Beauty, brains and wealth. What more could you expect from a small but perfectly formed country like Switzerland? Jaw-dropping landscapes and fairytale settings are just the start. While each hamlet, town and city has its own individual charm, one city that can justifiably take credit for all these attributes is Geneva. In the brains department alone, its financial, scientific and humanitarian credentials are unrivalled. The World Wide Web was conceived here, and a multitude of international and non-governmental organisations call it their home: the International Red Cross, United Nations and CERT (European Organization for Nuclear Research) – the list goes on.
While hard at work managing the world’s finances and sorting out global crises, Geneva certainly knows how to indulge in life’s luxuries – and it’s not just about making the world’s finest timepieces and producing quality wines. This city wouldn’t function without its steady supply of quality Swiss chocolates.
Proof of this can be found in the town of Versoix, which plays host to FESTICHOC, an annual Spring event that brings together no less than 30 artisan chocolatiers from all over Switzerland to entice visitors with their tempting creations. Privately or family-owned, these chocolatiers and patissieres use traditional skills and techniques while also innovating with unusual, exciting flavours and organic ingredients. Being small and exclusive, they have the freedom to source the best cocoa from sustainable growers and apply quality craftsmanship to create edible works of art.
Since it began in 2005, FESTICHOC has grown in size and popularity, perfectly timed for families to stock up on Easter treats. Regular activities include a Chocotrain ride, treasure and egg hunts, workshops, a chocolate sculpture exhibition by apprentice chocolatiers, and a visit to the Favarger factory nextdoor. However, the event’s main focus is the Salon des Artisans, a sprawling marquee where visitors can sample and purchase the finest creations from Switzerland’s top chocolatiers.
The biggest surprise of the day was Sisao, specialist in lactose- and sugar-free chocolate made from single origin and certified organic cocoa sourced from a Fairtrade coop in Togo. The maverick chocolatier behind Sisao is Ahmed Atmani, who launched the brand in 2013 in response to a modern-day chocoholic’s dietary requirements. Sisao’s signature bars come in 15 vibrant rainbow colours and delightful flavours, making it hard to pick just one. Highly recommended are the Black sesame white chocolate, and dark chocolate with Éclats de Noisette du Piémonte IGP (cosmo pink) or Pistache Grilée de Sicile (Riviera blue). Impeccable packaging in delicate Nippon paper certainly does justice to the harmony of flavours. Healthy quality chocolates like these have never tasted so good, and it’s a guilt-free pleasure worth indulging in.
Those who prefer more decadent options were spoilt for choice. Valais-based chocolatier David Pasquiet turns his creations into art by utilising his skills as a pastry chef. A commitment to using only high quality cocoa beans for his own couverture led him to discover Porcelana de Piura, a rare variety that yields organic white beans grown in the Las Lomas district of Peru. Fruits of his endeavours can be savoured in specialities, such as Las Lomas chocolate with red Kampot pepper, coffee and cardamom chocolate bar, and 35 varieties of Grand Cru bars. The Ganache collection impresses with its artistry and exotic flavours – flambée banana with raisin and Matusalem 23-year old rum, matcha with sudachi juice, and fig with AOP 25 year old balsamic vinegar from Aceitaia del Cristo.
Du Rhone Chocolatier opened its first store in 1875 at Geneva’s prestigious Rue du Rhône, then in 1976 moved to the quieter Rue de la Confédération around the corner. Du Rhone’s boutique façade may be small, but the hot chocolate drink served here is top-notch, and upstairs is where the magic happens. I witnessed the making of one of their pralines, the Coline, which won First Prize at the Geneva International Chocolatier Show for its smooth ganache made with 70% cocoa from South America and West Africa. Master Chocolatier Jean-Pascal Sérignat and his team create luscious handmade chocolates free from additives and preservatives, and they spread the goodness through exclusive outlets around the world.
Favarger has been around since 1826 and remains a family business today. The brand owes its success to maintaining strict quality standards and craftsmanship through seven generations. It also claims to be the only enterprise in Geneva that makes chocolate from bean to bar – from roasting and grinding to conching, tempering and packaging. Everything is done in the factory in Versoix, and ingredients are 100 percent natural, GMO-free, soy lecithin-free and palm oil-free. The iconic Avelines have a smooth blend of hazelnuts, almonds and Madagascan Bourbon vanilla, while the blueberries in the Precieux dark chocolate bar linger on the palate long after it’s been devoured. Creamy or crunchy, the chocolate praline spread is elegant and full of natural goodness – a must-have in every chocolate connoisseur’s cupboard.
The Stettler stand was hard to miss, with its giant chocolate octopus taking pride of place at the table while master chocolatier-patissier Edouard Morand attends to business. Stettler’s tea room at Rue du Rhone is adjacent to a laboratory where workshops take place, and where aspiring chocolatiers learn Stettler’s traditional techniques. One of the specialities here is the Pavé de Genève, a cube of sumptuous chocolate ganache covered in fine cocoa powder. The dark chocolate sticks laced with tangy orange rind are particularly moreish. Complete the experience with a treat of Stettler’s legendary Black Forest cake.
The elegance and supreme quality of artisan Swiss chocolates are what draw crowds to FESTICHOC, and this year’s 15th edition will be just as exciting as the previous years. The event will be held in Versoix on Saturday, 6th April and Sunday, 7th 2019. In addition to the regular exhibits and activities, a record 34 chocolatiers will be present at the Salon des Artisans. For more information on this year’s programme, visit the FESTICHOC website here…
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