Monday, July 20, 2009

Swiss chocolate...with wasabi?

When you think of Swiss chocolate, you probably think of slabs of sweet, light milk chocolate. Or perhaps you think of the global reach of Nestlé, the iconic Swiss company headquartered in Vevey, a small city overlooking Lake Geneva.

But do you think of dark chocolate combined with lemongrass, pepper or wasabi? Likely not.

Chocolatier Blaise Poyet, whose shop is a stone's throw from Nestlé's glass headquarters, would like to change that.

For 15 years, he has been carefully perfecting blends of chocolate from around the world with flavours that go far beyond the usual strawberry and caramel. The resulting bonbons are rich, unusual and addictive--and they're only available in Poyet's shop or online. Sure, they're 13 Swiss francs (about $13.45 Canadian or $12.17 US) for 100 grams, which works out to about eight pieces. But, trust me, they are worth every cent. The only one I tried on a recent shop tour that didn't thrill me was Le Cubain, which is infused with the essence of Cuban cigars. To each their own.

In a land where chocolate has become a mass-produced institution, Poyet passionately believes that small-scale shops like his will revive Switzerland's reputation for quality.

"Ten years ago, we lost everything," he said through a translator during the tour. "We fell asleep." French, German and Belgian chocolatiers captured the growing market for artisanal chocolates, while Switzerland rested on its laurels.

Poyet thinks the market is now ripe for a chocolate renaissance in Switzerland. "We realized you could make chocolate like you make wine," he said. By focusing on beans produced in a specific location, such as small regions of Java and Bolivia, he hopes to achieve something like the concept of "terroir" in the wine world or single-malt scotch: products tied irrevocably to a particular place and time.

It may not be typical Swiss chocolate, but it certainly is tasty. If you're in the neighbourhood--Vevey lies between Lausanne and Montreux--follow the locals to this secret shop.

Disclosure: I travelled to Switzerland as a guest of the Lake Geneva Region Tourist Office.

No comments: