Carolina Zeller is a fan of chocolate and jewelry for Valentine’s Day, but with a do-it-yourself twist: the crafts studio she manages, the Ceramic and Pottery Center, holds an annual February 14 event for couples that pairs jewelry-making and chocolate fondue.
“We do Couples Night every year on Valentine’s Day,” Zeller said. “The fondue is an added perk to the main activity of making a pendant or other piece with precious-metals clay.”
It’s not just the League City ceramics studio that’s rediscovered fondue. Dipping bite-sized chunks of food in melted chocolate or cheese has made a big comeback, with a nationwide chain of fondue restaurants, The Melting Pot, and an expanded range of fondue pots showing up in stores. There’s even a fondue cheese blend, grated and bagged, available at the Murray’s Cheese counters at Kroger stores.
Of course, it’s not actually a comeback if it never went away, and fondue has been around a long time. Although we tend to associate it with harvest gold and avocado-hued kitchens of the 1970s, a feta-cheese fondue is mentioned in The Iliad, and fondue has cycled in and out of culinary fashion ever since. Fondue fever swept America after it was featured in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, and periodically since then.
For the first two millennia, all fondues had cheese as a base. It wasn’t until 1960 that Swiss chocolate manufacturers decided to promote their wares by melting chocolate in the fondue pot. Now, chocolate accounts for the majority of American fondue, and not just on Valentine’s Day.
Almost as big a decision as cheese vs. chocolate is the type of fondue pot. Pots with an electric heating element make it easy to keep the fondue warm and at dipping consistency for hours, such as at a party. They also have the advantage of a high-heat setting for melting the cheese or chocolate so that the whole process only uses one pan.
Old-style pots using Sterno or candles for warmth will keep fondue warm, but won’t get the pot hot enough for easy melting, so the fondue must be prepared on the stovetop and transferred to the fondue pot. Cooks without a fondue pot in their (or their parents’) kitchen can use a small Crockpot, or even a heat-proof bowl set on an electric griddle.
Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating perfect match-ups, and Zeller noted that the ceramics studio pairs the fondue with several items that have been favorites in past years. “People love to dip fruit and marshmallows in the chocolate,” she said.
Other pairings for chocolate fondue are cubes of angel food cake, mini cream puffs, dried fruit, or Rice Krispie bars cut in small pieces. Pretzel rods don’t even need to be skewered to dip.
Apple slices and pretzel rods can also take the plunge into cheese fondue. Sausage slices, bacon, and cubes of crusty bread are traditional cheese fondue mates, but almost any bite-size food, including raw or cooked vegetables, can be part of a fondue party or date.
Reservations are required for the Couples Night fondue and jewelry-making evening on Valentine’s Day, and can be made by calling the Ceramics and Pottery Center, 281-332-4490.