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Catch Cocktail Hour: Kirsch, Served With Cheese Fondue

November 21, 2020

Its getting chilly outside! This is the perfect time for you and a special someone to warm up by sipping on kirsch while dipping crusty bread into a cheese fondue! 

An iconic Swiss specialty first written about in 1699, cheese fondue is generally known as a main dish.

However, it doesn’t have to be heavy and filling. Everything is, after all, a matter or portion sizes. We decided to create our own version of it as cocktail hour aperitif. It’s still packed with the same communal joy and opportunities for conversations, but you and your date will be wanting to go to the next course afterwards. It even has miniature fireplace to create a romantic ambience!

“Fondue is perfect for romantic dates,” says Katie Chen, the owner of Catch Matchmaking Inc., a boutique dating, relationship and matchmaking agency in Los Angeles, California. “It is a shared sensual experience of flavors and scents. It invites conversations while sitting close together and eating from the same pot. There’s a primal magic, going all the way back to the time when our early ancestors sat around the warm campfire at night, sharing what they had gathered in the forest!”

This is beyond just food. Fondue is a shared social ritual. There’s long been a saying, “la fondue cree la bonne humeur” (“fondue creates a good mood”). Let us show you how to do Swiss cheese fondue, aperitif style!

First off: cheese fondue consists of melted cheeses, wine and aromatic seasonings. If you eat too much of it, it will be slow and difficult to digest. This is why we recommend a small portion. And, no cold drinks of any kind — wine or beer included. For good reason, the drinks traditionally served with cheese fondue include hot tea and neat, distilled spirits.

A traditional Swiss favorite is kirsch (also known as kirschwasser), a clear, colorless cherry brandy made from distilling ripe cherries. (In English and French speaking countries, it falls under the category of eaux de vie). Today, over 350 traditional kinds or kirsch are produced in Switzerland. Ours came from the Etter Zuger distillery in the Swiss lakeside Canton of Zug, which has been operated by the same family since 1870, for four generations. (It is available in well stocked liquor stores). 

There are special snifters for this sort of spirit. But we just used a brandy snifter, which allowed the spirit to be warmed by the hands, and also, to enhance the kirsch cherry aroma: a fruity nose with a hint of blossom, a balanced, elegant bouquet, and a ripe cherry note. The kirsch finish lingers and harmonizes well with the earthy and nuttiness of the cheese, as well as the subtle hints of herb and wine in the fondue.

A few words of caution when buying: What is sold in many countries as “kirsch” is basically just flavored grain alcohol. This is intended for use in mixers, not for sipping. But real authentic and traditional kirsch is made by first fermenting the juice of ripe cherries, then distilling the product. It is therefore a type of brandy, but made from cherries instead of grapes.

Our twist on this Swiss comfort dish requires only one speciality item: a small  caquelon (a.k.a. fondue pot). Ours was made by Boska of Holland. It holds only seven ounces, which is the perfect cocktail hour portion. (There’s your portion control hardware).

However, all you really need is a small, oven proof dish (such as a ramekin) and some way to place a tealight candle underneath. Good to go!

In addition to white bread, we also added various boiled vegetables. Let your imagination be the guide and use whatever you have in the pantry, but don’t cook your vegetables too soft. Because we must warn you: Swiss fondue etiquette demands that every loss of an item from the dipping fork must be penalized.

The offender may be required to sing a song, do a dance — or even worse. We hear that Swiss punishments have included running around in the snow naked! And yet, it is not really as serious as parodied in the iconic comic Asterix in Switzerland (Goscinny & Uderzo,1970). In it, a character is sentenced to be drowned in Lake Geneva after losing his third piece of bread.

Kirsch For Two

3 ounces authentic kirsch (distilled from the fermented juice of cherries only, see above), at room temperature. Divide equally into bulbous, stemmed spirit glasses or brandy snifters. Serve neat.

Mini Cheese Fondue For Two


• 7 ounces white wine

• 2/3 cup emmentaler cheese, grated, bring to room temperature

• 2/3 cup gruyere cheese, grated, bring to room temperature

• 1 1/2 teaspoons kirsch

• 1 teaspoon cornstarch

• 1 clove garlic, halved

• 1/2 loaf french bread or baguette, cut into 1 inch cubes

• freshly ground nutmeg, to taste

• freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

• 4 – 6 small boiling potatoes, washed

• 2 small carrots, peeled, cut to 1 1/2  – 2 inch in length

• 4 asparagus spears, cut to 1 1/2  – 2 inch in length

• 4 medium mushrooms, quartered


Bring 4 – 6 cups of salted water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Boil potatoes for about 10 minutes. At 10 minutes, add remaining vegetables and cook for 5 additional minutes. Strain water and set aside cooked vegetables.

In a small saucepan, bring wine to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, add grated cheese to the pan, stirring gently over low heat until completely melted. Take care not to let the cheese and wine mixture boil. In a small dish, stir to combine kirsch and cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add mix to the pot and stir until the fondue is thickened. Turn off heat. Season with freshly grated nutmeg and cracked pepper.

Rub the inside walls of the fondue serving container with the cut sides of the garlic. For stronger garlic flavor, leave the garlic in the container. Carefully pour finished fondue into the serving container, light included tea light to keep fondue warm.

PS: Don’t lose things from your dipping fork, or else!

Reinhard Kargl is a journalist and media professional. He normally writes about science and technology, but is a bon vivant in his spare time. His upcoming eBook about Cocktail Hour will be published this fall. Please email the publisher to be notified of the release date.

For more of Katie Chen’s culinary suggestions, watch her video about the point of cocktail hour.

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