Fondue pots may initially make you think of naff '70s dinner parties and cheesy (sorry) parlour games, but they're making a major come-back.
It's no surprise - with 2020 leaving us having to cook most of our meals at home, and opportunities for fun fewer on the ground, fondue allows the opportunity to make an easily assembled dinner that's delicious - while also enjoying the theatre of dunking and twisting long forks in melted goodness.
For those missing the ski slopes, too, it's a great way of creating the experience of après ski - put the pot on, bubble up some cheese - then just add a glass of chilled wine and a cosy woollen sweater.
The History of Fondue
Think of fondue, and chances are you'll think of it's Swiss heritage: tales of how peasants in the Swiss mountains created it as a means of using up stale cheese and bread and staving off a bitter winter.
However, it has a far more storied (and surprisingly balmy) past than that. First mention of it shows up in Homer's Iliad - in Song XI, he sings of a melted mixture of wine, grated goat's cheese, and flour. That's the rudimentary fondue recipe, simply missing the forks and the pot.
For that, we can credit the Swiss, when modern fondue - melted cheese cooked in a pot over an open flame - was first recorded as being cooked in Switzerland's Canto de Neuchatel. The pot is known as a "caquelon."
It was created out of necessity: stale cheese was too hard to eat, as was bread. But melt the cheese mixed with wine over a fire - edible! and delicious. And the rock-hard bread - suddenly yielding in the cheese. The term 'fondue' is a derivation of the French word fondre - to melt.
From humble beginnings, then, fondue has developed into a culinary triumph. You can indulge in fondue bourguignonne - whereby cubed, raw beef is submerged into a caquelon full of boiling oil (not for kids, this one!), cooking near-instantly.
Or, for the sweet-toothed, a chocolate fondue. Dunking marshmallows or cubed fruit into rich melted chocolate - it's dessert as it should be. We've indulged in a salted caramel fondue ourselves, and this is not recommended for confectionery amateurs - it's a serious sugar load (glorious, though).
Tips for fondue preparation: the fondues and fondont's
While fondue is the work of mere moments to throw together, there are some guiding principles. Most importantly: you need a great pot (for that, read below).
For cheese fondues, the fromage selection is your paramount concern. Of course, if you have stale cheese ends in your fridge, throw them in - that's the essential point, after all! Beyond that, opt for well-ripened cheeses, such as gruyère, comte, or reblonchon.
Culinary chemist Hervé This explains, “Well-ripened cheese are best suited to the preparation of fondues because, in the course of ageing, enzymes called peptidases have broken up the casein and the other proteins into small fragments that are more readily dispersed in the water solution.” Simply put: the fondue will melt more readily.
When it comes to chocolate fondue, two things. Firstly - the Swiss will turn their nose up at you, deeming chocolate fondue a bastardisation. Let them sneer: you'll be wallowing in deliciousness. Secondly: you can't really screw this up. Just throw the ingredients into your pot and allow them to melt, and you'll be engaged in a Willy Wonka style dessert in no time.
There are key factors to consider when purchasing a fondue pot.
First is how it heats - it is electric or manual? (we would recommend electric for any families with small children getting involved - it's easy than an open flame).
Secondly, what is is made of? There's a choice of stainless steel, ceramic, or enamelled cast iron.
And finally - what size? This will be determined by whether you're looking for fondue à deux, a small family, or (someday) looking to host a party.
Here are a few of our favourites on the market:
Best for romance: Ruffoni Limited Edition Opus Prima Candle and Gel Warmer, £165
Looking to set the scene for you and your partner? This gorgeous Italian stainless steel candle powered warmer will make for an evocative centrepiece on your dining room table. Ideal for sweet, chocolate fondue desserts for two - remember, nothing is more flattering than candlelight. Buy now, £165, Harrods
Best for families with smaller children: 1.8 L Stainless Steel Fondue Set, £109.99
Children about? Keep open flames out of the fondue equation. This electric set is a doddle to use - indeed, the kids can create the melted mixture themselves - and takes the risk out of dunk your bread. Non-stick and stainless steel, it lasts well, and with temperature control to keep your concoction perfectly melted for as long as you require it. Buy now, £109.99, Wayfair