Food & Drink

How to Throw the Ultimate Fondue Party In 2020

Now that we’re (somehow) in the third decade of the 21st century, “retro” dishes, cocktails, and entertaining styles that hearken back to the 20th century have never been more popular. From tiki bars to supper clubs, vintage-inspired themes run rampant throughout the restaurant and bar landscape, but house-party enthusiasts shouldn’t worry about missing out on the trend. One midcentury event concept can, with some clever adjustments, still feel fun and fresh enough to carry out in the year 2020, and it’s known as the “fondue party.”

What exactly is a fondue party?

As its name suggests, a fondue party centers around a pot of fondue, also known as melted cheese or chocolate served with an assortment of food items (like raw vegetables, baguette slices, or fruit) for dipping. By necessity, fondue makes for an interactive experience, with party guests all sharing the bounty of the fondue pots.

cheese fondue closeup
Klara Avsenik

To give the classic fondue party a thoroughly modern makeover, consider these tips from pro chefs and party planners.

Try updating your fondues with international themes

As a dish, fondue is appealingly flexible; home cooks can easily incorporate whichever flavor profiles and ingredients strike their fancy. Event planner Greg Jenkins of Bravo Productions in Long Beach, CA tells us that “you can bring the fondue party into a more exciting concept by [incorporating a] theme.” Jenkins especially likes to weave international themes into his fondue recipes; he makes a Mexican-inspired cheese fondue with jalapeños and Monterey Jack cheese, an Irish-influenced version with Guinness and Irish cheddar, and a Southern-style “Mississippi Mudslide” dessert fondue with Baileys and bourbon-infused chocolate.

Creative director Mariana Leung of Wicked Finch Farm in New York believes that international fondues can expand beyond different cheese and spice blends, and she personally categorizes Chinese hot pot as a strong fondue alternative. “Fondue doesn’t have to be exclusively cheese or chocolate. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, consider Chinese hot pot! You have steamy, fragrant broth as your base [for dipping] choice cuts of steak or seafood or your choice of proteins. You can get fancy or basic with veggies as well.  My girlfriends and I have taken turns hosting our 3-course “dip dinner” where we start with a Gruyere fondue as a starter, then [this] Asian fondue as our main, then a dessert fondue to finish,” Leung insists.

Turn your fondue party into a potluck

In the spirit of fondue’s collaborative nature, merging a fondue party with a potluck party brings both a welcome variety and a sense of teamwork to your fête. Evite “Celebration Expert” Zaria Zinn says that “fondue parties are the perfect excuse for a potluck with friends. Supply a few types of fondue and ask your friends to bring their favorite dipping item to share. We love pairing green apples with cheese fondue and little bites of pound cake [with] rich chocolate fondue. You can even add a little more heat to the party by making it a friendly competition and asking each [guest] to rank their favorite or [to choose the] most outrageous dipping item. Winner gets bragging rights until next year’s party!”

Don’t skimp on prep time or ingredient quality

A party dish consisting of molten cheese or chocolate may seem like a simple task to accomplish, but fondue party hosts should challenge themselves to take their time, pay close attention to their ingredient choices and obtain the most high-quality items possible. “[Fondue parties are] not as easy as they’re made out to [be]. Cutting vegetables and making dips takes a lot of time. I’d set aside at least six or seven hours for prep if you’re having more than five people over. And do your shopping on a different day, in case you have to run to multiple stores for ingredients. Consider the aesthetics: the best fondue parties have a visually-appealing spread of food. So, think about how all of your dipping options look together. Get vegetables in lots of different colors, and serve bread on colorful plates so it doesn’t look too bland. This makes for great Instagram pics!” advises lifestyle blogger Heloise Blaure of HomeKitchenLand.

chocolate fondue dip
Jessica Jung/EyeEm

Former restauranteur Susan Wheaton of The Sweet Life on Martha’s Vineyard, MA emphasizes the importance of sourcing the best ingredients that you can, explaining that, when she whips up a fondue, she “buys cheese from a cheese shop, not relying on pre-packaged ‘fondue.’ We most often make a French fondue (aka Fondue Savoyard) using Comté, Beaufort, and Emmnental. Once the cheeses start to melt, we add some warmed-up white wine (pinot blanc or sauvignon blanc). We add a pinch of nutmeg and some pepper. Then, when the cheese fondue is almost finished, we crack an egg into the pot, mix it around with the remaining cheese, and everyone has a bit of a sort of “cheese scramble” – almost the best part!”

When making cheese fondue, keep an eye on the meltability of your cheese

The flavor of fondue cheese obviously contributes enormously to the dish’s success, but its texture plays an equal role, so smart shoppers need to focus on both elements in order to pick the right cheese for this purpose. Oldways Cheese Coalition program director Carlos Yescas breaks it down like this: “If a cheese doesn’t melt well — no matter how good it tastes — [then] it’s not ideal for making fondue. Examples of these cheeses include most goat cheeses, most fresh sheep’s milk cheeses, and most Hispanic-style cheeses. Cheeses that won’t melt prevent you from creating the creamy consistency that is part of the magic of fondue — there’s really no good way around it. Very aged hard cheeses like the incredibly delicious Grana Padano also clump up and do not melt in the way that a perfect fondue cheese like Gruyère AOP does.”

Class up your fondue event with “composed fondues”

Typically, fondue includes a single pot of sweet or savory liquid surrounded by several options for dipping. However, if you prefer a more curated spin on this idea, follow the example set by Barbara Brass, vice president of catering sales for Wolfgang Puck Catering, and offer up a series of “composed fondues.” “I love the idea of composed fondue dishes. Rather than one type of fondue with an array of dipping items, serve a few different types of fondue [with different flavors from] adding cheeses or spices. [Examples include] filet mignonette cubes [cooked] on rosemary skewers and paired with a blue cheese fondue, beer-cheddar fondue with warm Bavarian-style pretzels, and caramelized onion and Gruyere fondue with toasted crostini,” Brass suggests.

Really lean into the retro vibe

Sometimes, the best way to modernize an old-school entertaining style involves fully embracing its retro appeal. For a perfect 2020 fondue party, lifestyle blogger and sommelier Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life recommends the following: “Honestly, part of the fun of a fondue party is leaning in to how retro the whole thing is! Can’t you picture Don Draper getting ready to invite guests into his sunken living room for a night of fondue fun while Brubeck plays on the Hi-Fi?

cheese fondue potato dip
Angela Pham

As a host, I would double down on the kitsch: stock your midcentury-inspired bar cart with apres-ski cordials like Chartreuse, Grappa, and Amaro. Put on some swingin’ tunes, throw some vintage Playboy mags on the coffee table, welcome guests with a relish tray, and play Charades. If your guests are game, why not invite a retro dress code? Otherwise — skinny ties can be optional!”

Which beverages to serve? Here are some ideas

If you’re serving cheese fondue, pair with:

  • Kolsch, Pilsner, or IPA beers. According to executive chef Andrew Asken of midcentury-inspired bar Punch House in Chicago, “you really can’t go wrong with beer for a cheese fondue. Beer and cheese just go perfectly together.” Asken opts for lightweight beers like a kolsch, a pilsner, or a “New England IPA.”
  • Riesling, Chenin Blanc, or Gruner Veltliner. Because of the creamy richness of a cheese fondue, senior event planner Christie Altendorf and catering design and culinary manager Rachel Bruzek of D’Amico Catering in Minneapolis think that a “high acid, chilled white” wine makes an excellent counterpoint. Altendorf and Bruzek especially enjoy German Rieslings, Chenin Blancs from France, and Austrian Gruner Veltliners with fondue.
  • Prosecco. The crisp and refreshing Italian sparkling wine known as Prosecco is a favorite cheese fondue beverage of blogger and recipe developer Ashley Berger of Sweet Pea Lifestyle, who tells us that “[with] cheese fondue, I love serving Prosecco. It’s inexpensive, and the bubbles are such a light addition to the heavy cheese fondue.”

If you’re serving chocolate fondue, pair it with:

  • Pinot noir or dessert wine. Sweet, chocolate-based dishes like chocolate fondue are notoriously tricky to pair with wine, but Greg Jenkins has a simple solution: “Pinot Noir or dessert wine pairs well with melted chocolate.”  
  • Milk stout or porter. Andrew Asken believes that heavier and more robust beers like “a milk stout or a porter” make perfect partners for chocolate fondue.
  • Bourbon. Photographer, recipe developer, and blogger Kita Roberts of Pass The Sushi appreciates the natural sweetness of bourbon whiskey alongside chocolate fondue, claiming that “a quality bourbon on the rocks [makes] for an amazingly rich flavor combination [with fondue].”

If you’re ready to give fondue-making a whirl, start with this updated-classic recipe:

Maman’s Three-Cheese Fondue Recipe

(Created at Maman, New York City)

Maman co-founder Elisa Marshall tells us that “Maman’s fondue is a simple, easy entertaining meal for a cozy winter soiree. Our three-cheese fondue provides the perfect decadent treat, but [it’s] simple enough to make at home.”

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Tomme de Savoie, grated
  • 1 cup Emmantal, grated
  • 1.5 cups Comté, grated
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 clove of garlic (optional)
  • 1 sliced baguette
  • 3 cups oven-roasted broccoli or cauliflower
  • 3 cups boiled baby potatoes
  • 3 cups pre-cooked tortellini pasta

Method:

  1. Using an electric fondue pot, heat the wine on high until it comes to a boil. Add whole clove of garlic (optional).
  2. With a wooden spoon, slowly stir in the cheese one cup at a time until melted.
  3. Serve with sliced baguette, roasted vegetables, baby potatoes, and tortellini on skewers. Serves four.

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