Valentine’s Day is one of my least-favorite evenings to dine out. Restaurants everywhere are overwhelmed. Often, we get stuck with like-it-or-lump-it fixed menus that lack courses for vegetarians—like my wife.
Instead, we prefer to stay home. For Valentine’s, we’ve become quite fond of fondue.
We fire up both of our ceramic-iron pots, one with molten cheese to dunk chunks of crusty bread or raw vegetables, and the other with melted chocolate to coat pieces of fruit we dip for dessert. Candles and samba music in the background help create the perfect atmosphere.
Cheese fondue is simple to make at home: rub a clove of garlic inside a sturdy pot, warm some wine in it, add grated cheese, and stir until melted. If you don’t have those long forks that come with fondue sets, small wooden skewers work.
Now, you can use one of those pre-packaged fondue kits you see in groceries—the ones with budget-friendly cheese grated who knows when. But a special night with your special person demands fondue made with something, well, special. You need a shop that specializes in the world’s great cheeses, one that has a knowledgeable staff who can be your guide to fondue nirvana.
Here are the places to go to get the best for your bae, plus some cheese options for making your own romantic fondue.
The Son of a Butcher (Birmingham)
Located next to Ovenbird Restaurant in the Pepper Place market district, TSOB is the retail arm of Evans Meats, a Birmingham-based gourmet restaurant wholesaler. The shop has a solid selection of fresh-cut meats, house-aged beef, seafood including Alabama farmed oysters, and cured meats. Choose among dozens of imported and domestic cheeses, cut to order by the cheesemonger. You’ll also find melting chocolate.
Fondue options: Challerhocker, Raclette
Whole Foods (Mountain Brook, Huntsville)
Its large selection of premium imported and domestic cheeses, mostly pre-cut for grab-and-go, includes several firm Alpine-style melters made from cow’s milk. It’s a one-stop shop for both cheese and chocolate fondue supplies. Unfortunately, its stores in Mobile and Montgomery have closed since last Valentine’s Day.
Fondue options: Kaltbach Le Gruyere Switzerland AOP, Single Source Emmenthaler
Provisions Cheese and Wine Shoppe (Wetumpka)
A “shop and sip” wine store with a kitchen dishing a cheese-centric menu, Provisions also carries more than 100 choices for turophiles (the fancy word for cheese lovers).
Fondue options: Jasper Hills Whitney, “Gooda” with Basil and Garlic
Murray’s Cheese (Auburn)
Located in the Kroger supermarket on North Dean Road, this is the Alabama outpost of the famous New York City cheese shop. Murray’s brags about its “swoon-worthy” cheeses and chocolates it recommends at Valentine’s. For fondue ideas, its website lists dozens of melting cheeses, and includes a recipe.
Fondue options: Cave-aged gruyere, Jarlsberg, and Murray’s Estate Gouda
The Cheese Cottage (Mobile)
Open since 2018 in a Tudor-revival building that originally was a Pure Oil gas station, The Cheese Cottage is pure heaven for local cheese lovers. Owners Kristi and Charles Barber stock domestic and international cheeses (wines too), both for boards and sandwiches to enjoy in-house, and cut to order for home.
Fondue options: Toma Piemontese, Reypenaer Aged Gouda
Working Cows Dairy (Slocomb)
Ok, it’s a dairy. But you can buy Working Cows Dairy cheeses down at the farm, or at shops like Whole Foods, Smiley Brothers in Pelham, Farm Stores in Dothan, and The Son of a Butcher in Birmingham. Or order online in the Birmingham area via usetill.com. Its cow’s milk farmstead-style of cheeses would work well in a state-pride fondue, including one-year aged and interesting variations flavored with combinations of herbs and aromatic vegetables.
Fondue options: Italian Melange Cheese (infused with garlic and tomatoes), Farmstead