After our visit to Gruyere I was literally about 50% cheese, but this still left a way to go before the day could be considered 100% Swiss. The rest would of course have to be made up with Switzerland's other famous export – chocolate!
Just a short drive from Gruyere is the Cailler chocolate factory, which pumps out gallons of chocolate every day. I would have that other 50% made up in no time.
Cailler is not a brand I've ever seen outside of Switzerland, which is weird as it's super popular. Their milk chocolate offering in a purple wrapper is a particular favourite. Zoe tries to restrict her intake, as she tends to inhale it whenever it's in the house. It's scary, she must literally inhale it – there's no other way it could disappear so fast.
The Swiss chocolate house
Even from the outside it's pretty impressive. The sprawling factory is pretty well masked by the bright white frontage of the old 'Maison Cailler' (above). Today, Cailler is owned by Nestle, but it wasn't always that way.
Back in 1819, bitter, dark drinking chocolate had already been around for ages, since the Aztecs in fact, as the fun and informative factory tour explained. After a tasting some chocolate on a trip to Italy, Francois-Louis Cailler was so taken with the stuff he returned to Switzerland and opened the country's first chocolate factory. The veritable Willy Wonka of his day, he was the first to develop a smooth form of the cocoa goodness that could be made into bars. A revolution had begun!
The cream of the crop
It was his son-in-law, Daniel Peter, however, who had an even better idea. He tried mixing the chocolate from the Cailler factory with the condensed milk his mate Henri Nestle was making on the other side of the town. The result was the first milk chocolate, and the rest, as they say, is history. So next time you have to have a tooth filled, or your favourite jeans don’t fit, blame Daniel Peter.
Of course, no such tour would be complete without a tasting. And I was expecting one of epic proportions. Unlike Roald Dahl's Charlie I didn't' get a golden ticket, I merely paid an entry fee that leads one to expect that the ticket is actually made of gold. Actually, for Switzerland is was pretty good value, but when it came to samples I was determined to get my 12 francs' worth.
First, however, we had to finish the tour, after a robotically animated tour through the history of chocolate, all that was left after was a room promoting Nestle's fair trade and quality control efforts. By pressing the right number on your audio headset you could hear how happy the cocoa farmers pictured on the wall were, or listen to a spiel from an incredibly well spoken local farmer about how proud he is that the milk from his cows ends up in Cailler chocolate.
There are also hands-on exhibits featuring different ingredients, so you can sniff vanilla pods or fondle lumps of cocoa butter. I don't think the intention is that you stuff your face with the almonds on show, like I saw one zealous lady doing. This was wrong on many levels, not least because I'd just seen a kid covered in drool rub his hands in the pot (no judgement on the slobber – after a tour of hot-chocolate-scented exhibits I too was salivating), but also because she was wasting precious stomach space on dry nuts when there was almost certainly a tasting session imminent.
The end exhibit was a bit promotional and felt a little disingenuous, but it was interesting to follow the whole supply chain along the wall, which I'm pleased to report does lead one to taste the end result.
First we watched through a window as blocks of praline were rolled up by robots and sent through a machine that bathed them in runny liquid chocolate (below). If I could've lain myself down on the conveyor belt and channelled my inner Augustus Gloop I would've done. This fantasy was short-lived though. A smeared trail on the glass revealed that the dribbling kid had already passed through. I needed to be quick if I was to make it to the real tasting before he slobbered all over the awaiting confectionery.
On my way I found Zoe at the end of the chocolate machine. Hastily torn wrappers revealed she'd gone to town on the sample chocs at the end of the machine. This was an error. She thought they were the only samples we'd get. I knew there had to be more. I'm no amateur. I've been to Cadbury's World.
I was right. At the end of the tour there were Swiss-alp sized mounds of cocoa goodness to consume. White chocolate, the dark stuff, with nuts, without nuts. One thing's for sure. We went nuts.
I thought I could try every type available, just a little taste, but I couldn't. After a particularly rich bit of praline I had to accept the terrible truth. I'd hit the chocolate wall.
Disappointment was slowly replaced by nausea and I slunk away from the chocolate and out of the building, closely followed by Zoe in a similar state of chocolate-induced distress.
I'd had a great time at Cailler, and in Gruyere, but with the cheese then the chocolate it had all been too much. My Swiss integration clearly still has some way to go.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.