Cheese Fondue

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

In the Swiss Alps, where for centuries cheese has been melted in a communal pot at the table and kept hot over a flame for dipping bread, it’s well known that wine can help keep melted cheese from getting stringy or seizing up. The ingredients in a classic fondue, in fact, are just alpine cheese—usually Gruyère—a tart white wine, some kirsch, and sometimes (for added insurance) starch. The combination of cheese and wine is delicious but also savvy. The wine contributes two essential ingredients for a smooth sauce: water, which keeps the casein proteins moist and dilute, and tartaric acid, which pulls the cross-linking calcium off of the casein proteins and binds tightly to it, leaving them glueless and happily separate. (Alcohol has nothing to do with fondue stability.) The citric acid in lemon juice will do the same thing. If it’s not too far gone, you can sometimes rescue a tightening cheese sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine.