I’ve never been to Switzerland before. Even though I love Swiss chocolate. Since I am living so close to Switzerland now, I accepted an invitation from Felchlin to meet with their reps at a confectionary show in Bern. I started using Felchlin chocolate in 2005 to start my Chocophilia line and the more I work with it (and taste it) the more I’ve grown to love it. Felchlin does a lot to promote fine chocolate by seeking out high quality, rare and otherwise interesting cocoa beans. Their Cru Sauvage chocolate made from “wild” Bolivian cocoa beans is one of the best chocolates I’ve ever tried and their Maracaibo 65% won best couverature in the world in 2004!
Knowing all this, why have I waited so long to go to Switzerland? I don’t really know. But I’m glad I finally did.
I planned to head over to the event as soon as I got to Bern, but through the window of the tram(the tram system in Bern is really good, by the way), I saw the pink sign for “Beeler Chocolatier”-one of the shops I wanted to visit. I jumped off and with suitcase in tow, descended upon the shop. I usually hesitate when I buy chocolates because you never know what kind of chocolate they use and I hate being disappointed by an overly sweet or otherwise lackluster bon bon. Happily I saw some truffles labeled “Maracaibo” and the shopkeeper confirmed it was Felchlin(it always pays to ask!). I noticed right away that the Swiss make chocolates differently than the French. It’s kind of a combination of French and the Belgian chocolate styles, where they use molds like the Belgians rather than cut ganaches but the chocolates are less creamy and more chocolatey like the French. There is a lot of stuff with nuts like Gianduja or “pralines”. I had one of Beeler’s classic Caramalina, which was a milk chocolate cup filled with hazelnut praline and topped with caramalized hazelnuts. One bite and I knew Switzerland and I would get along very well.
When I finally got to the event, I first went to check out the Swiss Chocolate Masters. The Chocolate Masters is a competition where pastry chefs vye for a spot to compete for the worlds in Paris. They are judged on the taste and presentation of their pralines, tortes, plated desserts and chocolate sculptures. I got there in time to see the judges taste and judge the desserts, which was the final event in the competition. The winning dessert , made by the young pastry chef who would end up winning the competition, was two “rocks” stacked on top each other that when split open, oozed a liquid filling over the chocolate “rock” cake below it. Pretty cool!
Back at the show I visited the Felchlin booth, which was decked out to look like a cafe complete with coffee bar, tables and servers. On the menu was a hot chocolate made with their new Grenada chocolate(delicious) and a parfait of sorts with chocolate ice cream, fruit, rum and sponge cake(also delicious). I devoured all this quite quickly as I waited to speak to a representative. The very nice woman who had attended to me introduced me to Mr. Schoenbaechler who is the head of innovation and quality at Felchlin. I told him that I have been using Felchlin for nearly 10 years in Canada and that this fantastic chocolate was one of my inspirations to travel the world in search for cacao with my family. He told me about the time he first tasted the Cru Sauvage beans at an organic food show in Germany and instantly saw something special in them. He worked with Volker Lehman(the man who “discovered” them in Bolivia) to perfect the fermentation until they had a product he was happy with. He also gave me some recommendations for chocolate shops in Bern. He recommended I try the custom 70% Cru sauvage bar that Felchlin makes for Sprungli(I did and it was great!). Sprungli, I learned, split off from Lindt in 1836 to focus exclusively on making confections, while Lindt continued on to make bean to bar chocolate. I left the show a happy camper with a bag filled with assorted Felchlin chocolate and an invitation from Mr. Schoenbaechler to visit the factory in the town of Schwyz. Can’t wait to go back!