A cheese ‘fondu’

Individual cheese 'fondus'. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums (detail). in 'Eat your history, stories and recipes from Australian kitchens' SLM and NewSouth Publishing, 2015)

No, it’s not a spelling error… One of my favourite indulgences from our colonial past is a cheesey ‘fondu’. This is not to be confused with the northern European ‘fondue’ that was (re)discovered by Australians in the 1970s, but a dish from The English and Australian Cookery Book for the many and the Upper Ten Thousand (my eyebrows rise with amusement every time I quote this title!) written by Tasmanian politician Edward Abbott in 1864. Renowned for his esoteric style of writing, the recipe includes an extract about cheese from the classics:

Where, where? Art thou come? Why, my cheese, my digestion, why hast thou not served thyself into my table so many meals? – Achilles, in “Troilus and Cressida.”

Four eggs well beaten, three ounces of butter, three ounces of cheese, and a gill of cream; mix well and bake for twenty minutes in small shapes or in a dish. Serve hot, for cold fondu is unbearable.

Edward Abbott, The English and Australian Cookery Book for the many and the Upper Ten Thousand. p.111

Fondus in the kitchen at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Rise and fall

Upon reading the recipe it became clear that this ‘fondu’ was actually a souffle, which when put to the test, was remarkably easy to make. Abbot gives a second recipe, which involves separating the egg yolks and whites, and whisking the latter ‘to a froth’. Testing both methods, there was little difference in the result, so I’ve erred for the simpler method for my redacted recipe (below).

As with any souffle, it must be served immediately it comes from the oven, because, as the saying goes, the lighter they are, the quicker they fall. I recommend individual ramekins over one large dish, making it easier and quicker to serve.

‘Kathleen’ Waterford wine glasses. Elizabeth Bay House collection. Photo © Nicholas Watt for Sydney Living Museums (detail).

Here’s cheers!

The fondu is very rich, so I suggest it be served with a crisp salad – prepared on the plate or on the table while the fondus cook, so it is ready and waiting as the fondus are removed from the oven. watercress is ideal accompaniment for cheese (as Charles Dickens’ wife Catherine attests) but a colourful ‘mescalin’ mixed of slightly bitter, peppery and sweet leaves works well too.

Abbott however, was more concerned with accompaniments of the liquid kind:

Along with the fondu must be handed round choice Burgundy, or Australian white wine, if the Amphitryon has such liquor; if not, port, or a small ale-glass of real Burton.
(Burton is a strong, sweet dark ale, but do we presume the Burgundy is white rather than red?)



  • 90g butter, melted slowly
  • 4 free range or organic eggs (55g)
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) pouring cream
  • 50g stilton cheese or other blue cheese, crumbled
  • 40g parmesan cheese, grated
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • pinch white pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • salad greens, to serve


This is not a Swiss-style fondue but a type of soufflé. It is from The English and Australian cookery book by Edward Abbott (1864). The fondu is very rich, so make small servings in little dishes or custard cups.

Serves 4


COOK'S TIP: You can experiment with different types of cheese, such as gruyere if blue cheese is not to your taste.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced). Grease four 150-ml moulds or cups by brushing the insides with some of the melted butter.

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until pale and frothy. Add the remaining butter, and the cream, cheeses and spices. Ladle the mixture into the cups, leaving a few millimetres free at the top. Put the cups in an ovenproof dish and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up their sides. Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until the fondu have puffed up and are golden on top.

Remove the fondu from the oven and serve immediately in their cups, or turned out onto small plates. The fondu will lose their lightness and 'puff' if not served quickly.

Serve with leafy salad greens to help offset the richness.