They say everything is bigger in the Lone Star State, but when it comes to New Year’s Eve , the Houston-based duo behind the lifestyle brand Mirth play it more low-key. “I’m embarrassed to admit that the party doesn’t always make it till midnight,” confesses Katie McClure, who hosts a fondue dinner with her sister, Erin Breen, every December. But that’s just the way they like it.
“It’s not a huge shindig,” says McClure of the gathering. “We’re casual people. This isn’t a formal, overly planned event but still feels special because it’s something different and fun.”
McClure lived in Switzerland for a couple of years and fell in love with the country’s fondue tradition . “It’s a very interactive way of eating and makes the meal last awhile,” she says. “Dinner isn’t over in just two seconds.”
There is also a family element melded into fondue that feels just as Southern as it does Swiss: Everyone has their own cherished recipe and unique way of preparing the dish. “That’s how your grandmother and your mother made it, so that’s how you do it,” says McClure.
And while the sisters borrow their recipe from the American Women’s Club of Zurich, they’ve made it their own. “We love dipping jalapeño sausage from Opa’s Smoked Meats into the cheese,” says McClure. “We like everything spicy here in Texas. In some ways, fondue is so similar to queso .”
There’s one custom that they leave to the Swiss though. “By the end of the night, the cheese at the bottom of the pot has been cooking for a long time,” explains McClure. “It gets kind of hard and burnt, and they call it ‘the grandmother.’ Whoever loses their bread in the pot has to eat the grandmother, and—let me tell you—it’s not appetizing. But it is funny.”
Whether you brave the scorched cheese or not, the experience is celebratory and meant to be savored. “Fondue is really fun because it’s not just about the food but spending time together,” she says. Here’s how to bring this party to your home.
Shake Up the Tablescape
“Timeless hand-me-downs paired with brand-new pieces—I think that combination always works,” says McClure. In this case, the sisters selected a classic hand loomed gingham tablecloth and matching napkins from their brand, Mirth, to complement sage green coupe glasses from the Houston design emporium Kuhl-Linscomb. The cast-iron pot (pictured below) is from Twine Living Co., but you can also find a variety of vintage sets on Etsy as well as other sites.
Put Out a Creative Spread
Traditionally, the cheese dish is served with cubes of fresh bread (not toasted or warmed), boiled new potatoes tucked in a small burlap sack, cornichons, and pickled onions. Of course, you can customize the accoutrements to your own preferences; the duo’s addition of jalapeño sausage from Opa’s Smoked Meats (located in Fredericksburg) is a nod to their Texas home.
Stock the Bar with a Swiss Staple
Kirsch, a cherry brandy, is a customary—albeit boozy—element of the fondue experience. “You dip the bread in the kirsch first and then in the cheese,” says McClure. Some recipes also call for the brandy to be stirred into the pot itself.
Bring Warmth to the Outdoors
While Houston winters are generally mild, it’s still smart to consider your guests’ comfort. Make things cozy by pulling soft touches from the house, like throw pillows, blankets, and a rug. “It’s surprisingly easy to take furniture outside,” notes McClure. Dial up the moodiness with candles or a lamp.