What to explore in Switzerland if not it’s fine chocolates. It is a no brainer, almost to the point where it is a dull proposal. Except that no matter how stereotypical, the chocolate stays as deliciously fulfilling as ever.
A couple of weeks ago, after much internal turmoil, and finally sick with some kind of cold/flu monster, I caved in and decided not to drive down to Turin for the biannual Salone del Gusto. How depressing, I had been waiting for that opportunity for a whole year! And my desire to attend was stoked even more after an impromptu visit from an organic farmer extraordinaire all the way from Eugene, Oregon who was on her way down to the Salone. Hundreds of thousands of visitors, conferences on food productions, tastings of some of the world’s best wines, cheeses and produce…. oh the heartache when my achy body put its foot down on the excursion.
So it should come as no surprise that I made it my personal mission to get well enough to at least visit Geneva’s Salon du Chocolat, which was happening on the very same weekend.
And I am so glad I dragged my sneezy self over there. In the gorgeous and unique Batiment des Forces Motrices, 25 chocolate makers from all over Switzerland assembled row by row to present both their tried and true and their shiny and new. Combined with a fine offering of chocolate dessert demonstrations and presentations on everything from chocolate production to wine and chocolate appreciation, the Salon du Chocolat gave me just the dose of healing flavors I needed.
Chocolatiers worth a visit
Fair warning if you ever go to a chocolate show such as this: do NOT try to taste everything. There is no better way to spike, crash, and crawl out of there with a stomach ache by noon. So here are a few highlights that you may want to check out next time ’round:
1. Poyet – journey to Thailand and back in a single bite. Sure, they have their classic chocolates too, but if you ever see their chocolates on display, use your tasting capacity to taste their line of flavor-infused chocolates. The Thailand chocolate brings in flavors of lemongrass and coconut in way that actually enhances the depth of the chocolate. They even give a wink to Geneva’s very own Calvin, including alpine salt and verbena tea flavors to capture his austerity and constant sickly nature. How the father of austerity could inspire such a decadent chocolate is and should be a mystery to me. Last but not least, for a subtler kind of experience, don’t miss out on their brand new green tea infused chocolate, so dark, so silky, and truly exotic. Head to Vevey to find their homeland!
2. Philippe Pascoet – now pretty much a household name in Geneva, Pascoet consistently offers the best chocolates with caramelized nuts or macerated fruits in the center. Seriously, their caramelized and chocolate covered pistachios are astonishing – crispy, salty, chocolatey and smooth. This is one of those secret weapons everyone loves. Find them in Carouge, or now on rue du Marché 34. You’re welcome.
3. Christophe Berger – He’s the new kid in town, over by the Plaine de Plainpalais. Stylish packaging will lure you in, and the chocolate also speaks for itself. Dark chocolate balls with caramelized almonds are extremely unctuous on the outside and crisp on the inside. Not a match to Philippe Pascoet (a touch too sweet for my taste), but delicious nonetheless and the packaging makes them highly giftable.
4. Hochstrasser – last but not least, consistently my favorite chocolate in the world, Mr Hochstrasser’s pavé glacé Genevois! I’m not sure what I love more, the perfectly dark, sweet and smooth chocolate cubes or the jovial mustachioed Mr Hochstrasser. Perhaps the only folks on the floor who make their chocolates right out of their basement, yet they compete with the heaviest hitters. Love love love.
Of Wine and Chocolate
Of course I couldn’t attend the event without sitting in on the piece de resistance: wine and chocolate tasting with two of the industries’ bests. Edouard Hirsinger, 4th generation chocolate maker and nominated Meilleur Ouvrier de France, and Emmanuel Heydens, best wine sommelier in Switzerland in 1992 and director of le Passeur de vin in the Paquis, teamed up to educate the good people of Geneva on pairing wine with chocolate. In short? If the chocolate is light (40-70%), go for a drier red wine. If the chocolate is darker (70-75%), opt for a sweet red wine. Want a praliné or a nougatine? Try a Chardonnay or a white Chateau-Neuf du Pape. Chocolate covered fruit? Try one of the yellow wines that are typical of the Jura region. Want more guidance? Go to le Passeur de vin! Emmanuel Heydens clearly loves what he does and knows what he’s talking about.
And voila! The secret to kicking the common cold.