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.


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


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.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn