Cheese fondue is a dish made with melted cheese (sometimes mixed with cornstarch or flour) flavored with garlic and white wine or brandy. It’s traditionally served in a communal pot over the burning heater that keeps the cheese hot and gooey.
Cheese fondue is most commonly separated into three large categories:
- A Swiss-style fondue, traditionally made with two types of Swiss cheese, Gruyere and Emmental;
- A French-style fondue, primarily made with Comté cheese;
- An Italian-style fondue, usually made with Fontina cheese.
In turn, each of these categories is separated into various sub-types. Additionally, while cheese fondue is the most famous fondue variety, it’s not the only one by a long shot. For more in-depth information about various fondue styles, check out our guide.
Fondue is traditionally served with chunks of bread to be dipped in the cheese with long-stemmed forks. All types of bread are suitable, from white to wholegrain to sourdough, depending on your preferences. Crackers are also an acceptable option, though not as traditional (not in the least due to being less suitable for forking and requiring dipping by hand).
But in the end, cheese fondue is a highly versatile dish, though this versatility often goes unused. Partially, it’s because the bread has an established image as the go-to dipper for cheese fondue. Partially, it’s because most people don’t go as far as to cook cheese fondue at home, and eating establishments rarely take risks with the dippers they offer.
But if you do decide to take a risk and make it at home, here’s what to dip in cheese fondue (aside from bread).
What to Dip in Cheese Fondue to Make it Better:
The greatest thing about cheese is that it can be paired with both savory and sweet foods. Cheese can be served as a dessert (together with fruits and nuts), as an appetizer (either raw, cut into chunks and paired with cured meats, or as a dip, stuffing, or sauce for other appetizers), and as a major ingredient in complex, dense dishes that are to serve as the main course (pasta, pizza, salad, steak, etc. - the list goes on).
So the real question you need to ask yourself before setting up your fondue station is, what do you want the fondue to be? An appetizer, the main course, or the dessert after a fulfilling meal?
And once you’ve decided, then you can move on to selecting the proper dipping options.
Here’s what to dip in cheese fondue depending on the function you want it to serve:
Steamed or Grilled Broccoli - For a Side Dish
Did your parents ever drench the broccoli with melted cheese to entice you into eating it when you were a kid? While most kids seem to despise broccoli, it seems that the cheese-drenching is a universal hack for turning it into an exciting side dish. For all instances and purposes, cooked broccoli has quite a mild and well-balanced flavor, noticeably sweet but not overly so. It pairs well with most mild types of Swiss cheese commonly used for cheese fondue (like traditional Gruyere and Emmental or more unconventional Edam and Gouda).
Skewering the broccoli on forks and dipping it into stretchy cheese makes it a fun experience to boot, making it an appealing side dish even for the pickiest eaters (be they kids or adults).
Roasted Bacon Wrapped Brussels Sprouts - For the Extra Pomp
Wrapping foods that people tend to dislike into bacon has become another go-to hack for making them seem more appealing. And, arguably, no food has improved its reputation by being wrapped in bacon more than brussels sprouts.
People tend to dislike brussels sprouts primarily for two reasons: 1) the earthy and slightly bitter taste (comparing them to dirt is not uncommon); 2) the texture (they’re easy to overcook and tend to be mushy and slimy when so).
Bacon-wrapping and roasting them kind of fixed both of those problems: the meaty bacon flavor overpowers the sprouts’ earthiness, while the exterior gets crunchy (and keeps the cook in check not to overcook the dish).
Admittedly, the dish doesn’t need to be elevated in the flavor department. But the crunchy yet tender brussels sprouts are a great option to dip in the cheese fondue, which will act like a sauce in this case.
Grilled or Roasted Mushrooms - As a Snack or a Light Meal
Mushrooms are another food that often gets paired with cheese. Their robust earthy and woodsy taste, with noticeably meaty and savory notes, often tends to be a matter of contest among people. In fact, mushrooms can often be found on various “most disliked foods” lists.
But cream and cheese have long been the hacks to making mushrooms more palatable. It’s not an accident that most popular mushroom dishes often contain some kind of creamy or cheesy sauce (classic mushroom sauce, creamy pasta dishes, risotto, white pie pizza, stuffed mushrooms, etc.)
Grilling or roasting whole mushrooms (or caps of large mushrooms like portobello or shiitake) is a quick and easy process that’s going to take little effort and time, so you can easily concentrate on the fun part - the fondue itself. Add a little side of green salad to the mix, and you have a light vegetarian lunch.
Roasted Potatoes (Especially Baby Potatoes) - Instead of Fries or Mashed Potatoes
If you’re having a special dinner with burgers or steak, chances are you were planning to serve fries (maybe even cheese fries) or mashed potato as a side dish. If it’s a special occasion and you want to make the dinner truly memorable, upping the game with cheese fondue might be just what you need.
Potatoes are considered a “neutral-tasting” food with a mellow, subtly creamy taste. That mild and subtle flavor is why they make such a great side dish to almost everything - there’s practically no ingredient they can’t pair with. A cheese-and-potato combo has long been a classic (thank you, cheese fries!), so this is more about presentation and experience.
There’s a reason why fondue is considered a romantic food: the experience can be quite romantic when the set-up is right. And potatoes are a “low-risk” food that almost everyone, even picky eaters, like.
Miniature Meatballs or Steak Cubes - For a Fun, Yet Filling Meal
If you’re short on time (or patience) and simply do not want to cook more than one dish for the night, then you need a hack that’ll allow the fondue to turn into a full meal.
And there’s no easier way to do that than to bring more protein and fat into the play. It’s no secret that meat is generally one of the most filling foods around, especially if it has moderate-to-high fat content (as opposed to low). The protein in meat is what makes us full, but according to research, it’s the (high-quality) fat that keeps us feeling satiated for longer periods of time.
Served with a generous portion of the green salad, juicy meatballs or steak chunks dipped in bubbly hot cheese can easily become a memorable dinner that seems extra fancy.
Do keep in mind, though, that the meat has to be fully cooked before you skewer it and dip it into your fondue. If the idea of a medium-well steak doesn’t float your boat, swap it for roast pork or lamb chops.
Grilled or Fried Seafood (Shrimp, Scallops, Octopus, Squid) - For a Fun, Yet Filling Meal (Take #2)
The idea is the same as with miniature meatballs and steak chunks: to turn the fondue into an entire dining experience. There’s an added bonus of seafood being generally quicker (though not necessarily easier) to cook than meat! When cooking seafood like shrimp or scallops in a pan, you need only a few minutes per side to cook them through. On the downside, overcooking them is pretty easy, and once overcooked, they become rubbery and flavorless.
Still, grilled or fried seafood is a simple yet impressive option to serve as a fondue dipper, and they tend to pair well with the mellow types of cheese traditionally used for the fondue base.
Leftover Chicken or Turkey - To Avoid Food Waste
Have you noticed that roasted poultry is typically the most common leftover meat? Somehow beef, pork, or fish are almost always eaten up in one go (unless you batch-cook with a plan to meal prep), but having leftover roast chicken by the end of the dinner is a mundane occurrence. No wonder the number of recipes with leftover chicken is so much higher than with other meats.
But sometimes, we’re just not feeling like having the leftovers on the second day. No sandwich, salad, or soup sounds appetizing.
Here comes cheese fondue to the leftover rescue! Admittedly, unless you’re the kind of person who’s always keeping a lot of cheese in the fridge, it might not be the go-to recipe for you. But that’s what ready-made cheese fondue kits are for! If you’re keeping one of those around, then fondue isn’t a special dish requiring effort but a quick recipe hack!
Then, all you need to do is get the cheese bubbling following the instructions on the label, cut up the leftover meat into dippable sizes, and dig in!
(Of course, if you have the cheese, then you can always do so with classic cheese fondue as well, who’s gonna judge?)
(Fried) Ravioli or Tortellini - For Appetizer, Main Course, or Side Dish (Depends on How Many You Have)
Ravioli, tortelloni, and tortellini are all various types of Italian filled pasta. They’re very versatile and can be stuffed with a wide variety of ingredients, including meat, mushrooms, cheese, spinach, etc. They’re all traditionally served with broth and, sometimes, with sauce and generally served as an appetizer or first course.
That said, when served at home, stuffed pasta can serve various purposes. It can be served as an appetizer, true, but it can also be combined with other hearty ingredients, like a thick meat sauce, and served as the main, or even act as a side-dish (ex., pairing mushroom or cheese-and-spinach pasta with steak, pork chops, or fish patties).
Deep-fried ravioli has become a popular appetizer in the recent decade, typically paired with a marinara sauce for dipping.
Now swap that marinara sauce for the cheese fondue, especially for more hearty, meat-filled pasta. Depending on the amount you serve, you may not even need anything else at the table because people are bound to carry on until it’s all gone!
Cured Meats and Grilled Cocktail Wieners - For an Original Take on Classic Cheese and Charcuterie Boards
Here’s a way to upgrade a charcuterie board - serve the charcuterie with a piping pot of cheese fondue at the center instead of cold cheese cuts.
Gruyere, Emmental, and Fontina - the typical fondue bases in Swiss and Italian-style fondue - are all mellow and somewhat sweet cheese varieties that pair well with most cured meats. You don’t need to worry over which meats to pair with the fondue: just go with your favorites (or whatever you have in the fridge). From familiar flavors of salami and hot dogs to fancy prosciutto and mortadella, the fondue charcuterie board will impress either way.
Fruit Slices - For Dessert
While fruit is typically considered a dipper for chocolate fondue, there’s no reason not to pair it with cheese! Is fruit not a common addition to cheese boards, after all? In fact, in many parts of the world, it’s still common to serve cheese as both an appetizer and a dessert. Indeed, no one who knows a thing or two about it will protest the pairing.
In this case, it’s better to choose fruit with a crispy and firm texture that can keep its form when dipped into hot cheese. Apples and pears are a classic flavor pairing to Gruyere, and they make perfect dippers for the cheese fondue.
Zesty but sweet citruses, like oranges and tangerines, will also make good dippers when cut into thick wedges.
And last but not least, if you prefer pairing sweeter fruit with mild cheese varieties, then apricots, nectarines, and peaches will make excellent dippers (do try to go with firm fruit instead of ripe and mushy ones for the best effect).