Weird and Wonderful Switzerland - Part III
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” Forrest Gump said on the silver screen. That’s the best line in the movie, and arguably one of the most recognizable phrases from any movie ever made. So permit me to tell you about one day when i had a whole box of chocolates, and then some.
As with many spring days in Switzerland, this was a misty, rainy day. Grey clouds were draped across the sky and the temperature was not toasty by any stretch of the imagination. A perfect chocolate day, if ever there was one. As was the case almost every day during this trip, we were at the bus stop by 05:00 to catch the first bus to the train station, from where we went exploring. Today we set our sights on two of Switzerland’s treasures: Chocolate and Cheese. The train snaked along Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) until we reached Montreux, where he hopped on the Chocolate Train. In this carriage we slowly but surely climbed the hills to the north of the lake. Most of my contemporaries could easily imagine the scenes that enfolded before us: Think about the wholesome yet grandiose landscapes pictured in the Heidi television cartoons, and you’d feel as if you were sitting with us at the large windows.
Eventually, the train brought us to Broc, where the Maison Cailler chocolate factory is located. The welcoming mood of the coffee shop beckoned us, and That-Man – being the coffee enthusiast he is – summarily ordered himself a cappuccino. He did bring me something special as well, though: a cup of hot chocolate accompanied by samples of the local claim to fame. No boring shortbread biscuits here; rather some delectable chocolate bites.
The words of an anonymous chocoholic might just be true: “Money may talk, but chocolate sings.” Does a gift of chocolate also make you feel special? Do you also decide immediately when and where and (most importantly) with whom it will be shared? We may need things like money for the practical needs in our lives, but chocolate sings a sweet, placid melody at the end of the day.
Back to the Cailler chocolate factory. Do you remember our previous post about the Swiss Travelpass? Well, we were delighted to learn that our visit to the chocolate factory would be free because we had this pass. We booked our tour and waited for the appointed time. As we were there early, we only had to wait a few minutes. The beauty of this tour is that a group of friends or family can do this by themselves in one of a handful of languages available. So we set off through the wonderland of interactive displays, including the origin of chocolate, how it’s processed, and in particular the history of the Cailler company (now a part of the Nestlé group).
Everyone told us beforehand that at the end of the tour we’d be allowed to eat as much chocolate as we could, and we were looking forward to that part of the tour with particular interest. As we went through the building, we could see how the chocolate was created from cocoa beans and milk solids, how it was formed, and packaged, and at the end of the assembly line, a small bowl was constantly being filled with chocolates fresh as can be from the factory. We each took a few pieces, but didn’t feel comfortable eating too many or stashing it in our pockets, as some other visitors had done. Honestly, i felt a little disappointed, as i had envisioned the chocolate eating part of the visit differently.
As we walked out of the factory, every disappointment evaporated instantly. We had stepped from the assembly line directly into a new favourite place: the chocolate tasting room. On three tables, chocolate samples were laid out in generous amounts. Here, we could taste every single flavour of chocolate available at the factory, and keep on tasting until we couldn’t consume anymore. This was more than i had hoped for, and the first thought that came to mind was: “Take it slowly.”
This remains my advice to any would-be visitor: Savour each piece, otherwise you might as well just be chucking huge spoonfuls of sugar into your mouth without recognizing the particular flavour of each piece. There’s enough time to stand still and enjoy the chocolates one at a time. Let the hasty ones behind you pass, if necessary. Pick up a square, step out of the line, close your eyes, and smell the chocolate. Take a deep breath and enjoy the aroma for all it’s worth. Then slip it into your mouth and wait for it to melt. Don’t open your eyes until you’re ready for the next chocolate, then repeat the process.
One more piece of advice may help most of you get through the whole selection. If you’re visiting with a friend, share the tasters. The variety of chocolates to taste is so large that the odds of someone tasting everything is very low. So if you don’t want to miss a thing, share your chocolate.
Of course, the tasting room leads into the chocolate gift shop, where everything that you’ve just tasted is available for sale. We would never have known that we had new favourite chocolates if we hadn’t tasted it at this factory shop, and of course we could satisfy our new cravings immediately with the chocolates available at the store.
There was still enough time left after this stop to visit the nearby Gruyére cheese factory, and although that was a delectable adventure of a different kind, the chocolate factory tour has been recorded in my memory as a quintessentially Swiss experience.
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