Monday, July 20, 2009

On the Chocolate Train, part one


Because such a thing exists, and we woke up at six for it.

I was so excited that the night before, I dreamed of Willy Wonka's Wonderful World: swirled rainbow machines, a river of chocolate, a fantastic elevator opening to the skies and me... okay, not so much. The always-creepy Johnny Depp-Tim Burton collaboration is one I prefer to avoid in my waking hours, and probably explains why I only got four hours of sleep.

I didn't think Swiss food tourism could get any better than Alimentation's comprehensive treatment of food history, but in any case, I joined fellow interns M and A the following weekend on the Chocolate Train, which consisted of tours of chocolate and cheese factories - and a castle.

(Tourist tip: if you're new to Switzerland, take the official Chocolate Train, which costs ~$105 from Montreux. Since everybody is headed toward the same location, you won't need to worry about transfers or how late the local buses run, though the tour lacks organization as well as an official guide. You just have safety in numbers.

On the other hand, if you speak French or are pretty familiar with train-riding, buy a second-class ticket for Broc - $72 RT from Geneva. And go on a Sunday, since most things in regular towns are closed then...but touristy places aren't and often have free admission.)

After two hours of trains, four transfers and thirty blurry shots of mountain/castle combinations from the window, we got off on the train's last stop: the rural town of Broc. Just down the road was an immaculate white building: the Cailler chocolate factory. (It reminded me of the mansion in Bad Boys 2, to be honest.)

We entered, and I squealed loudly. A PVC canvas of larger-than-life chocolate squares draped one wall, while shelves and shelves of chocolate lined the other three.

We spent twenty minutes translating "noixette" and "eclat" (hazelnut and [cacao] nibs, respectively) and comparing the relative merits of each sub-brand within the Cailler family, but without samples, how would we know?

Accordingly, we entered the museum, starting with the machines used to process the cacao, and some branding history of the Caillers -- who eventually got bought up by Nestle.
A giant slab of cocoa butter, a key ingredient in chocolate bars.

The machines!

Smooth that chocolate river...
Early foils and wrappers that indicate the content of the chocolate bar.

What's really inside.

And the completed bars!

Gotta love adverts.
In the meantime, we learned why Swiss chocolate is baller:

1) Francois-Louis Cailler invented a smooth chocolate mix that could easily be poured into bars and molds.
2) Adding milk was key (and not the sour Hershey kind that followed it, either).
Some of the elaborate molds used, post-Cailler's invention.

Larger-than-life Swiss chocolate patriarchs...eventually all bought out by Nestle.

After a brief discussion on the ingredients and scents of chocolate, the highly-anticipated moment arrived: sample time! While the chocolate tour can be easily managed in an hour (forty five minutes if you skip the gift shop entirely), we easily spent the majority of our time at the sample station. Of course, the three of us spent significantly more time than any other group at the sample counter - a fairly obvious conclusion if you compare three stipended college interns with four seniors tour groups on a tight schedule.
Pictured here: only a third of the booty.

The samples started with Caillat's basic milk chocolate bar, followed by their milk chocolate + almond bar. Both were good, though I preferred the gritty smokiness of the almonds. Next, the Frigot sub-brand: large chocolate squares filled with a hazelnut and almond paste (or simply hazelnut); I preferred the mixed nut paste, largely because the hazelnut tended to be rather overpowering. All of us agreed that it was delicious, though (what did you expect?) Branches came next: soft chocolate ganache sticks wrapped in more milk chocolate, laced in crunchies. A brilliant plan, but so sweet that seconds weren't necessary.

The Frigot table.
And then we realized that there was more chocolate on the second counter: four more trays with at least twenty different kinds of chocolate. There was no way each of us could down that much, especially when we were already at half-capacity. "Shoulda woulda coulda paced better," we grumbled to each other. My first choice was a lesson in not eating things that are unidentifiable: rum-laced coconut, surrounded by a dark chocolate cloak, tasted like a sour sandpaper attempt marzipan. Needless to say, I used my feeble French phrasing to ask the staff what the next chocolate was and promptly avoided it; it's a good thing I asked what kirsch meant.

With three more trays left, I lucked out: all of the chocolate pieces were shaped identically, but could be distinguished by their color: milk, dark and super dark. I broke my self-proclaimed rule of eating the specialty (as mentioned, Swiss chocolate is known for being milk - superrich with a creamy texture) and settled for the super dark, hoping the bitterness would act as an antidote to the sugary aftertaste that had been in my mouth for the past twenty minutes.


I lasted two more pieces and then promptly surrendered.

Thankfully, we were forced to walk around plexiglassed portions of the gallery, waddling like little Gloop and seeing the chocolate churn much like our stomachs did. That gave us enough energy and relief to watch twenty minutes of vintage Nestle commercials...and to buy chocolate. I settled on a dark Frigot bar, the winner of our (too) extensive taste testing.

(Tourist tip #2: the Cailler gift shop is consistently cheaper than grocery stores in the Geneva area. Buy while you can - you won't be stuffed in a week.)

We bypassed the vending machines - full of chocolate Nesquik - on our way out.
Next post: Gruyeres

1 comment:

Lulu said...

ahhh soo goooood D: D: D: *droool