Who says you can have too much of a good thing?
Last year the Swiss ate 91,330 tons of chocolate, according to official figures. This is equivalent to 11.7kg per person, or 117 standard 100g tablets. The Swiss are consequently the world’s leading consumers of chocolate: three tablets ahead of the Germans, and a clear 13 tablets ahead of the British, in third place.
Does this also make them the world’s happiest people? Or those with the best taste? Or the most enviable? Or the most civilised?
These are questions you can happily ponder while admiring the cornucopia of chocolate available at any Swiss supermarket. Yesterday I was doing just that at Migros, the largest store in the Swiss resort of Verbier, as I photographed some of my favourites, jotting down details of the more inventive combinations of flavours.
A member of staff asked politely what I was doing. I explained that I was a journalist and, impressed by the variety of chocolate on offer in one shop, wanted to write on the subject. “This isn’t for tourists, you know” he said. “You get the same selection at any Migros of this size.” He sounded affronted at the suggestion that all this chocolate might be intended for anyone other than locals like him.
First, to debunk a myth: Switzerland needn’t be expensive. A 400g block of Frey Crémant, for example – the benchmark dark chocolate, popular for years – costs £3.15, equivalent to 79p for a 100g block. A 100g bar of milk chocolate can cost as little as 46p (Migros’ own-brand M Classic) or even 28p (the M-Budget brand).
What impresses me above all is the sheer variety of flavours. Among the best I have tried are bars with added malt; with almonds and honey; with double cream; with crushed Japonais biscuits; not to mention a host of variations on the fruit-and-nut theme – including my all-time favourite, with raisins soaked in rum.
Then there are bars in which each chunk has a filling: from pistachio to liquid caramel, and from cream of marzipan to soft almond paste (in milk, dark or white varieties) – not to mention a variety of truffle fillings, including the sublime Marc de Champagne.
In order that no one should feel left out, there are bars for diabetics – I counted at least three varieties – as well as a special milk chocolate for those with a lactose allergy. And if you like your chocolate with added feel-good factor, you can choose between at least four Fairtrade bars, including a cranberry-flavoured one.
Mocca fans will find no less than four variations on the theme of coffee blended with chocolate: including my favourite, Sogno di caffè – latte macchiato, a “dream of coffee” that actually looks like a macchiato in two tones, with little chunks of cocoa inside.
Sometimes I find that the sheer choice can bring on a sense of bewilderment bordering on panic. If this happens to you, I’d suggest homing in on the Frey Suprême range (mostly £1.55), quirky creations by some unnamed choco-genius. Some combinations sound odd, but having tried them all over the past two months, I can vouch for each one: lemon and black pepper; crema catalana (creme caramel with vanilla); panna cotta (with strawberry); tiramisu; stracciatella; and one that took me by surprise to become my favourite, pear and caramel.
Perhaps crowning the selection are the bars whose chunks contain real liquid alcohol: from Cognac to Swiss-made Poire Williams (pear brandy) and my favourite, Kirsch (cherry brandy). Each one offers pure bliss: a bargain at just £1.30.
You do not need to be a linguist to understand what is inside each bar – with the possible exception of Migros’ own-brand “Bona-splitter”, which is actually just milk chocolate and hazelnuts (with the shells removed, one hopes). If you are unsure as to the ingredients of any particular variety, my advice is buy it anyway – you may make a happy discovery.
In fact, I would recommend eating chocolate as an excellent aid to language-learning: this being Switzerland, everything is written in German, French and Italian. So, while enjoying the sublime taste of the Frey Suprême Satin Noir (“satin dark” chocolate), you could learn a valuable lesson not just in languages but in the psychology of the people who speak them. French-speakers, for example, are told this is a “plaisir fondant” – a “melt-in-the-mouth pleasure”; German-speakers, a “zartschmelzender Genusserlebnis” – a “tender, melting pleasure experience”; and for Italian-speakers it’s a “dolce delizia”, words that sound to me as though they belong in a Verdi opera.
Personally I can think of few better ways to while away a couple of hours that to lie in a hot scented bath having the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli singing chocolate wrappers to me while being fed the contents by angels. Who knows, perhaps that’s what heaven is really like.
In all, I counted 85 different kinds of chocolate bar. And that’s ignoring all the other chocolatey goodies from boxes of pralines filled with absinthe (honestly) to choco-coated macadamia nuts and all manner of truffles by the bagful.
Leaving aside the budget varieties, these bars typically cost between about £1 for the classics to around £1.70 for the more unusual flavours. With five or six rows in a bar, that works out at 20-30p for a little taste of heaven to share with friends after a meal, over a coffee, or sitting at the side of a piste looking back on a great day’s skiing. How civilised is that?
- Further information: the Warren Smith Ski Academy (www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com), the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the local tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
- Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch)
- Equipment rental through Ski Service (00 41 27 771 67 70; www.skiservice.com).