Tracing fondue’s mysterious origins
Moving away from the lake, up the winding, steep hills of Geneva’s Old Town, sits another local favourite, Les Armures. Set inside a building from the 16th Century, this wooden-beamed, rustic restaurant is nestled below the Hotel Les Armures, one of the city’s finest. Here the food is unpretentious and the fondue memorable. Enjoy it on the restaurant’s terrace on cool, autumn days, or cosily inside when the air gets frigid. For the perfect after-dinner delight, end the evening with a walk through the historic Old Town along the city’s centuries-old walls and past the Cathédrale St-Pierre, where the founding figure of the Protestant religion, John Calvin, gave weekly sermons in the 1540s.
Make like a tourist
Though Geneva is a good place to start your fondue trail, following its path will inevitably take you outside of the city too. At Gare Cornavin, the city’s main train station, you can hop on a train heading northeast and in less than 130km you will find yourself in the picturesque village of Gruyères. Tucked between the grand Mount Moléson and rolling hills dotted with cows, this is where some of the best Swiss cheese has been created for centuries. Stone fountains, cobbled streets and geranium-lined shutters evoke a fairytale setting. But it is the cheese you are after. At the Fromagerie d’Alpage, witness the fromager, or cheese maker, bring gruyère and other classics to life over a steaming cauldron and open fire.
History and culinary tradition runs deep here. Gruyère cheese is said to have been enjoyed by the Romans and was given its namesake as early as 1602. To make it, fresh milk from grass or hay-fed cows within a 20km radius is poured raw into a copper pot and heated until it begins to curdle. Once a solid layer has formed at the top of the cauldron, the curds are cut then separated from the whey, pressed into a large mould and set to age in a high-humidity cellar. The rind is washed and salted throughout the aging process, which lasts anywhere from six months to three years. The older it is, the sharper the flavour, with strong notes of hazelnut and buttery caramel.
It is hard to avoid the temptation to linger and sample the fromagerie’s creamy in-house fondue, but head to the village centre and snag a table at Le Chalet instead. This restaurant may be touristy, but a fondue here, followed by meringues dunked into Gruyères’ infamous double cream, promises to satiate every dairy desire.
Bringing the tradition home
Ask the Swiss where to find the best fondue, and they will often give the same answer: at home.
For an authentic blend of cheeses, visit the dairy trucks that open their doors at Geneva farmers’ markets. On Saturdays, stop by the bustling marché (market) which lines the streets just outside the city’s main food market, Halle de Rive, and stroll around the produce and flower vendors that sit beside dairy stands. Often, they will have their own fondue mix, already grated and packaged, ready for you to take home.
An earthenware pot is just as easy to pick up, though bypass the ones in the tourist shops. Follow locals and duck into a department store for an authentic and reliable fondue set, typically painted red and splashed with white crosses in homage to the Swiss flag. At the upscale shop Globus, a wide selection of pots is on offer, often with beautiful vintage detailing. In their downstairs food store, fendant wines and fondue blends are available, including those with flakes of truffle or laced with Champagne.