Some flavours remind us to our childhood. For me one of those flavours is chocolate. But not just any chocolate… Swiss chocolate.
Swiss chocolate tradition dates back to 17th century, in Ticino. During 19th it extended to all of Switzerland with the birth of the most ancient and renowned chocolate companies. Most of them have been acquired through time by big brands and have predictably given up the artisan techniques and the search for quality for mass production. But other companies, old and new, keep producing their products focusing on the abilities of maître chocolatiers and on careful selection of the very best ingredients.
During my last stay in Switzerland I visited two of their laboratories, with the formal excuse of highlighting their secrets, and the more venial hope of tasting their achievements.
The first one to open her door to me was Cristina de Perregaux, last in line of the Honold family. The family business is not strictly a chocolate factory, rather an all-round confectionery business. But chocolate is still an important part of their production and it was with this simple knowledge that I happily rushed into their laboratoire de confiserie in Küsnacht Zürich.
Honold’s history starts in Zurich’s old town, in Ranneweg, where in 1905 Friedrich Honold – Cristina’s great-grandfather – established his first shop after a wide experience as pastry chef on cruise ships. Friedrich was also a passionate traveller and a deep lover of Italian flavours, and since the beginning one of his top product has always been the Ligurian pain de Gênes.
Years passed and the small family business earned distinction, but it kept itself to a small company in order to continue valuing artisan techniques and fresh ingredients – most of them coming directly from small regional companies. Moreover, Honold strongly focuses on the young people: here one out of nine employees is a ‘lehrling‘, an apprentice who is completing his education.
Although I classified their work under ‘innovation’, it does not mean that Rebecca Odermatt and Thomas Ramseier are somehow strangers to the Swiss chocolate tradition. Rebecca is a skilled pastry chef and Thomas a maître chocolatier. But when their lives met they asked each other what could possibly come as a successful novelty in a close and traditionalist industry as the chocolate one is. The answer? Customization, e-commerce and pastry classes.
‘In a box of chocolates – told me Thomas – one third you love them, one third get eaten by friends and relatives, and one third nobody wants it.’ That’s why, since they founded MiniShoggi, the inventive couple offer to their customers the chance of customizing their products with their most beloved flavours.
Only fresh and high quality ingredients are involved, even if it means a shorter capability of conservation. And there is no lack of variety, as the colourful plate in front of me was remembering me, while distracting me as I was listening to Thomas: pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, strawberry, pistachio… there even was green tea directly from Japan which gave chocolate and astonishing green colour and a unique flavour.
During their classes, instead, Thomas and Rebecca teach how to prepare handmade mini truffles – minitruffes – with the same technique involved in the products sold to the public. You start with fresh caramel for the filling (‘only sugar and butter’) and you end up with tasting: ‘Lay down the chocolate on your tongue, leave it to melt, breath in the aroma and swallow.’