What is fondue? Where to find the best of Switzerland's famous melted cheese dish

THE DISH Fondue, Switzerland

PLATE UP What did fondue ever do to anyone? It pains me to see the disdain with which this dish seems to be viewed. Fondue is a punchline; it's a gimmick. And yet, go to its place of origin and you realise this is truly a gastronomic phenomenon. Fondue in Switzerland – and the alpine lands of Austria, France and Italy – is delicious. It's amazing. It's a huge pot of bubbling, melted alpine cheeses, with a little garlic, white wine, nutmeg and kirsch (a cherry brandy). Load up hunks of bread, potatoes and other vegetables on your long fork and dip them into this cauldron of dairy-based deliciousness, with pickled onions and cornichons on the side to cut through the fat and starch. This is no gimmick.

FIRST SERVE The necessity for fondue is clear: you've got hard cheese, you've got stale bread, it's freezing cold outside, what are you going to do? You're going to melt and dip. That first occurred to the Swiss in the 1600s – the first known recipe was published in 1699 – though for a long time the dish known as fondue in Switzerland contained eggs. It wasn't until 1875 that the pure melted cheese dish was known as fondue, and in the 20th century it really took off, becoming Switzerland's national dish.

ORDER THERE For that perfect blend of alpine cosiness and delicious melted cheese cauldrons, visit Restaurant Alpiglen (alpiglen.ch), a guesthouse in the hills above Grindelwald, with amazing views and perfect fondue.

ORDER HERE Sydneysiders, make a booking at the Matterhorn (thematterhornswiss.com.au), a dedicated Swiss eatery in Turramurra that does a great fondue. In Melbourne, check out the range of amazing fondues at Milk the Cow (milkthecow.com.au) in Carlton.

ONE MORE THING Fondue isn't limited to cheese. Another common variation is fondue bourguignonne, in which hunks of beef are dipped in a hot mixture of butter and oil. There's also chocolate fondue, which surely requires no explanation or persuasion.