“Okay, I’ve got a new assignment for you Stern,” the captain said with a smile. “What’s up,” I said with a discerning look. “You’re going to Switzerland. I want you to find the best places for cheese, chocolate and fondue.”  Hmmm, “and am I at least flying business class? That’s a long flight you know.” “Sure I have your ticket somewhere around here,” as she fumbled through the drawers. Then looking up sarcastically, she shook her head and said, “NO, are you kidding, on our budget.! Here’s your economy ticket and …my shopping list for what I want you to bring me back. “But, if I carry all  these foodstuffs, I won’t have any room for my clothes!,” I barked. “Tough darts!”  Get going.

“CHEESE!” I mumbled under my breath as I was leaving the room. “What’s that, said the captain with that go ahead and challenge me tone. “Nothing, nothing.” So another assignment and another airplane. Guess I’ll have to pack light for this one. Anyway, here’s my report:

DR NUMBER  08-22-10

“I have this theory that chocolate slows down the aging process. It may not be true, but do I dare take the chance?” – Author unknown.

If you love chocolate as much as I do then Zurich, Switzerland is a must on your list of places to visit.  The Swiss pioneered the development of milk chocolate using pure Alpine milk, a vast improvement over the bitter dark chocolate that permeated the world then. Conching, developed in Switzerland in the late 1800s, is the constant swirling or stirring of the chocolate, making it even better. It introduced a creamy melt-in-your-mouth product that had so far eluded chocolate makers.   Many (including me) consider Swiss chocolate to be the finest in the world.  Zurich chocolatiers deserve a lot of attention – and praise.   

Confiserie Sprüngli, located in the busy Bahnhofstrasse shopping area, is always packed with customers enjoying some of its smooth, chocolaty sensations. Whenever visiting I always make a beeline for this little bit of cocoa bean heaven. One side of the shop is a café where you can leisurely enjoy coffee or hot chocolate, along with some chocolate treats. The other side looks like something from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Colorfully lit displays feature all manner of homemade dark and light delicacies, including Truffes du Jour.  These round little temptations are just the fix that every chocolate addict needs. Made from cow’s milk – that is taken from the farm that day – the truffles are then made by hand and are meant to be savored in the same 24-hour period. Mouth-wateringly delicious, it’s hard to eat just one … or two. 

Now if all this isn’t enough to give you a chocolate sugar high, head over to Café Conditorei Schober on Napfgasse Street. This boutique coffee house serves breakfast and lunch and has a wonderful selection of cakes and pastries. I go there for a cup of some of the best hot chocolate in the country. Served with a generous portion of freshly made cream, the combination is all you need to experience Nirvana. 

A short scenic train ride from Zurich brings you to the Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland, and the medieval town of Gruyère. This is home to some tasty and long-standing Swiss traditions.

As you probably know, cheese is something the Swiss have pefected for centuries. The House of Gruyère cheese dairy offers a demonstration to show how these master crafstman have been making Gruyère AOC since 1115 AD. The AOC designation is the official mark of quality and only awarded to products native to a particular region. And in this case, the designation is well deserved. The tour involves all the senses and at one station you can smell the flowers (such as orchids) that are fed to the cows to produce just the right kind of milk that then matures to become creamy AOC cheese.

Of course, what would Switzerland be without Fondue and using various recipies that include Gruyere, you can enjoy lunch right on the House of Gruyère site.  Dipping bits of bread and vegetables in this hot and savory, melted cheese  and wine concoction is one of life’s great pleasures in this little corner of heaven.

For dessert, you simply have to give way to local custom and try Gruyère double cream with meringues and fruit. This isn’t your typical cream but a specialty of the region made from the finest Alpine milk, so rich, thick and creamy that no light can escape from its depths! They serve this in wooden or chocolate cups (I prefer the latter) and then this can be blended into coffee or poured over the aforementioned meringues and fruit. The result is a full sensory immersion into the flavors of Gruyères, one which will linger on your palatte and in your memory for years.

(Note: This trip was made possible with the assistance and sponsorship of the Switzerland Tourism Board).