Fondue is a Swiss, Italian, and French dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot (caquelon) over a portable stove (réchaud), and eaten by dipping long-stemmed forks with bread into the cheese. It was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) in the 1930s, and was popularized in North America in the 1960s.
Since the 1950s, the name "fondue" has been generalized to other dishes in which a food is dipped into a communal pot of hot liquid: chocolate fondue, in which pieces of fruit are dipped into a melted chocolate mixture, and fondue bourguignonne, in which pieces of meat are cooked in hot oil.
A full cheese fondue set in Switzerland. Apart from pieces of bread to dip into the melted cheese, there are side servings of kirsch, raw garlic, pickled gherkins, onions, and olives.
Cheese fondue consists of a blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning. To prepare the caquelon it is first rubbed with a cut garlic clove. White wine is slightly heated with cornstarch, and then grated cheese is added and stirred until melted. It is often topped off with a bit of kirsch. The cornstarch or other starch is added to prevent separation. The mixture is stirred continuously as it heats in the caquelon.
When it is ready, diners dip cubes of bread speared on a fondue fork into the mixture.
Temperature and la religieuse
A cheese fondue mixture should be kept warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot that it burns. If this temperature is held until the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted (not burnt) cheese at the bottom of the caquelon. This is called la religieuse (French for the nun). It has the texture of a cracker and is almost always lifted out and eaten.