Food You Can Eat: Cheese Fondue Without the Fondue Set

Julia Child once said that there are many cheese fondue recipes, but there really aren’t. Here’s a good one I make when I’m not using my fondue set, of course I have one, when it’s just the two of us and The Ravenous Beast. As has been the case for 11 months and counting. I’ll talk about the fondue set-having version at the end. The ingredients list is vague and you’ll see why.


1 lb grated Swiss(-ish) cheeses. I usually use a mix of Swiss and Gruyère, but I’ve done this without the Swiss and have used Gouda, smoked Gouda, and/or Fontina instead. Maybe Julia was on to something. But about 1 lb total for 2. You definitely want some kind of mix, though.

A little cornstarch. I don’t know why but if you don’t use it disaster awaits.

Some garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half. I use 3, but this is for flavoring, so… 

About 1/2 bottle dry white wine. Don’t use a sweet wine, like Gewürztraminer or a Riesling, or, even worse, a sparkling wine. 

1 loaf of crusty French or Italian bread, for dipping.


Uncork the dry white wine and pour yourself a glass. Begrudgingly pour one for the person hovering over your shoulder wondering what’s for dinner. This is not meant be dinner, just kind of a fun way to start things off. But alongside it I serve meats and crackers and fruits, so it’s like half-dinner.

Grate the cheese, but not too finely. Add that to a bowl and mix in a little cornstarch, not too much, you just want to make the cheese damp. You shouldn’t have a puddle at the bottom or anything.

Rub the garlic cloves around the bottom and insides of a saucepan. If you’re exceptionally fond of garlic you can then mince the garlic and throw it in. I always do and I haven’t been attacked by a vampire yet.

Pour in 1/2 bottle of the wine (at this point you’ll have to direct the Kitchen Hoverer to open another one, because the two of you have the rest of the original bottle in your glasses) and bring the wine and garlic, if using, to a simmer. Whisk this around and let the wine cook off a little.

While this is going on get the Kitchen Hoverer to cube the bread loaf. The size doesn’t matter, not tiny and not huge chunks. While you’re at it, tell him to slice a pre-cooked sausage, dig out the apples, and bring down a box of crackers that he’s stashed somewhere.

Add the cornstarch-coated cheese to the saucepan a handful at a time. Whisk this around until completely melted. And again. Whisk, let melt, and blend. And again. You’re done. If it tastes a little bland (it kind of should, but in a good, cheesy way) you could whisk in some black pepper toward the end or maybe a tiny bit of mustard but the cheese should stand on its own.

Now the problem is, without a fondue set, how to serve this? We normally go through this so quickly that the fondue doesn’t cool and congeal, so I just plop the saucepan on a big trivet on the table and we eat from it. You can also apportion between two bowls, which I think keeps it warmer longer. Since there’s only enough for two you can spear the cubed bread with a normal fork. 

Once you’ve had enough, pour the cooled remnants over The Ravenous Hound’s kibble so he can have a little sauced dinner. Pretend you didn’t see each other slipping him little slices of sausage while the other is dunking bread into the fondue.


You really only need to employ your fondue set if you’re serving it for a larger group, as if you were participating in an “Ice Storm” key party or after a day on the slopes with Audrey Hepburn in the mid-1960s. You do all of this but with greater quantities in a fondue pot, which is then placed on its base which has a heat source underneath to keep it warm and bubbly. Your fondue set will come with long fondue forks or spears that kind of look like knitting needles, which you’ll need because fondue pots typically aren’t bowls and are deep, to keep the cheese warm. This is a really fun thing to do if you have people over on a cold night, especially a snowy night, but I don’t recommend exchanging car keys.



  1. Mmm. I haven’t had fondue in a long time, and I’ve never actually made it myself. It’s a good idea for a fun night. I’d have to make it with broth instead of wine since my husband is a teetotaler, which seems like it doesn’t work quite as nicely but does still work. 

  2. Gruyere and Fontina are great melting cheeses.  The cornstarch serves as a stabilizer for cheeses which tend to separate when melted, but I’ve never encountered that problem with Gruyere and Fontina when cooking other things so I wonder if you’d still need it if you didn’t use Swiss or Gouda.
    The Ice Storm is a supremely fucked up movie.  Saw it once, and that was enough.

    • I think you might because the only thing you’re melting is cheese in wine, and quite a bit of cheese at that. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a recipe that’s just a cheese and wine sauce, usually some butter or cream or something else is involved. I think the cornstarch is also a thickener, but you use so little of it…I don’t know. I wish I knew more about How Things Work. The first time I made fondue I just made a little, for myself, years and years ago and it didn’t work, but I forget which cheeses I used. I was curious as to why something so simple could be screwed up, and a couple of cookbooks I had had fondue recipes and they both mentioned cornstarch. No problems since!

    • It’s because French is such a great language. The word just means “melted.” To say something mundane, like “the ice has melted,” that’s “la glace a fondu.”

      • It really is a beautiful language. It’s so pleasant to listen to. 
        Sigh. Maybe someday travel will be safe again and I’ll take another Paris trip. Or at least Montreal. (Yeah, I know French Canadian isn’t the same, but I love it too.) 

  3. Fondue is a kid pleaser. And a good way to encourage them to eat veggies. The pickiest eater will  love dipping steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots in melty cheese. 

    • Poor hound missed out last night. I made a spinach and strawberry salad, neither of which I will give him, but I did crumble some feta cheese over his kibble. He’s not dumb, though: he knew he was getting the third-rate version of what we were eating.

  4. I’ve been thinking about it off and on all afternoon and evening.

    I’ve never had fondue. I’ve had fruits/baked goods dunked in a chocolate fountain, but I’ve never had fondue.

    Goddamn, I need to rectify this situation.

    • You can also make a chocolate fondue. The simplest way is to melt chocolate into heavy cream simmering on a saucepan, about a 3:1 ratio. THat’s all there is to it. You can also add a little cornstarch to this but I don’t and it turns out fine.

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