Monday, December 26, 2011

Fondue Party: Our Swiss-Kissed Christmas Eve

Fondue, a Swiss favorite and a tradition in our family the past few years on Christmas Eve. Both my parents were born in Switzerland (they met and married here) and they were the only ones in their families to come to the United States. On holidays, we have never been surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. I have cousins I wouldn't recognize if they passed me by on the street. Steve and I took a trip to Switzerland a few years ago and met with some family and I traveled there more often as a child. On Christmas Eve, a fondue is a little piece of Switzerland which is a plane ride away, but still very far.

They have ready-made fondue kits you can buy, but it's really worth it to buy the Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses. Just a few ingredients are needed to add to the grated cheese: garlic to rub the pot, cornstarch, pepper, white wine, optional kirsch (ours is on the side for dipping).

White wine and melted cheese on bread. What's better on a winter's night? I looked up some history of fondue on and learned that fondue is the French word for melted, that most historians agree it was invented in Switzerland in the early nineteenth century and was a peasant dish, and Swiss fondue became a party novelty among American cooks in 1950s with many U.S. households adding "fondue pots" to their party ware in the 1960s and 70s. Chocolate fondues are distinctly American.

I always think back to a cozy alpine restaurant Steve and I shared fondue at in Zermatt, Restaurant Whymper-Stube...

and the beauty of this church up in the mountains. I love the smell and glow of the candles in church. Even on the highest mountaintops, places of worship exist.

It was all like a faraway and long ago dream, but still how I remember it.

Rick Steves produced a heartwarming special on Christmas in Europe, and he perfectly captured the cozy, intimate feeling of eating a fondue around a table. I wish I could magically jump into this scene with them.

No ham for me, but I'd take an extra serving of those scalloped potatoes with mountain cheese. My mom has a framed photo of her family's Christmas tree in Switzerland with the candles on it and it looks exactly like the one in the video.

Does your family carry on or incorporate traditions from the Old World (wherever your family's Old World lies) in your holiday festivities?


  1. OMG
    chedder on biscuits is a poor substitute but one must make do sometimes
    Looks incredibly yummy!

  2. I wrote a whole comment on this yesterday, but I must have done something wrong! I am continually amazed at how your posts speak to me. First, watching Rick Steves' Christmas in Europe has become a great holiday tradition for me. I had missed it on PBS this year, but realized that my sister-in-law had loaned us her complete collection of Rick Steves' DVDs and after reading your column, sat down and watched it, despite it being post-Christmas. And for some reason, I've had this bee in my bonnet since last week about making fondue for New Year's Eve. Haven't had that in about 30 years! I don't have a fondue pot, but found a make-your-own option on eHow. Do you have any recipes to recommend? Happy New Year!

  3. Hi Carol. It was! We always say we're going to make fondue more often in winter and never do. A New Year's resolution must! Happy New Year.

    H Amy. Isn't Rick Steves wonderful? I do a lot of armchair traveling through him. I'm so glad you enjoyed the special this year. The season passed me by, maybe because it's been so mild in New Jersey and it hasn't felt like Christmas. Steve, my sweetheart who is a chef, said to just use a heavy bottomed pot and you can take it on and off. I see fondue pots in thrift shops but we have more than we need.
    He rubs garlic in the pan, adds white wine (half a bottle) and stirs in grated cheese, half of each kind (we used 2 pounds total for 5 people but it was a lot!) He stirs a little wine and a touch of cornstarch in a separate bowl and adds it to the cheese mixture. He doesn't use flour but many recipes include it. Hope it comes out well if you do it. Enjoy the New Year!

  4. Thank you, Steve, for all the info! I think I will try what I read on line, however, about cooking it on the stove and then placing the pot on top of two bricks with a sterno in the space between the bricks. I like the idea of it being so rustic!

  5. That sounds like a good plan! It helps to have a chef in the family. I sadly had to ask him how he does it since I'm mainly preoccupied stealing bites of the grated cheese! I love rustic too. My Swiss-born parents always use the fondue kits from the store but we all love the from-scratch version.