Okay I admit it, they enticed me, Those fine Lindt noir intense chocolates from Ecuador, the Sprungli Grand Cru truffles, and the dark chocolate from Favarger in Geneva--how could anyone resist? The stores in Zurich are full of them; there are chocolate sweepstakes, a constant barrage of TV commercials, even a tram serving hot chocolate as it drives through town.
How did this chocolate fever come to Switzerland? Cocoa trees are not cultivated in temperature climates and there are none to be found in local forests. Chocolate actually originates from South and Central America, where the word stems from the 6th-century Mayan "cacauatl". Chocolate was around way before the Swiss were.
Indeed, it was a specialty in Europe before Switzerland was even a unified country. But this chocolate was a far cry from the bars and truffles we know today; it was consumed solely as an exotic drink, sweetened with wine or beer or spiced with pepper.
Solid chocolate was introduced in the 19th century, and it was Francois-Louis Cailler who opened the first Swiss chocolate production facility near Vevey in 1819. Some 30 years later Rudolf Sprungli produced chocolate for the first time in his confiserie in Zurich. Then in the 1850's the Swiss Basle Mission successfully promoted cocoa in the African nation of Ghana, which has since become one of the most important cocoa producers.
Rudolphe Lindt was probably the most famous chocolate-maker of his day. In 1879 he produced blended chocolate to melt on the tongue, something that had not been done before.
According to Lindt & Sprungli lore, this achievement was an accident, discovered because, the young aristocrat had left his blending machines running one weekend while carousing with friends. His 'melting chocolate' soon achieved fame, and helped to build the worldwide reputation of Swiss chocolate.
Around the same time, a Swiss named Daniel Peter who was married to F.L. Caillier's eldest daughter. Fanny discovered how to blend milk with chocolate, thereby creating another one of Switzerland's gifts to the world, milk chocolate. Previously, the high water content of milk had prevented it from mixing with cocoa butter. Henry Nestle actually developed and perfected condensed milk. But it was Peter who hit on the idea of using condensed milk in chocolate. And it worked.
The Swiss "have milk Chocolate," Alfred Hitchcock once told Francois Truffaut. "They have the Alps they have village dances...