It may be chilly, snowy, or rainy outside, but there’s no need to frown. Gloomy winter weather provides the perfect excuse for throwing a party with one of the most convivial themes of all time: fondue! Thanks to the Swiss (who are pros at surviving inclement weather conditions), we have a dish that not only warms the soul but is also fun to eat and enjoy with others.
If you’ve never had fondue, it’s a savory dish comprised of cheese, wine, and other flavorings that have been melted together and served in a communal pot (aka: caquelon) over some type of portable cooking stove or heat source. It is eaten by skewering cubes of bread, veggies, or anything really with long-stemmed forks and dipping them into the cheese.
But the word fondue has become a generalized term for dishes where food is dipped into a pot of molten anything. Which is awesome. Your dipping pot can hold cheese (for traditional versions), oil (for cooking pieces of meat or fish), or chocolate and caramel (for dessert fondues).
I’m sure there isn’t much that could top eating fondue in front of a cozy fire after a day of skiing in the Swiss Alps, but throwing a potluck fondue party in your dorm room or apartment could be a good alternative if you find yourself stuck in school and looking for a fun way to relax and reunite with friends after midterm season. So gather your friends around the ol’ fondue pot and get a socializin’! It will be the hit party of winter quarter, guaranteed!
What: Potluck Fondue Party (The host provides the fondues; the guests bring the food items for dipping)
For: Six to twelve of your closest friends. Friends can bring a plus 1, as long as that person brings something to dip! Fondue parties are perfect for creating conversation opportunities, making them a great way to get to know new people. Keep in mind that each fondue pot can only serve up to six people at a time. So, unless you expect your guests to be mingling in between dipping and your other planned party activities, be sure to have enough fondue pots on hand to accommodate everyone at once.
When: A cold winter night after midterms are over. Pick a night when you and your friends will have regained enough energy to get creative with the dippers they’ll be bringing and to have a fun food time!
What to Eat: Fondues of your choosing. Get creative! If it’s something best served hot and is dippable, then go for it. I recommend starting off with a cheese fondue and ending the night with a dessert fondue. If you plan on making a cheese fondue, Gruyere and Emmentaler are traditionally used, but you can use any flavorful cheese that melts well. If you’re making a dessert fondue, use high-quality chocolate or caramel. Do your prep work (grating cheese, chopping chocolate, etc.) ahead of time, and then make your fondue in batches.
Melt the cheese together with the other ingredients in the fondue pot on your stove, and then transfer the fondue pot over to the heating element you’re using to keep it warm during serving. If you don’t have access to a fondue pot or stove, you can easily microwave the fondue in its serving bowl. Fondue pots are not totally necessary for a successful potluck fondue party, though they help. If you find yourself with a low supply of fondue pots, try using a bread bowl (a hollowed-out bread loaf—remember to keep the insides for dipping!) for cheese fondues. I served a chile con queso fondue this way and it was a huge hit! And you can easily microwave it when it gets cold or begins to stiffen up. During the party, keep the heat under the fondue pot on low (unless you are using frosting, say, for dipping cupcakes, then turn the heat off).
What to Drink: Wine (preferably a selection that pairs well with the fondue), beer, or anything fizzy like Martinelli’s sparkling cider. Not a fan of the fizz or booze? I found that cranberry-apple juice goes extremely well with melted cheese (it was actually an ingredient of the fondue recipe I used and there was plenty leftover, so duh, might as well drink it!). Or, you could even use it to make cocktails or mocktails.
How to Set the Scene: Potluck fondue parties work well with a number of different themes. Since fondue was popularized in America during the 1970s, a ’70s-themed fondue party with disco hits and old school games like Twister would be in order. Or, to celebrate the origin of fondue, you could pump up the Swiss theme and throw an Alps-inspired party with kitschy-traditional Swiss music and winter wonderland or ski decorations. Lederhosen anybody? My personal favorite would be a cozy campfire theme; complete with a s’mores fondue, floor pillows and blankets for comfortably lolling about, and pine-scented candles to complete the outdoorsy theme. And, if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, stoke that bad-boy up! Be sure to ask your guests to include music suggestions with their RSVPs so you can create a party playlist ahead of time to complete the mood for whatever theme you will be using.
If you’ll be serving a chocolate fondue, send out customized chocolate bar invites that say something like “We’ll supply the chocolate, you bring a dipper.” Make sure your guests tell you when they RSVP what foods they’ll be bringing for dippers so you can ensure that there won’t be any duplicates. (Note: Clue them in beforehand with tips for dipper ideas by telling them to head over to the junk food (marshmallows, cookies, donuts) or frozen snack (mini corn dogs, mini quiches, pizza rolls, jalapeño poppers, soft pretzels) sections of a grocery store. Anything bite-sized that is already cooked or microwaveable will work just fine.) During the party you can hold a contest for guests to vote on their favorite dippers, and then maybe provide a funny prize for the winner (cheap party hat or party-store toy, you get the idea).
When your guests arrive, inform them about proper fondue etiquette. (I bet no one will already know that you are required to kiss the person next to you if your dipper falls off into the fondue pot!) Make sure there are different locations for each of your fondue pot stations, complete with a tablecloth underneath to prevent messy-dipper damage (who wants to clean up dried-on cheese and chocolate drips after a night of partying?…not me!). Provide little trays or paper plates for your guests to eat over and also use to keep their dippers on, and one fondue fork (or wooden skewer) per guest per pot so nobody gets cheese goo into chocolate and vice versa.
Attire: It all depends on your theme, but it’s always safe to go with casual attire (let’s face it, everybody just wants to wear their most comfy pair of sweats after a long few weeks of midterms!). If you’re going with a cozy campfire theme, suggest winter attire. Yes, this means your ugliest sweaters, scarves and knit caps that one of your clueless relatives might have gifted you over the holidays!
Brynn Cahalan is a senior at UC Irvine majoring in Business Economics and minoring in Digital Arts. She is known to get more excited about serving her own food inventions at her parties than anything else…and her friends don’t mind one bit since they get to eat it all!