“Stern, I’ve got another assignment for you,” barked the captain. “I’m sending you to Switzerland to investigate the latest news in chocolate creations. Some may be old, some may be new but I want you to go check it out and get back here pronto!” “And remember, this isn’t a vacation so just get the low down and bring me your report…and oh, uh…bring back some for me.”
Here’s my report # DR 082210
Switzerland’s Finest Chocolatiers
Text and photos by Ron Stern (Aka: The Global Gumshoe)
The Swiss are known for many things, among them: banking, scenery, watches, and chocolate. The latter, in all its forms, is the one that almost miraculously transcends borders and cultures and binds the people and country together.The Swiss pioneered the development of milk chocolate in the 1800s, and since then, many (including me) consider their chocolate to be the finest in the world. Some of the biggest names in the industry have a presence here, including Nestle, Lindt and Toblerone. Since everyone has their favorites, I am going to give you my own recommendations for some of the best chocolatiers in Switzerland.
I’m going to start my tour de chocolate in the central Swiss town of Lucerne. Located in the shadow of majestic Mount Pilatus, the town sits like a jewel along the shimmering waters of Lake Lucerne, bringing in thousands of tourists each year to view attractions like the Swiss Museum of Transportation and medieval Chapel Bridge, whose water tower is arguably the most photographed landmark in the country.
But, I am on a mission and divert directly to the embassy building on busy Schweizerhofquai 2, home to Max Chocolatier. Upon entering, I find the warm wood tones a nice contrast to the display case with carefully placed truffles, pralines and almonds or hazelnuts covered with rich dark chocolate. When this retail shop was opened a few years ago, locals thought that the owner was crazy to try and sell specialty chocolate in the land of chocolate. Enter Fabian Rimann, chocolatier extraordinaire who proved them all wrong. The proof? The shop sells between 8-10 tons of confections each year.
Rimann hand makes 95% of all of the items fresh every day, using the finest raw ingredients such as Hawaiian Kona coffee, wild Criollo Amazonico cocoa from Bolivia and Swiss Alpine milk. Rimann’s love for his profession is obvious as he hands me some samples. Like a fine wine, each one has a distinctive aroma and the taste lingers in the mouth with some offering a divine afterglow as it melts its way down my throat. “Try this,” he says, handing me a light orange colored truffle. I take a bite and, oh my gosh, taste buds I never knew existed immediately wake from their slumber and spring to life. I pause to look at the exposed ingredients, which he says include blackberry jam, pistachio nuts, lavender caramel, and pistachio filling. This, I thought, is reason alone to book a return flight to Switzerland.
Vevey- Confiserie Poyet SA
The Lake Geneva region is another one of Switzerland’s most beautiful and visited areas. From the many lakeside towns along the shores of Lake Geneva, you can see sunny terraced vineyards all the way across the lake to the distant Alps. Situated on the north shore in this predominately French-speaking part of the country is the town of Vevey. This is home to the world headquarters of Nestlé as well as many Hollywood celebrities over the years including Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin came to Swtizerland in 1953 to escape from the politics of the McCarthy era and lived like a local in nearby Corsier-sur-Vevey. After he died in 1977, the city of Vevey placed a statue of the actor along the lakefront that has become something of a landmark.
Tucked along one of the main shopping streets, Confiserie Poyet, led by master craftsman and chocolatier Blaise Poyet, has been making chocolates since 1995. Poyet creates one-of-a-kind handmade works of art including small chocolate shoes like the ones Chaplin wore in one of his movies. Having an exclusive contract with the Chaplin family, Poyet uses all his talent in making the shoes, carefully choosing the ingredients that capture the essence of Chaplin’s character. He uses caramel for the sweetness and love, the bitterness of cocoa beans from Equador for Chaplin’s strong personality and for his originality in movie making, Poyet chose pine nuts, of all things.
The shoes are meant to be savored slowly so as to experience all of the flavors and textures. These also make great gifts and I packed several boxes for the trip home along with a movie reel tin with the tiny shoes encased in plastic for transport. Blaise Poyet puts the same care into all of his specialty chocolates, including one called Tom Yam, which is a tribute to the King of Siam. This one includes crispy cashews, lemongrass, coconut milk, spicy lime leaves, and 73% vintage chocolate from Santa Domingo. Not to sound trite but Yum!
While there is something to be said for mass produced chocolate, it’s nice to know that in some small towns of the world, like Vevey, there are still people devoted to the art of making innovative edible creations entirely by hand.
Zurich—Confiserie Sprüngli and Conditorei Schober
Confiserie Sprüngli has been making confections in Zurich since 1836. Located in the busy Bahnhofstrasse shopping area, they are always packed with customers enjoying their smooth, chocolaty sensations. When visiting Zurich, 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.
The chocolatiers at Sprüngli use traditional Swiss making skills combined with the highest quality ingredients to produce their pralines, Luxumbergelis® and Grand Cru Truffles. Their success has led them to expand to 19 sales outlets in and around the country including Bern, Basel and Zug.
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 rich and full-bodied flavor is all you need to experience nirvana.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world but I keep coming back to Switzerland. Is it the ambiance, the people or the culture that keeps luring me to return? Well, yes to all three, but it is more than that. It’s the anticipation that begins with the aroma of finely produced chocolate that surprises my palette when taking the first bite—never knowing quite what to expect— and then the rush of brain chemicals telling me that all is fine with the world when the cocoa concoction hits my bloodstream. My only problem? Having enough space in my carry-on to ensure that I bring back enough chocolates so that I never run out—at least until my next visit.
Bring back some for my greedy captain—check!
Confiserie Poyet SA
Café Conditorei Schober