Courtesy of the author, we present one of the featured articles from this month’s issue of The Courier, the magazine of the AIWC. In 2013, The Courier celebrated its 50th anniversary, making it one of the longest-running English-language publications in Geneva. Find out more about The Courier here.

For Christmas, my kids gave me a 1,000-piece puzzle that pictured the wrappers of American candy favorites enjoyed throughout the 20th century. With the snow falling continuously in our Alpine valley, we enjoyed taking refuge inside by the fire, spending hours putting together the pieces. My favorites were there – Turkish Taffy, Milk Duds, Raisinettes, PayDay and Cracker Jack. Nestle’s Crunch was “nestled” in the puzzle too. I was transported back to the veritable candy-land memories of my youth in the US while sitting in the midst of the country that truly can be called candy land.

Candy wrapper puzzle

Candy wrapper puzzle

It might seem unusual that Switzerland has developed a major and highly reputed chocolate industry, since it lacks a tropical climate and didn’t have cocoa-growing colonies. But the history of chocolate and its tantalizing qualities make it easy to see why the Europeans, including the Swiss, were so quick to embrace this newly imported commodity.

The History of Chocolate

The Mayan Indians first cultivated cacao beans from the rain forests on plantations in Guatemala. The beans were used for xocolatl, a drink consumed by men of high status. They brought the beans, which became a form of monetary exchange, when they migrated to the Yucután Peninsula in Mexico around 600 AD.

Toasted cacao beans. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Toasted cacao beans. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When the Aztecs came to dominate the region around 1200 AD, they demanded that taxes be paid using cacao beans. The Aztecs sweetened the bitter chocolate drink with vanilla, honey and flowers.

Christopher Columbus first introduced chocolate to Spain in 1502. Hernán Cortéz left Cuba in search of gold and other riches in Mexico. Fighting the Aztecs, he reached Mexico City on November 8, 1519, where he was received by and eventually ruled over the Aztec emperor Montezuma. Along with gold and silver, Cortez, in 1528, shipped cacao beans and the equipment to prepare the chocolate drink back to Spain, keeping the recipe secret. The drink quickly became popular in the Spanish court. He simultaneously established a cacao plantation in Mexico. By 1585, commercially grown cacao beans were being shipped to Spain.

In the next two centuries, chocolate spread throughout Europe. By 1720, the Italians were serving chocolate in Florence and Venice.

Enter Switzerland 

Heinrich Escher, the mayor of Zurich, first introduced chocolate when he returned from Brussels in 1697; it was quietly consumed at parties given by various guilds. The Zurich Council quickly banned it as “unfit for virtuous citizens” since it was thought to be an aphrodisiac. It took more than 100 years for chocolate manufacturing to take hold. After that, Swiss chocolatiers introduced a series of important innovations that make chocolate what it is today and made their names famous.

François-Louis Cailler returned from Italy in 1819, where he had studied at the Caffarel chocolate factory in Milan. Returning as a master chocolate maker, he founded the first Swiss chocolate factory in Corsier, near Vevey.

In 1815, Philippe Suchard started working as an apprentice confectioner with his elder brother in Bern. After traveling to the United States in 1824, he returned to open a confectioner’s shop in Neuchâtel. By 1826, his factory in Serrières, powered by a water wheel, allowed him to produce 25-30 kilograms of chocolate per day with only one assistant.

In the same year, Jacques Foulquier began producing chocolate by hand, a tradition continued by his son-in-law Jean-Samuel Favarger. Charles-Amédée Kohler created hazelnut chocolate in 1830 that achieved enduring popularity.

Rodolphe Lind, 1880. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rodolphe Lindt, 1880. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rudolphe Sprugli-Ammann established the first factory in German-speaking Switzerland in 1845. His son acquired Lindt for CHF 1.5 million in 1899.

Daniel Peter switched from candle-making to chocolate because of his interest in Fanny Cailler, the eldest daughter of François-Louis Cailler. Peter improved the dark chocolate flavor not favored by the Swiss by adding condensed milk (developed by Henri Nestle in 1875). Milk chocolate now represents 80 percent of the Swiss market.

Below the cathedral in Bern, Rodolphe Lindt in 1879 produced the first fondant, or melting chocolate. He invented a refining process known as “conching” that, along with the addition of cocoa butter, allowed him to produce a smooth melting chocolate.

From the 1880s, Frey, Toblerone, Chocolat de Villars, Camille Bloche and others established their chocolate brands in the Swiss and world market.

Production and Consumption

The burgeoning Swiss tourism market between 1890 and 1920 introduced elites to Swiss chocolate, which they brought home. Exports grew from 600,000 kilograms to 17 million kilograms by 1914.

During this period 75 percent of Swiss chocolate was exported. But the economic crises of the 1930s resulted in the loss of these export markets. Production was further affected by the strict import restrictions on cocoa and sugar during World War II. But from the 1950s onwards, the Swiss chocolate industry has steadily grown, the result of high demand and innovative production technologies.

Today the Swiss consume about half the chocolate they produce, giving them the highest per capita chocolate consumption worldwide – 11.9 kilograms or 26.2 pounds per capita per year.

Not Just Chocolate Bars

Marmite chocolate cauldrons ready for the Escalade celebration

Marmite chocolate cauldrons ready for the Escalade celebration

Chocolate in Switzerland comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the season, holiday or location. Easter brings chocolate bunnies, Christmas offers bells and ornaments, Escalade in Geneva means marmite chocolate soup pots. Chocolate chestnuts and mushrooms are seen in the autumn. Jura chocolatiers fashion chocolate watches, while Bern is known for its chocolate bears. In Zurich miniature Bööggs (a replica of Zurich’s evil spirit of winter) for the Sechseläuten festival are filled with gunpowder to be exploded as a signal of the onset of spring.

With this dazzling array of chocolates in myriad flavors, shapes and sizes, I am waiting for a jigsaw puzzle that depicts the rich varieties of chocolates in Switzerland.

Chocolate Tours Near Geneva

Nestlé Suisse SA: The Maison Cailler is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 (from November 1 to March 31, from 10:00 to 17:00). Adults: CHF 10. Children under 16: free. Groups of more than 10 need to reserve in advance. Visit: www.cailler.ch

Chocolats & Cacaos Favarger: Favarger, a chocolate factory in Geneva since 1826, invites visitors every Thursday to a tour of its production plant, chocolate sampling included. Thursday from 9:00 to 11:30 and from 13:30 to 16:30. Adults: CHF 25. Children 10 and over: CHF 15. Factory tours are for groups from 8 to 40 people. Written reservation at least 3 weeks in advance is requested. Visit: www.favarger.com

A chocolatier puts the finishing touches on a large multi-colored chocolate fish at the Versoix chocolate festival

A chocolatier puts the finishing touches on a large multi-colored chocolate fish at the Versoix chocolate festival

Interested in more? A list of chocolate tours throughout Switzerland is available from Chocosuisse; click here to access the list. Also, check out our previous posts on visiting two of Switzerland’s chocolate factories, Stettler and Cailler:

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/