Kelsey White '21
A Lesson (or two) from Fondue
One of the primary reasons I decided to attend BC was for its extensive opportunities to study abroad. I was set on living in a European country that enabled me to further my French skills, expand my understanding of international organizations, and explore other parts of Europe. In January, I was driving through New York City rush hour to reach JFK Airport and embark on an unforgettable experience in Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland is a haven unlike any other. I learned a lot— you’d be surprised by how informative and inspiring a pot of melted cheese can be.
Dairy in Switzerland is not a subject taken lightly-- be it in the form of milk chocolate, yogurt, or fondue. The refrigerator section of a grocery store is perpetually stocked with fresh new products and nearly every restaurant in Switzerland features a raclette or fondue option. Fondue, in theory, is “a Swiss melted cheese dish served in a communal pot.” Fondue, in practice, is so much more than a “melted cheese dish.” Fondue is composed of melting alpine style cheese like Gruyere or Vacherin fribourgeois (thank you, cows), garlic, and white wine.
Sharing a pot of fondue in Switzerland is not only a rite of passage for a traveler, but a reason to celebrate, reflect, and appreciate. There are three rules to learn prior to venturing into a fondue evening that will enhance and authenticate the experience. The first rule of thumb regarding fondue is that it must be accompanied with spirits, preferably white wine. The next rule to get comfortable with beforehand is that fondue is not, by any means, a sanitary meal. Yes, there are forks, but because you will be strictly abiding by Rule Number One, forks often take a back seat to the overwhelming enjoyment of dipping bread in molten cheese. This is part of the beautiful brute reality—everyone around the pot is an equal, sharing a divine meal, and enjoying it together. The third and final fondue rule is to keep a hold of your bread, under most circumstances. If a piece of bread manages to free itself from your grip or fork, its owner will be penalized. The diner responsible for losing their bread must either kiss the person next to them, or complete a dare.
When sitting around a fondue pot, the small petroleum flame exudes an unexpectedly strong heat and glow, illuminating those with you. It is warm, comfortable, and provides a type of bonding experience that does not compare to anything else. Sharing fondue is a collective activity. With bellies full and conversations (wine) flowing, it is difficult not to appreciate that moment, that meal, and those with whom you share it.
Fondue is a meal dating back to the 18th century; a tradition preserved through time. But, it is quite literally a melting pot that incorporates ingredients, facilitates sharing, and fosters communication and conversation. It is peaceful; one simply cannot argue over a pot of fondue, but progressive. Fondue embodies continuity but also ingenuity. It represents Swiss cultural traditions, but invites others to partake.
The Swiss culture is one of the most confusing but beautiful juxtapositions of history and modernity that one may encounter. On one hand, the country values etiquette, punctuality, and tradition. Yet while upholding these tenets, the country also welcomes people from different backgrounds, languages, races, and ideas. Switzerland has learned a lesson that it seems is so difficult for many: it is possible to hold onto traditional foundations while embracing a diverse and cosmopolitan future, and best to do so over a pot of fondue.
On my last night in Switzerland, we went to Café Bon Vin, a small corner restaurant around the corner from our dormitories. Naturally, we shared several pots of fondue. We recalled memories from the previous two months, shared plans for our next few, and reflected on the time that we shared together. In that moment, I felt grateful. I was aware that the next few months and summer would be entirely unconventional. I also knew that the lessons I learned provided me with a new outlook that would be helpful for the unpredictable year to come.
Kelsey White '21