French Food Fact: What is the true meaning of the word “fondue”?

Published by Saturday, November 19, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Jonell Galloway

For most of us, the word “fondue” conjures up images of poking those long skinny forks into a piece of bread and dipping it into a Swiss-style melted cheese fondue on the table in front of us, while sitting in a rustic chalet in the mountains with a beautiful view out over the mountains. Fondue certainly can mean that, but it doesn’t always.


The word literally means “melted” in French and should, if all be told, be used as an adjective. Although the name has been twisted a bit from the original meaning over the years, it still strongly retains traces of the original meaning, since it always includes the sense of something solid like cheese or chocolate melting into a sauce or pulp. The one exception to this is Burgundy fondue, which is basically like a smaller version of the medieval boiling pot of oil that was poured over the heads of invaders, and if spilled on you, it may not kill you, but it is highly possible it will leave you with lifetime scars.

The original fondue originated in Switzerland, and consists of a cheese sauce made with cheese, corn flour, kirsch, garlic and sometimes flavorings, such as wild mushrooms, tomatoes, shallots, depending on the canton.

Eighteenth-century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin also used the term in his Physiologie du goût, or Physiology of Taste, considered one of the great classics of all time on French cuisine. His fondue consisted of scrambled eggs and cheese, and the cheese was melted.

Many vegetable preparations also go by the name fondue. When vegetables are cooked slowly in fat for a very long time, they eventually start to “melt” and form a pulp. They can then be used to make sauces or as constituent elements in other dishes, for example fondue of carrots or fondue of onions.


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