Cheese Fondue History

The 1st March 2021

Where does fondue come from? It seems like a simple question, but the answer is surprisingly complicated. The origins of fondue are shrouded in mystery, and there are many different stories and many different versions. One thing is certain: people have loved gathering around a fondue pot for a long time. Fondue has even helped wartime enemies find peace together—at least for the length of a meal.

Kappel’s soup

We’re going to focus on the Swiss legend of “Kappel’s milk soup.” It’s a symbol of neutrality and accord, and an important one.

Let’s travel back to the 16th century. It’s 1529 in the Swiss village of Kappel, and we’re right on the border between Zurich and the canton of Zug.1 The country is in the midst of war. Specifically, the “First War of Kappel,” the first of Europe’s religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. On June 8, 1529, the Protestant canton of Zurich declares war against five Catholic cantons. While the generals of the two camps are trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict, the soldiers on the front lines start to chat and reminisce, since many of them had fought together in the wars of Italy. Legend tells us that some Catholic soldiers put a jar of milk on the line separating the two armies and asked the opposing camp of Zurich soldiers to toss in some bread. They ate together, sitting on either side of the soup pot on the border between their lands.

This mixture of bread and milk is called “soup of Kappel.” Some claim that fondue developed from this soup, which would mean that this earliest form of fondue helped prevent a battle. The peace may have been short lived—there was a second war in 153—but still, how many of us can say we ended a conflict with food?

Fondue’s origins, and some notable moments in fondue history

The eternal question remains: was fondue created first in Switzerland or France? It’s hard to say. However, it doesn’t seem very likely that one single person invented fondue. It developed gradually out of a long history full of cultural exchange.

One of the first references to fondue may be found in antiquity, dating back to the 8th century BCE. In Homer’s Iliad—a massive epic of Greek literature, with nearly 16,000 lines—the author mentions something resembling cheese fondue.

In Switzerland, the oldest surviving fondue recipe is found in a 1699 book from Zurich. That recipe is entitled, “To cook cheese with wine.” The next mention is of fondue in 1885, in a cookbook whose title translates to Practical Cooking That Received an Honourable Mention at the Swiss Culinary Exposition in Zurich. Fondue became the official traditional Swiss dish in the 19th century.

In France, fondue makes its appearance in the 17th century, in The French Cook. This enormously influential cookbook marked the shift from medieval cookery to modern French cuisine. The author, François Pierre de la Varenne, chef to the Marquis d’Uxelles, described a recipe using melted cheese and bread, which he called “Ramekin of cheese.” In 1825, famous historical foodie Jean Anthelme Brillat‑Savarin spoke of fondue and even gave us a recipe for it in his book The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy.

Another major milestone in fondue’s history, and one that played a decisive role in its success, was the New York World’s Fair in 1940. There, fairgoers got to taste Switzerland’s national dish: fondue. A few decades later, in the 1980s, came the marketing campaign “La fondue crée la bonne humeur,” or “Fondue creates a good mood.”

Switzerland and France both have their own stories of the origins of fondue. As a phenomenon and a culinary experience, fondue has evolved over time, and its simplicity and irresistible taste have ensured its popularity.

What about Quebec?

Have you heard of the Aquarium bar, founded in 1953? Did you know that it was the forerunner of Au Café Suisse? In the 1960s, it was one of Québec City’s top restaurants. It was right on Sainte-Anne Street and played host to plenty of politicians and journalists. René Lévesque himself was a regular there, and spoke of it in his memoir: “The gossip mills turning endlessly from the Grand Allée to the Aquarium.” At that restaurant, they served… fondue, of course! And that’s where it all started in Quebec.

A short history of 1001 Fondues

We are the heirs of Gaston Perrin, who started the Aquarium bar and the restaurant Le Chalet Suisse. Our story began in 1984, with the acquisition of the restaurant at Le Chalet Suisse, which would become Au Café Suisse in 1991. It was actually close to 20 years later, when we acquired our new restaurant La Grolla, that we started to dedicate ourselves body and soul to our great project: making truly homegrown fondues with local Quebec cheeses. And so, 1001 Fondues was born.

Fondue and friendly gatherings: a match made in heaven

Dipping your fork into a fondue pot you’re sharing with friends is a moment of pure joy—for both your tastebuds and your soul. That’s been proven time and again for centuries. Believe us, one taste and you’ll be hooked. You’ll never be able to pass up a fondue night again.

A final word… Here’s an expert tip: swirl your fork in a figure eight to make sure the ingredients mix perfectly. A heart shape works too! Once you try this, you’ll never eat fondue the old way again.

[1] In Switzerland, the states that make up the Swiss Confederation are called cantons.