This easy Swiss cheese fondue recipe is makes a velvety smooth dipping sauce, perfect for enjoying with family and friends. Adapted from Chef Horst Mager's original recipe, as served at Der Rheinlander restaurant in Portland, Oregon (1963-2017).
What's the Story Behind Rheinlander Fondue
As I've mentioned before, Mr B and I both grew up near Der Rheinlander, a Bavarian-themed restaurant owned by Portland's original celebrity chef, Horst Mager. Rheinlander was fancy by my family's standards, and reserved for very special occasions. Meals were served in four or five courses, and included a soup course and a fondue course preceding the main course.
As a teenager, my favorite part of the meal was the Swiss cheese fondue, which was served in a little aluminum kettle, alongside a mountain of crusty sourdough and dark rye bread cubes. It was a meal in itself!
Sadly, Der Rheinlander is gone now, but Chef Mager generously shared some of his recipes on little printed cards near the restaurant’s front entrance. Our Swiss cheese fondue recipe was adapted from a carefully preserved card from my personal files.
Cheese fondue is surprisingly easy to make and such fun to eat! Elegantly casual, fondue makes a satisfying and memorable holiday meal. It's especially well-suited for times when you want to visit and not spend all your time in the kitchen. (Think Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, etc.)
What Goes into this Recipe
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
★ Processed Swiss cheese: Use processed Swiss cheese (like Kraft Swiss cheese singles).
Clumping, separating, and graininess are the most common problems when making cheese fondue. Chef Mager chose processed cheese for his recipe because it alleviates these issues and ensures that smooth, luxurious texture we know and crave.
Processed Swiss cheese in block form is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to find. To use processed Swiss slices, simply tear it into pieces as you add it to the hot water and wine.
Do not use aged cheese for this recipe! The resulting cheese sauce will separate and become grainy. Always use processed cheese in this recipe.
★ White wine: Chef Mager's original recipe calls for a dry white wine, like a sauterne or chablis. We have used sweeter wines too, with no complaints.
No-alcohol Substitute: We have had good luck substituting white grape juice in place of white wine.
★ Butter: Use real butter. Do not use margarine.
★ White pepper: Use white pepper for this dish for its subtler flavor and ultra-fine grind. Finely ground black pepper also works.
The Best Pot to Use for Cheese Fondue
The best pot to use for cheese fondue is the one that you have. We've used each of the following options at one time or another, and while some are easier and more convenient, they all work.
Electric Fondue Pot
After making fondue for decades, I finally broke down and bought an electric fondue pot, and I love it! Now all I can say is, what took me so long‽
There are many advantages to using an electric fondue pot, the most important being how easy it is to adjust and regulate the heat. The unit can be turned way down to keep cheese fondue warm without scorching it. This low-low temp is also handy for melting and dipping chocolates! The heat can also be turned up much higher than alcohol-burner fondue pots, making it useful for oil or broth fondues.
Electric fondue pots are made from metal and usually have a nonstick surface, which makes them easy to clean. I also like that you can cook fondue directly in the pot, so there is less mess and cleanup.
Traditional Fondue Pot
Traditional (i.e., fuel-heated) fondue pots use denatured alcohol, Sterno cans, or other liquid fuel to heat the pot. In many cases, there is a way to adjust the heat, but in my experience, it can be difficult to keep a consistently low temperature.
Fuel-heated fondue pots are usually made from cast iron or a ceramic material, and surprisingly, a high-end cast iron fondue pot will cost you as much as or more than an electric one. Of course, there are less expensive options, especially if you can find one second-hand.
The advantage of a traditional fondue pot is that you can take it anywhere, and you don't need electrical outlet to get the party started.
If you don't have a fondue pot, you can make (and serve, if need be) cheese fondue in a double boiler; or transfer it to a small crockpot to keep it warm. (We did this for years.) Be wary though - those little crock pots have terrible heat control and can scorch the fun right out of your fondue if you don't keep an eye on it.
How to Make Easy Cheese Fondue
Cube or grate the cheese; or if it is in slices, simply tear it into pieces.
In an electric fondue pot set to medium or over a double boiler, bring the water, wine, butter, and seasonings to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low, and begin stirring in cheese a little at a time, allowing it to melt and blend into the liquid before adding more.
Keep adding cheese until it forms a smooth, heavy sauce. (You may not need to use all the cheese.)
If fondue seems too thick, add more wine; if it's too thin, add more cheese.
Once the fondue reaches the consistency you want, keep it warm over low heat.
Serve with the fondue dippers of your choice.
What to Dip in Cheese Fondue
Every time we make cheese fondue, we think of new things to dip! Here's a short list to get your started:
- Bread cubes - Sourdough and Dark Rye are our favorites!
- Broccoli & Cauliflower florets
- Roasted Brussels sprouts
- Ham cubes
- Sausage bites
- Little roasted potatoes
- Apple slices
- Bell pepper strips
- Cubed chicken
Traditional fondue is made with aged cheeses, and usually requires the addition of cornstarch or flour to help alleviate separating and graininess. Even with that, making it can be tricky.
On the other hand, Rheinlander fondue is made with processed cheese instead of aged cheese, so clumping and separating aren't issues. This makes this easy fondue recipe practically foolproof, and essentially guarantees a smooth, velvety outcome.
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Rheinlander Swiss Cheese Fondue
- 1 fondue pot or double boiler
- 1 Wooden Spoon
- 24 ounces Processed Swiss American cheese grated; ~5 cups (Do not use aged cheese)
- 1¼ cups dry white wine ; sauterne, chablis, etc.
- 1¾ cups water
- 1 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 dash fresh nutmeg
- Cube or grate the cheese; or if it is in slices, simply tear it into pieces.
- In an electric fondue pot set to medium or over a double boiler, bring the water, wine, butter, and seasonings to a boil.
- Reduce the heat, and begin stirring in cheese a little at a time, allowing it to melt and blend into the liquid before adding more.
- Keep adding cheese until it forms a smooth, heavy sauce. (If you don't use all the cheese, that's not a problem.)
- If fondue seems too thick, add more wine. If it's too thin, add more cheese.Once the fondue reaches the consistency you want, keep it warm over low heat.
- Serve with the fondue dippers of your choice.
Fondue Dipper Ideas
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I love that I have an original recipe book from them! Thanks for sharing this!
Renée B. says
What a treasure!