“Please don’t chomp on the chocolate,” instructs Kerrin Rousset, native New Yorker, now resident in Zurich and our guide to an afternoon’s tour of the city’s sweet delights. “Let it melt in your mouth so the full flavour can unfold.” We do as we’re told, place our first fragile square on the tongue (“like a communion wafer”, murmurs one of the party), raise eyebrows and wait. The first impression is of smooth-as-silk texture, followed by layers of flavour that creep lasciviously into unsuspecting corners of the mouth. Our tongues have never had it so good.
For most people, chocolate is a guilty pleasure; for the Swiss it’s simply a nourishing, even essential, food. They lead the world in annual consumption, putting away almost 12kg per person. Children are raised knowing how to use chocolate sensibly. Once they reach military service, they receive their überlebensration (survival ration) of the army’s own-brand chocolate with added caffeine. By the time they reach adulthood, the Swiss are fully paid-up members of a remarkably relaxed – and impressively slim – chocolate-eating fraternity.
Just how relaxed (and slim) becomes apparent as we work our way around a handful of Zurich’s finest chocolateries. We press our noses against the window of Confiserie Sprüngli on Bahnhofstrasse but stay outside. The tour, explains Rousset, will focus on under-the-radar places that we might not find without her help.
Some foolish folks – not us, naturally – have been known to confuse Sprüngli with Lindt & Sprüngli. The former is responsible for high-end chocolates and Luxemburgerli, those bite-sized, feather-light almond meringues with the peremptory command “zum sofort geniessen” (to be enjoyed immediately) affixed to the box. The latter is a global producer of Easter bunnies, chocolate bars and Lindor balls – decent products, says Rousset, but just in a different league.
We follow our leader through the maze of tiny, traffic-free streets behind Bahnhofstrasse to Truffe, owned by Elisabetta from Florence. For most people, Switzerland equals milk chocolate – understandably, since this is where Daniel Peter cracked the secret of uniting the über Swiss dairy product with chocolate – but Elisabetta’s speciality is deep and dark, along the lines of a shot of pure black ristretto. We taste an intense 71 per cent blend from Ecuador and Madagascar, reminding ourselves to let it dissolve gently on the tongue. “Don’t get too hung up on percentages,” recommends Rousset, adding: “Origins are just as important.” We should choose chocolate as we select wine, confirms Elisabetta, with an eye on terroir, variety and, not least, the skill of the maker.
Next stop is Honold, on Rennweg, founded in 1905, still in family ownership and now run by the founder’s great-granddaughter. We pore over the trilingual chocolate map (German, French and English), make our selection and adjourn to a bench outside. First up is the house special, the boozy Trauben consisting of a grape macerated in Cognac for a year and enrobed in 65 per cent Venezuela chocolate, followed by a Baileys-loaded truffle and a startling margarita-flavoured nugget nestling inside a fragile sugar crust and dusted with fleur de sel. A thimbleful of silky-smooth foaming hot chocolate helps to ease things down.
Chocolate tasting gives you a powerful thirst. Several times during our tour we stop and gulp from the many fountains in the city. Water is one of the rare items offered for free on Zurich’s gold-paved streets.
Across the river Limmat we dive into the Niederdorf, a rabbit warren of streets lined with quirky boutiques selling designer slippers, buttons and bows – and a certain sweet product. At Aeschbach Chocolatier a sign on the door advises: “Wenn dick werden, denn von etwas gutem!” (if you’re going to get fat, let it be from something good). A smiling temptress proffers tiny squares of Chriesibluete, a baroque confection involving a sponge layer topped with a lick of ganache and bathed in chocolate. Of its famed chocolate bars, we sample an exotic and surprisingly successful milk with lemongrass and salt, white with curry and coconut (“shockingly good”) and a deep, dark 99 per cent bar, unbelievably smooth with intense cocoa flavour and no bitterness.
The tour ends at a delectable teashop named Cupcake Affair, where the cupcakes resemble the season’s finest designer headgear, with sugar pearls, squiggles and swirls and sundry icings piped jauntily on top. During the entire afternoon we haven’t spotted a single overweight person. As for us, even if we have added to our girth, we console ourselves with the thought that we tasted nothing but the best.
Sue Style was a guest of Sweet Zurich (mykugelhopf.ch); tours cost SFr85 (£56) per person