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A caquelon is a type of pot that is specially designed to be used for cooking, heating and serving fondue. The pot is made from heavy materials and has thick walls. The purpose is to distribute heat slowly and evenly through the fondue, maintaining a consistent temperature without burning the ingredients the caquelon holds. Long, thin forks frequently accompany the pot so items can easily be dipped into the melted fondue without forcing guests to get too close to the heat source under the pot. The design of the caquelon originated in Switzerland, where fondue is the national dish and is often served during gatherings or other events, allowing the pot to serve as a focal center for everyone to use.
The most common materials for a caquelon are enameled cast iron, glazed ceramic and earthenware. The walls of the pot are made to be a certain thickness. The purpose of using heavy materials and thick walls is to ensure that the pan is able to conduct heat in an even way, preventing hot spots from forming on the bottom when it is exposed to the heating element. When the heat is dissipated around the entire pot, no one area is significantly hotter than another, which also allows a lower flame to be used to maintain the correct temperature.
Another part of a caquelon is a metal stand. The pot is used as a serving dish and a cooking vessel, and it is meant to be placed directly within a table setting. The metal stand keeps the pot raised enough so some type of portable cooking device can be nestled inside the stand, providing a safe and stable way to keep the pan hot. The heat source is called a rechaud, and classically is a small metal container that holds alcohol or another type of fuel that produces a fire when lit. The amount of heat the caquelon receives is often controlled by a sliding lid that exposes more or less of the flame coming from the rechaud.
Using a caquelon, especially in Switzerland and other parts of Europe, entails a certain way of creating and serving fondue. The first step is to take cloves of garlic and liberally rub them on the inside of the pot to provide a light garlic flavor. For authentic cheese fondue, Gruyere and Emmental cheeses are melted in the pot over a normal stove along with some white wine and a cherry-flavored brandy known as kirsch. Other ingredients, such as nutmeg, can be added to the fondue. Small cubes of bread are placed on the end of long forks, dipped into the cheese inside of the caquelon, and eaten.