November 2017

THE FRENCH BAKERY: Fondue, Friends, and Family

Author: Kitty Bartell

It all began with shepherds and tucked away bits of cheese and bread. “After working with their herds, the cheese was dry and the bread was stale,” said Marek Belka, owner of The French Bakery on Hilton Head Island. “They had wine, so they melted it all together.” And the tradition of cheese fondue was born. The first recipe for cheese fondue was published in 1699 in Switzerland, and by the 1950s, the United States had enthusiastically adopted the practice of sharing a communal pot of creamy melted cheese, kept warm over a flame.

“I have everything they had; I have the cheese, I have the wine, and I have the bread. I don’t have stale bread, but I have fresh bread,” Belka said. Starting in late November, Belka is happy to be bringing the community and conviviality of fondue dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings to his charming café and bakery in Shelter Cove Towne Centre. “There’s something about fondue; it’s family, it’s fun, it’s relaxing, it’s social.”

A menu of cheese fondues, chocolate fondues, all manner of breads and sweets for dipping, and The French Bakery’s thoughtfully selected wines and beers promise wonderful evenings of savory and sweet offerings. Beginning with the classic preparation, including Gruyere, Emmentaler, and cheddar cheeses, Belka sees myriad possibilities…feta cheese, goat cheese, wines, and Kirsch (cherry brandy). “With the variety of cheeses, the prospects are nearly endless.”

Encouraged by his customers to add dinner to his breakfast and lunch success, Belka immediately thought of families coming together to share an experience and a great meal. “There is something unique about sharing fondue with family and friends around the table,” he said. “Everyone is relaxed—including the host—and the pace of the intimate meal is as leisurely as you want.”

Part of the allure and fun of fondue comes from long-held traditions. “If a man drops a piece of bread into the pot, he must buy the wine for the table or another pot of fondue,” Belka said. “If a woman drops a piece of bread into the pot, she has to kiss the guy who is next to her. At the end of the pot, you usually have a crispy part of the cheese—the most delicious part of the fondue—and it goes to the most important person at the table.”

With lovely cheeses, and wines, and beers, and breads, and chocolates, The French Bakery surely has everything they need to make fondue a delightful Lowcountry custom.

The French Bakery is located at 28 Shelter Cove Lane, #120. For more information, please call (843) 342-5420 or visit

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