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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cailler Chocolate Factory

In my Payerne post I dropped a comment that we were to visit a Swiss chocolate factory, but wrote nothing more. I thought that such a note-worthy, life-changing experience deserved its own post, of course...
I'd been looking forward to this for months, ever since I discovered the location of Payerne, and did lots of internet research. I wrote emails to our contact about how best we could fit in a visit on the way, and polled group members about who was interested in visiting, I even had an argument with the tour committee about whether we should go or not (amazingly there are people in this world who don't like chocolate, and don't think anyone should either. Geez, even if you don't want to eat the chocolate, it's part of the local history and culture!), which resulted in splinter faction group of aspiring chocolate factory visitors devising plans to sweet talk our bus driver into making an unscheduled detour!
In the end our hosts included a visit in our list of official activities. Those who didn't want to go could check out the Roman ruins. Ruins - bah! We saw ruins in Rome! ;-)

The Cailler chocolate factory is about 45 minutes from Payerne, in the town of Broc - very close to the town of Gruyeres, where the cheese is from. It's part of the Nestle stable of companies, based in nearby Vevey, and after we'd arrived, a few people saw the Nestle sign and complained "you mean, we travelled all this way just to eat Nestle chocolate??!" Nestle brand chocolates in Australia are really nothing special. Cailler has nothing to do with that. It has always been a smaller-scale manufacturer that was bought out by Nestle sometime in the past. Apparently only 40% of its production is exported, so it's not very well known outside Switzerland, adding to its allure for me. Unique presents for people back home!

We were running to a tight schedule without time to spare that afternoon, and I had read many accounts of the delights of the tasting room. I'd heard rumours of all-you-can-eat Swiss chocolate. I looked at my watch and tapped my foot at the laggers straggling off the bus. We were given a guide and taken on a tour, which I'm sure would have been more interesting if I hadn't been looking at my watch and tapping my feet. Tasting room, people! Get a move on. Stop asking stupid questions! Yes, yes, precision equipment, yes, yes, proud and noble history of chocolate making, yep, discovery of crushed hazelnuts, no, you don't want to watch the video of historical production techniques, c'mon people, MOVE IT, MOVE IT!!!
I was told later that each time my friends looked for me I was standing the near the exit door looked pained.
Here's a token photo I took before the tasting room. Yes, it's a giant lump of cocoa butter. It's FAT, people. Solid FAT. We could taste bits if we wanted (yes, I want!) and it was not nice. Like scraping your fingernail through lard. We were told that white chocolate is made entirely of this cocoa butter, therefore when you are eating white chocolate, you are essentially eating solid fat. This was imparted to us in a very dispassionate way, but the looks of horror on peoples' faces was priceless.

Here's a lump of solid fat cocoa butter floating in a bucket of cocoa beans. Not for any real purpose. We could also taste the cocoa beans, and they really didn't taste very nice! Turning those beans into the chocolate we eat was a huge process of discovery. Pity I didn't sit and reflect on this magnificence because I was standing by the exit door tapping my foot....

And here we are. It was like walking into dreamland. Into every childs' Willy Wonka dream. Row and rows of chocolate there for you to grab and stuff into your mouth. I was off and at it before the guide even got into the room to give us the low-down, standing in front of me. I tried to looked innocent and smile wihout opening my lips and revealing chocolate stained teeth, nodding my head in sympathy when she described bus loads of people who stuff chocolate into their pockets and run away. Oh! I'd never thought of doing that! (damn). Yes, we could eat as much as we wanted, and we could stay as long as we wanted; they would even set up a camp bed in the room if we wanted (ooh, really? Where do you keep it?), but we were not allowed to take any away with us. They also told us there was absolutely no expectation on us that we would buy anything, which of course made me decide I would.
We only had about 10 minutes, so we were OFF!

On these tables is an example of every type of chocolate Cailler makes, except for the blocks. Each tray carried examples of a certain product or line. Go for it, people!

This selection is known as Femina. They were soft pralines - more nougat than chocolate. I liked these, but I'm not so Femina. I like a bit more dark chocolate and more chunks. I was interested to learn that the Swiss prefer milk chocolate over the bitterness of dark, which is why Swiss milk chocolate is so good. Also, you can only be guaranteed of the chocolate using real milk and cream (no powdered stuff) when you buy Swiss or Belgian chocolate.

These were the Ambassador range. I bought a box of these to bring home, which I posted from London 10 weeks ago, and still haven't received. I hate to think of the condition they'll be in when I get them. This selection had the most amazing flavour I tried - a dark chocolate filled with burnt caramel. Really burnt. It was incredible - I kept going back for more. I recommended it to a friend who immediately spat it into the bin. Evidently strong flavours like that aren't to everybody's taste!

Plain chocolate square which got rather overlooked in the shadow of everything else.
In 10-15 minutes we all ate FAR TOO MUCH chocolate. I can't say I was surprised. We all walked out of the room feeling a bit green and queasy, but what an amazing experience it was! Let loose in the shop, we all stocked up - and found some really interesting blocks with flavourings of green tea, black pepper, orange and cocoa nibs etc. I'd report on those but they're sitting on a ship somewhere in the Indian ocean!!

The view walking out of the factory back to the bus. Picture perfect, n'est-ce-pas?



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