Cheese fondue is one of those dishes that seem deceptively complicated but are pretty easy to make, even for novice chefs. The secret of good fondue is in good cheese: if you get a suitable cheese, one that checks certain boxes off the characteristics list, and exercise some patience while cooking, you’ll be a fondue master in no time.
The correct type of cheese, seasonings, and some patience: that really is all it takes. But without the right cheese, the dish is lost from the beginning.
What Type of Cheese is Best for Fondue?
There are three distinct characteristics that fondue cheese should satisfy:
- It should have an excellent melting capability to make a smooth, homogenous, stretchy fondue;
- It should have a well-balanced (neither too sweet nor too acidic(, versatile flavor that goes well with a variety of ingredients, both to be combined with other cheese varieties and to act as a good dip for food (and not just bread);
- It should be suitably rich and distinct, preferably buttery and creamy, so that other ingredients won’t overwhelm it in turn.
While certain types of Swiss cheese are commonly considered as default options for authentic fondue, the reality of the matter is that as long as cheese has good melting capabilities, it can be used for fondue, if only in combination with other cheese.
Top 10 Cheese to Make the Best Fondue
Here are the ten best cheese options, from standard to more unorthodox ones, that make great fondue either by themselves or (even better) when combined in some way.
But it would do well to remember that the alpine region, where fondue is from, covers eight different countries, with no less than three of them (Switzerland, France, Italy), each developing a distinct identity for cheese fondue.
Even if the cheese you want to try isn’t on this list, as long as it fits the general fondue cheese profile (melts well, goes well with other ingredients, but is rich enough to stand on its own and not get overwhelmed), you can always stir it together with some wine, cornstarch, and seasonings.
Gruyere is a seminal fondue cheese, the admitted best choice for the dish, a crown-holder no one can argue with. Only two don't utilize Gruyere among half a dozen regional fondue versions. Its taste (rich, creamy, buttery, with nutty and earthy undertones) and texture (firm but smooth) are considered the nigh-default description for fondue cheese, with substitutes (or additions) chosen to either emulate or accentuate its characteristics.
Gruyere, even well-matured, has excellent melting qualities and a versatile flavor that works both by itself (Fondue Vaudoise) or in combination with a variety of other ingredients, including most types of Swiss cheese.
Emmental (or Emmentaler) cheese is another among fondue-fit types of Swiss cheese, singled out for its similarities with Gruyere. Indeed, most recipes allow for Gruyere cheese to be substituted for Emmental and vice-versa if a Chef doesn’t have one or another on hand.
That said, when it comes to fondue, Emmental is usually used in combination with Gruyere (Fondue Neuchâteloise and Fondue Innerschweiz), not by itself. But its semi-firm, smooth texture lends itself well to melting. Its flavor is milder than Gruyere’s, the buttery, slightly sweet, and nutty flavor can work very well on its own, especially with a bit of boost from proper seasonings like salt, black pepper, and garlic.
Edam (or Edammer) cheese is often mistaken for Emmentaler. Though there are distinct differences between the two, the confusion is understandable, as they’re usually recommended as substitutes for one another. Edam is a Dutch cheese, not Swiss, with a smooth homogenous paste, while Emmental’s is littered with large holes.
But they do share certain similarities between flavor profiles: Edam is also mild, slightly sweet cheese with nutty undertones, though it’s less buttery than Emmental and becomes sharper and saltier with maturation. Younger and less intense Edam is a great fit for fondue, both on its own and while combined with other cheese like Gruyere, Mozzarella, or Cheddar (as long as they melt well).
Gouda is a frequent suggestion as a substitute for Gruyere, Emmental, and Edam cheeses due to similarities in texture and flavor. It’s a Dutch semi-hard (or hard, depending on the maturation stage) cheese with a distinct, rich, nutty flavor.
Its undertones get more complex the more cheese ages, with milder, younger Gouda being subtly sweet and that sweetness becoming more prominent with age, with extra mature to old Gouda cheese attaining flavor and aroma akin to butterscotch. The maturation stage is essential when selecting Gouda for fondue, but young to matured (up to 18 months) is an excellent choice due to its rich but smooth flavor and great melting qualities.
Fontina is the main ingredient of Italian-style cheese fondue, its Gruyere, if you will, though there aren’t enough Italian-style fondue varieties around for Fontina to be of similar influence. It’s a semi-soft to hard Italian cheese, depending on the maturation process, with comparatively mild but distinctly buttery, nutty, and savory flavor.
It maintains its melting qualities throughout the maturation process, with well-aged cheese melting as easily as its young and fresh counterpart, which, along with its taste, makes it a natural choice for a fondue.
Interestingly, Italian-style fondue combines the cheese with milk and egg yolks for a smoother, richer texture, but Fontina has all the qualities to make a classic fondue, not necessitating assistance from other rich ingredients. If you skip the milk and yolks and only use the wine, cornstarch (or flour), and herbs to make classic Swiss-style fondue, Fontina will still do an excellent job.
Pasta Filata Cheese
Pasta Filata or stretched-curd Italian cheese varieties are particularly renowned for their melting abilities, making them an ideal base for fondue. The most famous Pasta Filata cheese is undoubtedly Mozzarella, and the firmer variety, suited for shredding, works fine. Its flavor may be lighter than expected of fondue, but wine and proper seasoning do their job.
That said, there are other Pasta Filata varieties that share its exemplary melting qualities but have more robust complex flavor profiles. Scamorza is the closest to Mozzarella, flavor strength-wise, and even it has a more distinct, forward taste. But the best option is likely Provolone, a buttery and nutty cheese that’s practically a picture-perfect description of a fondue cheese.
Vacherin cheese is a washed rind soft or semi-soft cheese from the Alpine region. There are two distinct types: French and Swiss. Swiss-style Vacherin from Fribourg is one of the very few cheese varieties used for a kind of fondue by itself, without Gruyere. It’s called Fondue Fribourgeois, and it’s the only type of fondue that doesn’t use wine.
That specific fondue type aside, Vacherin, either French or Swiss, can be used in classic fondue with ease: it has a rich flavor, earthy and nutty, interestingly not dissimilar to Fontina. It works particularly well when paired with a more robust cheese like Gouda, Emmental, or ever-present Gruyere.
Comté cheese is the default choice for a fondue in French Alps, a French equivalent of Gruyere, if you will. A semi-hard cheese, its flavor is less buttery and more fresh and milky when young and fruity and sweet when mature.
Both young and mature Comté is used in French-style fondue, either by itself or mixed with other cheese. Comté may seem quite different if you’re used to Swiss-style fondue, but It does have great melting qualities, and, what’s more important, it is a very easy cheese to pair with other cheese flavors, whether robust and savory or mild and sweet.
Havarti, a semi-soft Danish cheese, is another uncommon option, but it has all the characteristics of an ideal fondue cheese: it has a well-balanced, buttery flavor that ranges from sweet (in younger, fresher cheese) to slightly acidic and nutty with more subtle sweet undertones. Havarti has excellent melting qualities and is often used as a substitute for Gouda, Emmental, and Edam for dishes that need cheese with a versatile flavor profile. Fondue is no different.
Soft French Cheese
Choosing soft French cheese for fondue isn’t all that uncommon as is, though French-style fondue usually uses them together with Comté or other firm cheeses. Reblochon, for example, is a regular choice for Fondue Savoyarde.
But generally, all soft French cheese with a comparatively mild flavor and buttery texture will do, including but not limited to Brie and Camembert. In fact, one could argue that baked Brie and Camembert are a type of fondue as is since you can simply dip bread in crackers into it like you would in a fondue pot.
Tips for Making the Most Out of the Cheese:
You may not always have your first choice of cheese on hand to make the fondue. That doesn’t mean you should skip making fondue altogether. The truth of the matter is cheese fondue, at the heart of it, is a pretty simple dish made out of simple ingredients: melted cheese with wine and seasonings.
As long as you can melt the cheese, you can make fondue, and it will still be good with the right herbs. After all, it’s cheese. It takes a lot to ruin cheese if handled correctly.
Tip #1: Grate the Cheese. Finer the Better
This tip is two-fold.
Firstly, it’s advised to grate the cheese yourself. Skip the pre-shredded stuff. It’s usually lower in quality, both texture, and flavor-wise, and would make for a mediocre fondue at best.
Secondly, it ensures that the preparation process will be easier and quicker. While the urge to chop cheese might be strong since preparing the ingredients would take less time, you’d spend more time making the fondue itself. Chopped cheese will take longer to melt, and the chances of clamps forming are higher due to the uneven size and shape of cheese bits.
Grate the cheese yourself.
Tip #2: Coat the Cheese with Cornstarch or Flour
Cornstarch (or, in the absence of it, flour) will help the cheese emulsify better while melting, reducing the chance of clumps. You can make the fondue if you don’t have either on your hands, but achieving that lush, creamy texture will be more challenging and take longer (and more stirring).
You can approach the coating in two ways: either add the cornstarch or flour to the pot with the wine and start adding cheese after it’s been fully incorporated, or toss the grated cheese with cornstarch itself and add it to the pot after. It'll work both ways as long as you diligently stir to ensure the cheese is fully coated with no lumps sticking together.
Tip #3: Add the Cheese Bit by Bit
Technically, you can just dump the cheese inside the pot and start stirring. Technically, you can dump all fondue ingredients into the pot together, and you’ll still get melty, gooey fondue in the end. With certain caveats:
- It’ll take a longer time;
- The seasonings won’t infuse as well;
- Chances of clumps forming will grow.
If you want a quick fondue, there are pre-prepared fondue blends for that. If you’re working with raw cheese, rushing will do no good. Add a small handful of cheese and keep stirring until it softens and starts blending. At that stage, you can add a new portion.
Once all of the cheese is in the pot, keep constantly stirring until all the clumps are gone, and you just have a smooth homogenous mixture on hand.
Tip #4: Keep the Heat at Medium-Low
In the end, there are two big secrets to making good fondue (aside from using the right cheese): the heat and constant stirring.
You can’t keep the pot on too-low heat because there’s a chance that the cheese won’t heat through properly, and even finely grated cheese will struggle to melt, forming lumps, and you can’t keep it on high because the cheese will sooner burn than fully melt, even if you stay constantly stirring. Start on medium heat with wine and the first handful of cheese, and once the pot is heated and the first batch of cheese has melted, turn it down to medium-low.