After our late night out at a hockey game in Zurich our group packed up and headed East toward Kilchberg, the home of Lindt & Sprungli Chocolates – sponsor of the House of Switzerland Canada that will be in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.
The Lindt & Sprungli headquarters do not conduct tours (for health reasons) but they do have a store and seasonal chocolate markets, making it the ultimate destination for chocolate lovers. Rolling up to the small town you could tell the chocolate factory was its heart and soul. Outside on the front lawn was an enormous Christmas display complete with lights and giant golden reindeer while Smart cars decked out like Lindor truffles lined the entrance way.
Once inside we were educated on the history of chocolate as we know it and how Mr Rodolphe Lindt and Mr Rudolf Sprungli created this worldwide empire of fine Swiss chocolates.
Once it arrived in Europe, chocolate was consumed as a drink since no one had perfected the art of creating a solid form of the confection. This was until a trend started to grow in Italy that saw chocolate in solid, bar form. In 1845 confectioner David Sprungli-Schwarz and his son Rudolf Sprungli-Ammann decided to hop on board and provide this sweet solid treat as well. The craze took off across the continent and saw the Sprungli family build up from a small pastry shop to an entire factory on the shores of Lake Zurich in 1899. This is the site of the factory as we know it as its original structure still stands today.
Somewhere between their cross-continental expansion the move to their new facilities, Rodolphe Lindt over in Bern was developing his patented “conching” process for chocolate in 1879. Lindt developed a way to turn chocolate from a hard, chunk-like state into a smooth, rich and creamy form that could be molded into bars. He used cocoa butter to soften the chocolate and his 72-hour conching machine gave it a rich glossy finish along with a sweet supple aroma. He called this “chocolat fondant” or “melting chocolate” and in 1899 sold all rights to the conching process (and his name) to Chocolat Sprungli AG, thus forming the company Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprungli AG.
The Company Today
Lindt products are available in 100 countries around the globe with offices in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Their American operations also include Ghirardelli, based in San Francisco. The cocoa beans come from exclusive growers in Ghana where the company makes a solid contribution to the promotion of fair economic conditions for the cocoa farmers in the region. They support the Sustainable Tree Crop Program (STCP) in West Africa as well as research projects and are members of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Once we learned how the company came to be we headed over to do a chocolate tasting with Master Chocolatier Daniel Tannler. He asked us, “do you eat chocolate or do you taste chocolate?”. We then learned the 5 steps to enjoying and savouring chocolate, which match up with each of our senses.
Here are some of the tasting notes they provided:
- Seeing – Study the chocolate’s colour and texture. High quality chocolate has an even texture and a matte, silky sheen.
- Feeling – Consider the feel of the chocolate. Is is soft, brittle, smooth, rough, sandy or granular? High quality chocolate should not melt in your hand, just in your mouth.
- Hearing – Yes, you can hear chocolate. Hold a bar up to your ear the next time you break off a piece. The broken edge should then be smooth, not crumbly, and fine chocolates should break with an audible ‘snap’. Tannler also said the sound of the Lindt foil unwrapping is something that every Swiss child grows up with. It is ingrained into their memory and the metallic crinkle lights up the senses in anticipation of the treat.
- Smelling – You can simply hold a piece of chocolate up to your nose to smell it or break off a small piece and place it on your tongue. Once in place, breathe in with your mouth and then out with your nose to really inhale the aromas. You may even find hints of milk, caramel, vanilla, honey, or apricot, depending on the type of chocolate you are sampling.
- Tasting – The best part, just put a piece of chocolate in your mouth and let it melt — coating as many taste buds as possible — so that you can sense all of its nuances, aromas, flavours and essences.
Ms Nina Keller, PR & Communications officer for the company told us that the chocolate business is similar to the fashion industry as people anticipate the new styles and trends that are developed each year. We sampled their latest Lindt Excellence series that features flavours such as Chili and Fleur-de-Sel. Perfecting these recipes is a true art form as Tannler told us they went through about 300 different types of chilies just to find the right mix for their bars.
After our education and tasting we stopped off at the Christmas Market behind the building which in itself it a holiday chocolate wonderland. From pralines and Lindor truffles to the gold reindeer all decked out with their festive bows.
It was such a treat to learn more about the history of modern chocolate, the company’s practices and technologies, and of course, taste some cocoa creations.
Lindt & Sprungli Chocolates is an official sponsor of the House of Switzerland Canada that will be at Bridges on Granville Island during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The House of Switzerland will be open to the public and I can assure you they will have many goodies for you to sample along with daily giveaways (of the chocolate variety). Stop by Bridges this February to see the folks from Lindt or if you’re in Whistler, House of Switzerland Canada will be at the Mountain Club.