By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
It’s so hard to choose.
Tiny dark chocolates with raspberries; impossibly beautiful milk chocolates with caramel; small chocolate macrons called “Luxemburgerti,” truffles dusted with cocoa powder and bars studded with hazelnuts or apricots.
There is no right or wrong, says our Sweet Zurich tour guide, Christina Fryer, an English woman who has been living in Zurich for the past 11 years and is herself a travel blogger. “It’s all about what you like,” she explains as she shepherds us from a famous Swiss chocolate emporium Sprungli, especially known for Luxemburgerti, which were invented some 60 years ago. Today, locals and tourists flock to the Sprungli stores for Luxemburgerti and for chocolates. In fact, at the airport, my daughter used our last Swiss francs to buy a box of Sprungli chocolates to take home. She wasn’t the only one.
Food, of course, is a great introduction to a new culture, as well as a vehicle to engage all ages as you explore a new city. This Valentine’s Day, instead of giving those you love chocolate, how about a chocolate experience? When there are chocolate lovers in the mix, like in my family, can there be anything better than that — whatever time of year, especially in Zurich? (TIP: We opted to stay at the Swissotel Zurich, which was literally across the street from a train station that was one stop from the Main Zurich Station in one direction, and one stop and five minutes from the airport in the other. We loved the indoor 32nd floor infinity pool and the adjacent playground.)
As for chocolate, how did such a small country — there are only about 8 million people in all of Switzerland, fewer than in New York or London — become so famous for chocolate?
Marketing and quality, Fryer says, pointing to the beautiful boxes and tins adorned with ribbons. “Chocolate is an everyday luxury,” she explains, one that is given as an expression of love, of gratitude or “just because.” But the Swiss appreciate the quality of fine chocolate. They prefer one delicious piece — a truffle, a square with hazelnut or filled with liquor — to eating a whole bar. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t see many overweight Swiss on our hiking trip in the Alps. (Alpenwild, the American-owned company that helped us arrange our hiking itinerary, also offers a seven-day Tour de Chocolat.)
Also consider how the Swiss became so known for a product whose ingredients — cocoa and sugar — came from abroad. The pioneers in the chocolate industry here figured out how to make a better product. For example, by 1875, Daniel Peter, who married the eldest daughter of chocolate producer Francois-Louis Cailler, devised one of the great changes — using milk in chocolate. A few years later, Rodolphe Lindt improved the taste by producing “fondant” chocolate, especially popular with wealthy tourists and girls attending finishing school in Switzerland.
Perhaps the most famous Swiss chocolate came a few years later when Jean Tobler and his sons developed Toblerone, made from milk chocolate with honey and almond nougat. And we can’t forget Henri Nestle, who, in the early years of the 20th century, developed a special sweet milk chocolate.
Of course, you can get a chocolate fix in many other cities. In Paris, you can take a family-oriented Meet the Locals in France chocolate tour. You may also be able to arrange a complimentary chocolate-focused walking tour through the Global Greeter Network, which enables you to meet up with a local who volunteers their time to show you an aspect of their home city in some 200 destinations around the world. (Just make sure to request a tour online several weeks in advance of your trip.)
Pamper yourself with a spa treatment like a Whipped Cocoa Bath or a Chocolate Spa Prescription Facial at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania, “The Sweetest Place on Earth.” (The kids will love the indoor Water Works pool complex, complete with Reese’s Water Walk.) Come in February for a month-long celebration of everything chocolate with more than 90 events — everything from hands-on chocolate classes, animals enjoying special chocolate-themed treats at ZooAmerica and playdates on Thursdays with the Hershey characters. Here is your chance to hand-wrap Hershey Kisses like the workers did in the original factory at The Hershey Story.
Take the Chocolate Bus Tour of Brooklyn where you’ll find scrumptious artisanal chocolates or a Gourmet Chocolate Tour in San Francisco, the center of artisan chocolatiers and, of course, seeing where, in 1852, Domenico Ghirardelli first opened his shop during the Gold Rush. (A visit to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company is a must; Come next Sept. 7 and 8 for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival.) You’ll find chocolate tours across the country, from Boston to Seattle, as well as chocolate factory tours. For example, take the kids to suburban Chicago where you can tour the Long Grove Confectionary Co. (Gotta love their Peppermint Creams) or to the Ethel M. Chocolate factory in Las Vegas, famous for their Cactus Garden.
In Zurich, Fryer takes us to Dieter Meier’s tiny shop. Meier is a famous Swiss/German celebrity and musician who devised a new way to produce chocolate with no sugar — and no bitterness. His milk chocolate tastes like the dark chocolate we are used to; Patrik Konig, a banker and watchmaker, aimed to produce handmade, high-quality truffles to honor his son, Max, perhaps the family’s greatest chocolate lover, who was born with an extra chromosome. Max Chocolatier first opened in Lucerne, but is now also popular in Zurich.
Honold, now run by the fourth generation of the same family, is especially known for their variety of truffles. While shops like Sprungli and Honold are large with several outlets, others are tiny operations nestled along cobblestone streets barely wide enough for a car. “There are new ones coming all the time,” said Fryer. “Keep on exploring,” she said. “And keep on enjoying!”
In that case, another truffle, please!
© 2019 EILEEN OGINTZ
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.