It’s the time of the year where I start ordering gift baskets or a box of chocolates for certain far-flung relatives. Before my trip to Switzerland earlier this fall, I would have flipped through a Harry & David catalog, ordering whatever bonbons looked the tastiest. Now, though, my chocolate knowledge has been raised, thanks to fellow blogger/chocolate connoisseur Kerrin Rousset.
Besides running a sweets blog called My Kugelhopf, named for the sweet brioche found in Germany, France and Austria, Kerrin runs chocolate tours in Zurich and Geneva. She’s mad for desserts, evidenced by her former career in the food and wine industry, and her enthusiasm is so infectious that you’re not even annoyed with how slim she is.
While we were standing in Confiserie Bachmann, a sweets shop in the Geneva train station, Kerrin gave me some tips on how to choose chocolate in Switzerland. She loves bars, as do I, but these tips could also apply to a standard box of chocolates:
1. Read the ingredients. Sugar should never be first, Kerrin says. Instead, look for cocoa, or cocoa paste. Side note: Once you start doing this, your consumption of mainstream candy will diminish quickly.
2. Note the cacao percentage. While dark chocolate is popular right now (hey, we all eat it for the anti-oxidants, right?), your friends may wince if they eat chocolate that’s more than 70% cacao. Milk chocolate is generally 30 to 40% cacao. “Chocolate should never be bitter,” Kerrin says. “That means the beans have been burned and it’s not good quality.”
3. Check the provider. Many candy manufacturers buy chocolate from a third party. Kerrin swears by Felchlin, a chocolate manufacturer based in Schwyz, in German-speaking Switzerland (warning: don’t go to their website when you’re hungry).
4. Go boutique. Sure, you could pick up Lindt bars at the Zurich airport. But it’s more fun to wander into a store such as Bachmann, where you can truly see the Swiss love of chocolate unfold. It’s part of the culture, Kerrin says; it’s even a part of Swiss Army rations. Plus at a boutique, you can ask the chocolatier directly about the origin of the beans or any of the important factors listed above.
But you don’t have to be in Switzerland to find boutique sweets. Plenty of US entrepreneurs have been re imagining chocolate, and there are some outstanding flavors out there. Kerrin is a sucker for anything involving sea salt and caramel. I personally dig praline and bacon flavors.
5. Educate your tastebuds. Just as with wine or coffee, you can develop a taste for the good stuff by trying more of it and analyzing why you like it. “Learn the different aromas,” Kerrin suggests. “That’s how you discover your palate.”
My trip to Switzerland came courtesy of the Swiss National Tourism Office, but my respect for Kerrin (seen here with me and Laurel “Quickie Chick” House at the top of Mt. Titlis in Engelberg) is completely genuine.