As snow and ice blankets most of the East Coast (hello, Atlanta!), what’s more appropriate to warm you up than a roundup of honest-to-god Swiss chocolate? Christine Galanti spent the holidays sampling the best of the best with GFS Correspondent Max Rudy, and spills the cocoa beans for us today.
In a country full of postcard-perfect villages nestled near idyllic lakes and snow-capped mountains, Zurich is often dismissed as a place just to do business or use the airport. Switzerland’s largest city proves some Swiss stereotypes to be true: it’s clean, expensive, operates with expected Swiss-German precision, and it’s one of the most prestigious chocolate centers of the world.
In addition to providing one of the world’s highest standards of living, Zurich debunks stodgy expectations with a vibrant arts scene and myriad gastronomical opportunities. Much more than just a jumping-off point, Zurich is well worth more than just a few days (or hours) of your time. Make no mistake: if you are lucky enough to find yourself here, chocolate should be a priority.
Most often associated with fellow Swiss confectioner Lindt, Sprüngli and Lindt share family ties dating back to the 19th century, but are independent of one another. Sprüngli is Zurich’s most famous confiserie, with its flagship storefront and café located on a stretch of Zurich’s most expensive commercial real estate, the Paradeplatz on the famous Bahnhofstrasse (rumored to rent for more than $40K per square meter per month).
Historically, the café provided a milieu for the ladies-who-lunched of Switzerland’s stiff upper class to socialize with strangers in acceptable setting, and Sprüngli’s landmark status persists today as a common meeting place. In the acclaimed chocolate shop downstairs, cocoa-dusted “truffle cakes” and various sophisticated pastries share the limelight with savory snacks and, of course, truffles.
More than fifty years ago, Sprüngli originated the Luxembergerli, Zurich’s trademark sweet specialty: a smaller, more voluptuous version of the French macaron. Dangerously addictive, flavor specialties include fleur-de-sel caramel and champagne. Follow the advice on the box, as delicacies like fresh truffles made daily are “to enjoy as soon as possible.”
Their pralines are to die for, but the jewel in this well-known chocolatier’s crown is the champagne truffle. In the late 19th century, Teuscher created the oft-imitated treat as a lighter summertime alternative to stronger liqueur chocolates. In addition to an assortment of world-class truffles, Teuscher offers bars in unusual flavors such as pink peppercorn and lemon chocolate.
Péclard at Cafe Schober
A city with so much chocolate must offer excellent hot chocolate. In our search for the best hot chocolate in Zurich, we discovered Péclard at Cafe Schober in old-city Neiderdorf. Stepping into Cafe Schober is a fairy tale come true. Behind the counter is a charming Frauline who could be the physical embodiment of Heidi, a star in a Disney Princess film, or both. She prepares a rich, hot milk chocolate topped with impossibly lush cream, majestically whipped into Alpine peaks. With a texture denser than mousse, could this cream even have been whipped at all? The secret, divulged: “Swiss cows.”
Our host guides us through Péclard’s confectionery offerings, including French-style macarons, truffles, vintage-inspired chocolate bars, and elegant desserts. They could charge twice the $5 price for the hot chocolate, and the fact that they don’t adds to the magic. And should you be in need of a two-foot-long Apfel Kuchen (Apple Strudel), you’ll find it behind the counter at Cafe Schober’s excellent bakery.
A relative newcomer to the Swiss chocolate scene, Confiseur Laderach has been producing to-die-for pralines since 1962. Laderach, whose products are easily on par with the finest of Zurich, maintains a relatively low profile and does not sell via its own storefront. Instead, Laderach’s exquisite layered pralines, spectrum of chocolate barks and Grand Cru naked truffles are available at Merkur shops around the city.
Since 1905, Merkur has been a purveyor of excellent chocolates. In addition to Laderach, Merkur sells an array of bars and packaged truffles from a wide selection of Swiss chocolatiers. Any Merkur’s shop window is unmistakable, presenting an expansive rainbow of slabs of Laderach chocolate bark.
Beschle‘s handmade offerings include exceptional chocolate bars, pralines, and superlative truffles. The company is famous for its very popular Fée Vert, or “Green Fairy,” a mint-hued absinthe-infused truffle. Beschle’s truffles are available at Chocomotion, which conveniently happens to be around the corner from Cafe Schober in Neiderdorf.