one of the elite French cheeses, but does not believe this in itself is responsible for the popularity of fondue. "It's more, I think, that it reminds them of happier times, from what I hear them saying over the fondue," he explains. "They remember their skiing holidays, or just the happier times of the Eighties, when fondue was still quite popular."

Most of Ledogar's fondue-eaters at L'Art du Fromage, just off London's King's Road, come in groups of six to 10. This suggests that the real popularity of fondue may be its bonding qualities – even if you don't follow the Swiss custom of performing the forfeit of kissing your companions if you drop your bread cube into the cheese mix.

"We have seen a trend in consumers since the recession to create meals at home which bond the family together and have the potential to turn dinner time into a treat," says David Howlett, strategic planning director of MMR Research, which analyses food and drink consumption patterns in Britain. "Some people have gone back to their pre-recession behaviour and are eating out again, but others who developed new patterns say they will never go back."

These may be the very cooks driving up the sales of fondue sets, kits and melting cheeses – and, if they are purists, they will be the ones lashing out on the expensive little bottles of kirsch without which, alas, fondue never tastes as lip-smackingly good as it does in Switzerland and the Savoie.

RECIPE FROM L'ART DU FROMAGE



Ingredients to serve 4



125g each: comté, beaufort and emmental

15cl dry white wine

Pinch each of salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic paste

2-3ml kirsch



Method



Heat the dry white wine to boiling point in a caquelon (fondue pan), throw in the seasonings, then melt the cheese in the mixture, keeping the heat high and stirring constantly. Serve over a chafing dish, and sprinkle in the kirsh just before serving. Issue each guest with a bowl and a long, pronged fork to spear and dunk their bread cubes.

The Swiss would be more likely to mix gruyère and emmental in equal quantities or add appenzeller for a bit of extra oomph.

Note: Good, crusty white bread cut into large cubes is essential. Avoid baguettes: their interior may be too fluffy to hold the cheese.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam