Listen up, chocoholics of the world!
According to the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers, there are 18 chocolate manufacturers within Switzerland's borders. And on average, each citizen in Switzerland consumes about 12 kg of chocolate per year.
Swiss Chocolate Workshops
Some of the factories that make these wonderful chocolate bars, truffles, pralines and various delicacies open their doors to visitors to make their own! In Switzerland, the two largest such programs are at Lindt & Sprüngli in Kilchberg near Zurich, and at Cailler in Broc near Gruyère.
For a small fee (anywhere from 20 to 75 francs), these 1 to 2.5 hour workshops give you the chance to experience a fun, carefully instructed course together with your friends. You get to make chocolate treats that you can take home. To share with your family, of course... And along the way you get to understand a little more behind the delicate art and science that is chocolate.
Over the past year, I have visited both the Lindt and Cailler chocolate workshops. Each chocolate factory has its own signature element which might appeal you. Your choice will depend on what you are keen on, how much time you have, and where you are visiting from.
Lindt & Sprüngli, Kilchberg, Zurich
Workshop attended: Schokoladekreationen
Time: 2 hours
Cost: 70 francs (Pay for your ticket when booking online)
Strong points: Easy access from Zurich, praline and truffle creation with nice packaging to share, super friendly staff
Weak points: Only one course, classes fill up quickly, not much context on chocolate and no museum to visit afterwards, children must be 14 or above
About 15 minutes by train from the Zurich city center stands the Lindt & Sprüngli store. And right next door, Swiss chocolate workshops are held fairly regulary. Lindt & Sprüngli will even let you take home truffles and pralines!
To start, you are given a set containing a pastry chef coat, an apron and a hat to use during the workshop. You will be sharing this experience with about 30 participants - 5 or 6 per table. After a brief history of the Lindt company, we dive right into the chocolate workshop.
Each of us is given a tray of truffle shells that we have to fill with chocolate and champagne ganache. While it cooled, we are given an additional tray of pralines that we ge to decorate to our heart's content, using parchment cones and melted chocolate - or with almonds or gold leafs!
Next up, we go back to the truffles and fill them up with another layer of chocolate...
We then roll them into more chocolate and coat them in a light layer of powdered sugar. Finally, we package everything into neat little boxes and bags to take home, and we are also given a discount coupon for chocolate at the Lindt store next door.
The staff are exceedingly accommodating (I would assume they have seen quite the variety of folks coming through their doors). They let you spend time taking photos in your outfit, with your friends, or of your creations.
They are also helpful in explaining a bit of their background and about chocolate manufacturing in general. We signed up for a German class (figuring I could do the translations because I had already taken the course before in English), but the staff were kind enough to explain everything in English for the group of us who did not really speak German.
Did I mention there is a chocolate sample galore for you to eat as you make your own?
Maison Cailler, Broc, Gruyère
Workshop attended: Coeurs Moelleux
Time: 2.5 hours
Cost: 75 francs (You do not have to pay anything ahead of time to book these courses. But unless you book them online, you will likely be unable to attend.)
Strong points: Lots of variety in classes to take, take home your pastry chef apron and hat, moulds, more attention to learning about chocolate, ticket includes museum visit, children 6 and above can attend certain classes, you can bundle a visit to Gruyère together as a full day thing.
Weak points: Far from public transportation or any large city (Bern/Geneva/Zürich)
Getting to the Cailler Museum might be a bit of a challenge: It is located near Gruyère in a town called Broc. That's about a half an hour's drive from Vevey in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Or by train, it is just 1:15 from Bern.
As you enter the factory, you have to decide between the museum and the workshop area. We decide for the Cailler chocolate workshop. As with the Lindt factory, you are given a pastry chef outfit. There are seven folks in total on the particular day I attended, though there are a wide selection of courses you can take... Some of them, I suspect, are more popular with kids.
In Coeurs Moelleux, we make baked chocolate hearts with creamy interiors.
The process for this course is a little more involved, and you start everything from scratch with raw ingredients. A recipe with step-by-step guidance is also given to you, but you are more or less on your own after that.
While we are making our baked chocolate hearts, we learn about the science behind the way chocolate crystallizes at different temperatures: How specific temperatures matter a lot and make the difference between runny chocolate and smooth, brittle and hard pieces.
There are a couple of other neat things we are taught: About how the different sides of aluminum affect the sheen of hardened chocolate (you want the shiny side, I think). And how to make chocolate bowls using party balloons. The staff are bilingual and are nice about explaining everything first in German and then in English. The atmosphere definitely feels a bit more serious than at Lindt.
Since we make multiple batches, we use one batch to eat then and there (with ice cream, raspberry and all), and save the rest for later. Our take-home bag also includes a certificate of completion, the apron and the pastry hat. Plus, all the remaining chocolate hearts and, of course, some discount coupons for the chocolate store.
Cailler Chocolate Museum
After the workshop, we wander around the Cailler chocolate museum. It is a fun, mechanics filled tour through the history of Cailler and Nestlé. I really enjoy the section where they show how mini Cailler Branches are made. As you watch the machine churn out wrapped chocolate piece after wrapped chocolate piece, you get to grab a sample as well!
The last part of the museum is a complete sampling room that gives you the opportunity to try out any and all of the Cailler-branded chocolate bars.
The choices are really so many, it is almost overwhelming!
My Chocoholic Verdict
Both the Lindt & Sprüngli workshop as well as the Cailler workshop are highly recommended and provide lots of fun for not a lot of money. This can be particularly appealing when you have people who are visiting you from other countries.
The Cailler chocolate workshop is your better bet if you are looking for a full day immersion into one of Switzerland's stickier stereotypes (i.e. chocolate). The recipe also allows you to recreate some of the chocolates at home.
The Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate workshop is sure to keep you talking for months to come. It is a perfect two-hour activity for Zürich tourists (and locals) who also want to do some sightseeing. Just make sure to book ahead of time.
(All photographs copyright by Rio Akasaka)