How to eat Cheese Fondue like the French

Mastering the Art of Eating Cheese Fondue by Ann Mah

Have you ever read a book about travel, food and gastronomic history then been so curiously hungry to try it out for yourself that you’ve booked tickets the next day?

That happened last November. Some of you may recall I packed my bags and jumped on the train to Lyon for a gastronomic weekend after reading Chapter Four of Ann Mah’s book, Mastering the Art of French Eating Then the other day, as Ann and I were exchanging the latest Parisian bathroom leak stories and French insurance companies, she let drop that her book has just been released in paperback.

To celebrate its release, Ann has given us a few ‘Fondue’s and don’ts’, an extra bonus taken from her chapter on Savoie and Haute-Savoie where she learns from the locals about mastering the art of eating the most delicious of cheese fondues.  Like all ten chapters in her book, while she tours deliciously around France,  a recipe is given at the end.

Are you sitting comfortably? Have you brought out the fondue set?  Cheese (she’ll help you choose that too) all cut up and ready? Then let’s start the lesson:

How to eat Cheese Fondue like the French

Fondue Etiquette

I’ve always thought of fondue as a casual dish, a winter warmer enjoyed with a round of backgammon. But when I set out to research the classic Alpine dish, I discovered an intricate web of politesse surrounding the pot of molten cheese. Fondue hails from Switzerland and/or France, and—like most things Swiss and/or French—it involves a host of rules. Here are some of the fondues and don’ts I’ve discovered:

* Don’t stir counterclockwise: Traditionalists say you must stir clockwise or in a figure-eight pattern to keep the cheese homogenised until you reach the very bottom.

* Do twirl your fork: Keep things tidy by twirling those flyaway strands of melted cheese around your cube of bread. Please, no tapping, scraping, or double-dipping, unless you want to give your Swiss host a heart attack.

* Don’t drink any water: Sip only white wine, kirsch, or an herbal tisane with your fondue meal. According to Swiss lore, any other drink—be it water, juice, or beer—will cause the melted cheese to coagulate and form a giant ball in your stomach, leaving you with debilitating indigestion. Yes, it sounds silly, but do you really want to risk it?

* Don’t lose your bread in the pot: If your cube of cheese-soaked bread goes missing in the pot of molten cheese, you’ll have to drain your glass of wine, or kiss your neighbor.

* Do make some noise: Feel free to scrape, clang, clank, and use whatever means necessary to dislodge the crust of browned cheese at the bottom of your empty fondue pot. Called “la religieuse,” the shards of crisped cheese have a toasty crunch and are considered a delicacy.

* Don’t follow cheese fondue with chocolate fondue: A meal of Switzerland’s two most famous food exports seems like an obvious progression, but the two together might send you directly into a cholesterol coma. Instead, end your meal with fresh pineapple: The fruit’s acidity is a bright counterpoint to the creamy cheese, while its enzymes help you digest more quickly.

Ann Mah is a journalist and the author of the novel, Kitchen Chinese. Ann was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship in 2005 and her articles about food, travel, fashion, style, and the arts have appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, The Huffington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Washingtonian magazine, and the South China Morning Post, among other publications. The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Mah currently splits her time between New York City and Paris.

Ann Mah Author of Mastering the Art of French Eating

Thanks to Ann for enlightening us on our French fondue etiquette.  My personal favourites are “Don’t drink water” (this always riles my Mother-in-Law up silly as she doesn’t drink wine and always talks at the table about her digestive system – I must tell her to drink a herbal tea, though!) and the “Make noise…”.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a fondue – or cheesy gratin for that matter – when my family doesn’t fight over who gets the delicious toasted scrapings at the end!

cover of paperback book of Ann Mah's Mastering the Art of French Eating

I’m thrilled to say that the lovely people at Penguin have kindly offered a Giveaway copy to readers of le blog!

To enter the #Giveaway, just comment below telling us about your favourite cheese fondue stories – or just tell us if there’s a fondue set in the family – and, even better, share news of the Giveaway via Facebook or Twitter.  The Giveaway ends Sunday 9th November 2014, midnight in Paris.

Giveaway now closed.

Congratulations to Tonessa West Crowe who wins a copy of Ann Mah’s paperback!

 Good luck! 

24 replies
  1. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    One of the first “celebratory” meals my roommates and I had when we moved in together during university was a fondue that we made from scratch. A great fun night!

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Thanks for all of your wonderful fondue stories – A Giveaway winner has been contacted! Congratulations to Tonessa West Crowe, who will receive a copy of Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating!

      Nicole, I think we’ve decided to bring out the fondue set again; cheese fondues are not only delicious but as you say, make for a super fun night!

  2. Parisbreakfast
    Parisbreakfast says:

    Of course I wish I’d read this before indulging. Yes I missed out on the wine part I’m sure and felt it afterwards vowing to never have fondue again! Now I can. Big merci.
    Very informative!

  3. Ron Blaylock
    Ron Blaylock says:

    My Wife & I have always had fondue pots & we make fondue 2 or 3 times a year. I have always had & used “authentic” recipes, or so I thought. My favorite experience occurred in 2007 during an extensive tour of Europe that ended in Zurich. The night was February 14th, Valentines Day, and we found ourselves at the Adler Hotel in Zurich’s altstadt. Their Swiss Chuchi restaurant was all Swiss charm & décor. A very friendly staff served us the Gemischter Salat and the Traditionelles Waadtlander Fondu along with a bottle of a local red.

    We have been back several times & always sit at the same table as that Valentines Night in 2007. After much coaxing, I finally was rewarded with their recipe.

    We always make Zurich our base when in Europe and always stay at the Hotel Adler, which is a very fine 3 star hotel. Ask for a suite facing Hirschenplatz.

    I already have Ann Mah’s fabulous book, but I would like to have another.

  4. Rene
    Rene says:

    My favorite Fondue was when I was studying abroad and we went to Switzerland – two 20 something girls that had just escaped peeping toms in a bathroom in Paris – we got on the train and went right to Switzerland. Our server was so sweet, she could tell we were stressed and brought us THE BEST cheese and wine fondue. Wish I could remember where we were, I would go back in a minute!!! And yes, this family has two fondue pots – yummy!!

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Now that sounded FUN, Rene. Incidentally, you didn’t study the flute in Nice with Alain Marion? You sound rather like the girl I met and got up to all sorts of mischief like this too 😉 Oh, to be 20 something again. Vive le fondue au fromage!

  5. K L
    K L says:

    My fondest memory is in my own home! My mom gave me a fondue maker years ago and we love using it in the dead of winter. There is nothing better to fight off Seasonal Affected Disorder!

  6. gillian
    gillian says:

    I love this. And I love Ann’s book!

    My favorite fondue memory is from when I lived in Niamey, Niger and we would get occasional R&R trips to Cote D’voire which compared to the Sahel was like Paris 🙂 We would head straight to a tiny beach town called Grande Bassam and soak in the salt air, gorge on pineapples sold by ladies on the beach and always always go to this simple concrete restaurant a short walk from the sea and order cheese fondue. It seemed a little crazy eating cheese and bread instead of fresh seafood, but it was such a novelty and treat we could never resist.

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Gillian – I have to get my husband to read your comment as he was brought up in Cote d’Ivoire… and in Grande Bassam when I discovered his haunts we locked ourselves out of the car there one LONG afternoon. It was hilarious. Fondue on the beach? Now that is crazy but I can just see it! Washed down with Mamba beer?

  7. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    I haven’t eaten cheese fondue since we were dressed in flairs. The fondue pot was just as bright orange as our shirts too. Our fondue set is somewhere in the attic. I didn’t realise that this was trendy in France. High time to change with the times then!

  8. Susan
    Susan says:

    The last fondue I had was a chocolate fondue requested by a grandson for his birthday dessert. But other than that, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a cheese fondue but this post is making it more likely that I’ll change that. Soon. :>)

  9. Tonessa West Crowe
    Tonessa West Crowe says:

    My fondest memories of eating fondue is with my sweetheart in New York City at Kashkaval Restaurant. They have a large assortment of cheeses (as well as many meats, saucisson, desserts and breads) for sale and many different kinds of fondues for every taste. And wines to pair them. In this eat in bistro/deli which is always crowded, elbow to elbow, you can dine on the aroma of fondue alone. This place truly inspired my love for fondue. I have had two fondue pots (and have given them for Christmas and passed on on to my daughter in law). Having a fondue party at my house is almost as much fun as when we have raclette! We actually fight over the hardened cheese at the end of the fondue. But the one who gets the honor, also gets to clean the pot! You can never stay mad at anyone if you share a fondue pot with them.

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      True, Tonessa. It’s so easy to prepare and it’s wonderful entertainment. I love the idea of getting the last person to clean the pot, though. Must try that next time … 😉

  10. Terry Mosher
    Terry Mosher says:

    we were eating at a fondue restaurant in Annecy, France with French friends. I loved the fondue so much that I asked the waiter if I could have a menu for a souvenir. It was the most amazing fondue we had ever eaten. He said no. I offered to buy one and he said they weren’t for sale. I understood, even though I would have loved to have one to remember our first Fondue meal in France. We left the restaurant and about 2 blocks down the street. My French friend Jean, opened his coat and produced the menu. To my surprise, I had my souvenir. Every time we have fondue at home in Dallas, Texas, we have great memories of that special evening in France. I don’t condone stealing menus, but I did try to get one without stealing it!

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      What a lovely story, Terry, thank you – and that menu… do you hand out the menu with the fondue evenings at home? How funny. Love raclette, too. Although it lingers in the house for days afterwards, doesn’t it?



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