A GenevaLunch news story on Kraft, which this year bought out Cadbury, moving some of its tax base to Zurich prompted one reader and former Cadbury fan to write that he’s looking for new chocolate companies. I suggested he check this list of chocolate companies on wikipedia.
His search reminded me that if you live outside Switzerland or you’re new to the country it’s easy to lump all Swiss chocolate together, and it deserves a closer look. Switzerland, this tiny country of only 7.4 million, consumes more than 68,000 tons a year of the 106,000 tons of chocolate it produces, although an unmeasurable but probably large portion is bought by tourists.
The chocolate the Swiss themselves eat
There are three basic types of Swiss chocolate, to my thinking: products manufactured by large companies like Kraft and Nestlé, chocolate made by smaller manufacturers, and artisanal chocolates.
I’ll buy the last one any day: Switzerland has several extraordinary specialists in handmade chocolates, and I tend to write about these. But they are not in the everyday budgets of most of us, and the shops are not always convenient.
Supermarket selections of the largest manufacturers’ chocolates are good, affordable and easy to find, with a range of quality and prices. These are the ones my family buys to pack in their pockets for the ski slopes. Visiting friends and family from abroad are usually happiest taking these home. I find them mostly too fatty and sugary, but that doesn’t stop me from eating them.
The third group, smaller manufacturers, most of whom are more active in Switzerland than abroad, survive in the Swiss market because they have special products or are niche chocolate-makers. They make some very good products and are affordable, so if you’re looking for something cheaper than artisanal chocolate, but want to buy something you won’t find in 75 other countries, consider these.
Chocolat.ch brings together one group of them and several of the smaller companies are members of the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers, Chocosuisse.
One of the stellar companies listed there is Chocolat Bernrain/Chocolat Stella, who have been producing organic chocolate for more than 15 years and who were one of the early companies to produce chocolate without added sugar. They mostly make private-order chocolate for other companies but if you’re north of Zurich or in Ticino consider visiting their factory stores for a taste of a very special Swiss manufactured chocolate product.
In French-speaking Switzerland Favarger in Versoix is famous for its Avelines. Its shop is well worth a visit. The town of Courtelary, in the Bernese Jura, is home to Camille Bloch, famous for its Ragusa bars, filled with praline and whole hazelnuts (the dark chocolate ones are wonderful). The bars were born as the result of shortages during the second world war, but they are hugely popular with the Swiss.
Villars, in Fribourg, has a shop that is fun to visit, and it is one of the few non-artisanal chocolate-makers producing reduced-sugar bars. They use stevia as a sweetener.
A special addition to the list is Max Havelaar, the fair trade company, which provides a list of online shops that offer fair trade chocolate as well as a list of Swiss sales points for its chocolate products. It has yet to convince Swiss consumers to eat more fair trade products, which account for only half a bar for every 100 sold.