Touring the Zotter Factory

During Easter vacation we decided to visit the Zotter chocolate factory in Riegersburg, Austria which is about 1.5 hours south of Vienna in the middle of nowhere.   For those not familiar with the Zotter brand, he is a famous Austrian chocolatier who those zany truffle bars with unique flavor combinations such as cheese and wine, peanuts and ketchup (the American bar), celery root and pineapple, and pork cracklins- which sounds really weird but is actually pretty good.  Since 2008 I have sold his bars on and off at Kerstin’s Chocolates. He also makes chocolate bars, a line of drinking chocolate, and many other things as I soon discovered. The tour of the factory is really a multi-sensory experience that allows you to see and learn about how things are done in the factory all the while eating your way through all the Zotter creations. For 12 euros (and a little less for kids) you can taste everything he makes, which is about 300 varieties! The tour starts at the Chocolate “theatre” where you see a film that shows Zotter sourcing his beans in India.  I found this interesting because India isn’t well known as a cocoa growing country. It made more sense once we learned that he has started a project where every time he sells a bar made with Indian beans, one child in the program gets served a meal.  To learn more, click here: According to the movie, he pays twice the market price for organic beans and he can trace the beans back to the individual farmer in India.  There is a big focus on tranparency, not just in the sourcing of the beans, but in the factory tour as well, inviting visitors to get up close and personal with each stage of the chocolate making process from start to finish. The first stop is the loading bay.   You see piles of jute bags filled with cocoa beans from different countries through a viewing window. In the adjacent tasting room, you can sample these beans in their raw form to taste the differences depending on the bean’s origin.  Next we see the chocolate making equipment as our audio guide explain the uses of each machine.   The chocolate is available to taste during the different stages of processing, including the nibs, the 100% liquid chocolate, and the powdered form  before it hits the conche. The next section is where things get more exciting. At the “Shokotankstelle” or the chocolate filling station, we sample the different types of chocolate in liquid form, all of the Zotter blends. You might be compelled to stick your head under the tap and pour the liquid chocolate straight in your mouth, but instead you are asked to  use a ceramic spoon that is given to you at the beginning of the tour.  You can fill it with whatever and however much you want.  I tried to pace myself but it quickly turned into a free for all as I began to realize just how many different kinds of chocolate Zotter makes and that they are all there to sample.  After the “tankstelle” we were invited to climb the “chocolate stairway to heaven”.  Here you could try all the different “Lambooka” bars which start with flavored white chocolate bars such as strawberry and banana and end with a pure 100% bar. The chocolate stairway faces a series of conveyor belts where the ganaches are poured, enrobed and cooled and where the finished ganache bars are packaged.  Unfortunately we picked Good Friday to visit so we couldn’t see any work being done, but  I didn’t really care at this point because I was on a sugar high and heading towards the hot chocolate station. When I got there, an attendent behind the bar  was waiting to hand me a cup of hot milk.  She told me to chose a hot chocolate flavor from the miniture gondolas that encircled us overhead and around the room.   I chose chili, and plopped it into my milk (it was a solid piece of chocolate) and began whisking with my own personal whisk.  All of this was really fun and pretty soon I was no longer a reviewer but overcome with the same enthusiasm as all the other Zotter customers. After the hot chocolate station, there was the Nougat station (the walnut was really good), the Bollero station (the fruit and nut one was my top choice) and it all ended to my surprise with the Zotter filled bars. How could I have forgotten about the filled bars? And how can I eat any more chocolate?    Of course, I could eat more chocolate and I did.  I tried all of them because, finally I could! The tour was a blast and I thought they did a great job of both educating customers and entertaining them at the same time.  Zotter really has a cult of personality thing going on and we gobbled it all up.

Discontinued Zotter bars ended up in a graveyard.

The longed-after chocolate martini recipe!

Many of you who came to our 3rd anniversary party (which was a roaring success – thank you to those who came and continue to support us!) tasted the chocolate martinis we were pouring that night. Rich and extremely chocolate-y, they are unlike any chocolate-flavoured cocktail you’ve tried. Kerstin first made a chocolate liqueur, and then topped that up with a bit more vodka for good measure. A few Valrhona Pearls to float on top, and voila! The perfect drink for your next party.

Chocolate Liqueur

adapted from Scharffenberger

makes 3 cups

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (we used Valrhona)

1 cup boiling water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 cup vodka

Combine the boiling water with the cocoa powder in a bowl, stirring to dissolve the cocoa, and set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir the sugar syrup into the cocoa mixture and add the vodka. Strain the mixture into a container with a lid.

Refrigerate overnight (it will keep for several weeks).

Chocolate Martini

For each drink, pour 2 parts liqueur to 1 part vodka into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, and serve. If desired, float a handful of Valrhona Chocolate Pearls on top.


Two Exciting New Additions!

Exciting things have been happening lately at Kerstin’s! After much recipe-testing, we are finally ready to debut two new additions to our ‘menu’ – a Valrhona chocolate brownie and a rich flourless chocolate cake.

The brownie is made from 2 kinds of Valrhona chocolate, wih bits of dark chocolat ganache studded throughout the batter. It is intense and fudgy, but light enough that you don’t need a truckload of milk after. In other words – perfect.

The flourless chocolate cake, made with 72% Valrhona chocolate, literally melts in your mouth.

Whether you need a little pick-me-up or a last-minute dessert for a dinner party, these new offerings are sure to fit the bill – come on in and try them!

The Chocolate Habit

One thing (of many) that I find endlessly fascinating day in, day out at the shop is the relationship that our customers have with chocolate.

First, there is the frequency of the purchases. Some stop by once a week, like clockwork. Others come in a little less, but still regularly. Others still stop by only for special occasions.

Then, of course, there are the purchases themselves. There are those who stick to their old standby and others who are always determined to try something new. We’re quite liberal with the samples, trying as best we can to find the just the right bar or confection, so most people end up leaving with a little of both – something tried and true, and something a little different.

Lastly, there is the quantity – some buy just enough to last them until their next visit, deeming any excess too dangerous to peacefully co-exist with. Others need the reassurance that there is always some chocolate to be had, and stock up to save themselves from any potential panic attacks in the future.

I fall somewhere between the two, preferring only to keep a small stash on hand for ’emergencies’ (which may seem sensible, but be warned – the presence of ’emergency’ chocolate tends to increase the amount of ’emergencies’ you have).

So what are your chocolate-buying and -eating habits? What is too much (is there such a thing?) or too little? And do you crave the same things again and again, or do you want to try everything you can?