May 3, 2017

Fondue: A Food Fad of the 1970's Created by the Swiss Dairy Industry to Sell Cheese

The 1970's may be remembered for many things, but one particular fad I recall is how a food known for its origins in Switzerland suddenly became a chic party theme among young Baby Boomers (no, not chocolate, although it could be): fondue.

A groovy Fondue party!

But less anyone thinks this just happened by accident, NPR reported in April 2015 that the popularity of fondue was no accident. It was planned by a shadowy association of Swiss cheese makers which aimed to convince the world to consume pots full of melted fat (cheese).  It began selling the now-familiar dreamy image of fondue with "big ad campaigns of good-looking Swiss people in ski sweaters partying it up over pots of cheese." With the rise of globalization, it didn't take very long for that message to hit the U.S.  That story can be listened to below, or by visiting https://n.pr/1GkUvjZ:



David Sax, author of the book "The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue" [http://tastemakersbook.com/] discusses how food trends emerge, where they come from, how they grow, and where they end up.  One thing he notes is how the cycle of such trends has been dramatically shortened in recent decades.  Just as Fondue was a legitimate food fad from the 1970's, there have been dozens of more recent food fads, perhaps most recently the "gluten-free" trend, which has nothing to do with the incidence of celiac disease (which has remained flat, incidentally).  He spoke to Marketplace radio about that, and the 4:30 interview can be listened to below, or by visiting http://bit.ly/2pZF9Cr:



As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observed (see HERE), back "when fondue parties first were a fad, you may have been wearing bell bottoms and playing Bob Dylan and Joan Baez (on vinyl) on the stereo. Or maybe you were wearing rompers and playing on the swing set ... fondue made a comeback in the early 2000's and has been growing in popularity ever since."

Perhaps one reason for its seemingly sudden popularity back in the seventies was that fondue is about as sociable as a meal can get.  Fondue is typically eaten with long-handled forks dipped and twirled in a communal pot, usually heated with Sterno fuel or special fondue burners that are heated with a special gel fuel which is ignited, or even candles (such as tealights), although electric fondue pots also emerged at that time as a safer alternative (for alcohol-consuming customers who might tip the flames over).  Fondue usually consists of bread cubes (from French bread) dipped into warmed cheese, although some also use the fondue pot to cook small pieces of meat in hot oil, and/or for desserts made from melted chocolate that is heated in the fondue pot.

Fondue pots in classic (and questionable) 1970's colors
In the seventies, fondue pots were also widely available at S&H Green Stamp redemption centers (catch my post on that at https://goo.gl/BvDmG8 for more) before those disappeared.  They were popular when S&H went out of business because they did not require too many books of stamps for redemption, but were something people might not otherwise purchase on their own.  Popular fondue pots sold in the U.S. at the time were also made in the same questionable colors of kitchen appliances of the day, including avacado or lime green, harvest gold, and coppertone brown.

Back to fondue, which David Sax claims was a food fad.

Fondue is actually a tad more complicated to prepare then it appears (for example, just ask anyone who's tossed a bunch of cheese into a pot and expected anything other than a gloopy mess). To make classic Swiss fondue, a fondue pot (called a caquelon in Swiss-French) is first rubbed with a cut garlic clove, then dry white wine is added and heated, sometimes with a little cornstarch (though cornstarch is decidedly not Swiss, many find it makes the texture more sustainable as the heat goes away, but the Swiss use some flour, pepper, and nutmeg instead). A blend of shredded [Swiss] cheeses is then added (most typically Gruyere, as well as Emmentaler and/or Appenzeller are the most traditional cheeses used in fondue), and the mixture is stirred constantly until the cheese is melted. Cubes of French bread are then used for dipping, but other baigneuses (a.k.a. "bathers") can also include apples, fingerling potatoes, most fresh vegetables including green beans, and/or chunks of lightly seared beef, chicken or pork (some types of fish could also work, although the smell tends to ruin the communal dining experience, hence its not very popular).

Dick Cavett, former talk show host who appeared on U.S. broadcast television in a program called "The Dick Cavett Show" which aired intermittently on different networks from from 1968–1986, best known for his interviews with celebrities including Groucho Marx, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, and countless others even got in on the 70's fondue fad, too.  Note that he also appeared in different TV sitcoms and movies, often in cameo appearances of himself.  Not to be outdone on the food fad of the seventies, he had a recipe for Fondue Bread, in which the bread serves as the actual fondue pot or bowl itself.  It can be found online at http://thememorablekitchen.com/dick-cavetts-fondue-bread/ and https://www.recipegoldmine.com/celeb/dick-cavetts-bread-pot-fondue.html and http://classiccelebrityrecipes.blogspot.com/2016/04/recipes-by-dick-cavett-bread-pot-fondue.html to name a few places that it appears today, although it likely was found in newspapers and magazines from the 1970's.

Predictably, Unilever's Lipton soup had a fondue recipe of it's own in the seventies.


Emmi Roth USA, a subsidiary of Switzerland based Emmi Group, is the largest Swiss milk processor and a leading producer of specialty cheeses that Switzerland sells for export actively promoted and encouraged fondue parties.  They have a few recipes HERE and a convenient PDF recipe card (for the moment) HERE.  Indeed, entire websites dedicated to fondue can be found online, including one that calls itself "Best Fondue" (see http://www.bestfondue.com/ for the site) have been created.

Of course, traditional Swiss fondue has been taken in creative new directions by creative cooks around the world.  For example, an American created Chipotle and Tequila fondue, which adds a zesty Mexican spin on things (rather than using an exclusive traditional base of wine) is one creative variation.  Others have tried a lower-fat, lower-calorie version that uses mashed cannellini beans to slim down the recipe yet keep a thick and tasty texture (see HERE for a recipe) that might be worth sampling.  For dessert, a chocolate-coffee recipe (see HERE for details) is another modern spin on the classic chocolate fondue.

Fondue equipment (pots, forks, etc.) can still be bought today (and it might make for an entertaining, communal meal) at retailers ranging from Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, to Amazon.com, but these days, it seems to be more typical to enjoy fondue at a restaurant.  One of the best-known and popular fondue chains is The Melting Pot [https://www.meltingpot.com/]. They claim have many locations in America, so there might just be one near you.

Their YouTube channel has a video at https://youtu.be/a9W5dNQ6oDY (or see below) that seems to get at the heart of the fondue experience found in their restaurants.

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