The Swiss chocolate Empire began in 1697 when Heinrich Escher, mayor of Zurich, was introduced to chocolate in Brussels. He was the first to bring it back home, where it was discreetly consumed at the feasts of the various guilds which ruled the city. Unfortunately the start of this new indulgence was short lived due to the Zurich Council banning it in 1722 stating that is was unfit for virtuous citizens (it had a reputation as an aphrodisiac).
Almost 30 years later, the first chocolate manufacture was set up by two Italians in a former paper mill near Bern. The locals did not appreciate the future goldmine and eventually the mill was given over to producing flour instead. Regardless, by the end of the century other factories had cropped up in western Switzerland - Vevey, Morges and Lausanne - and in the Blenio Valley in canton Ticino. And finally the first chocolate shop in Switzerland opened in Bern in 1792.
While the Swiss definitely cannot claim the invention of chocolate, almost no one will argue that they have been the most integral in making it what it is today. It may have started insignificantly but the inventive spirit of this culture meant that they would eventually helped to jump start the entire industry.
The first discovery was that of Charles-Amédée Kohler in the mid 1800's. After beginning to produce chocolate in 1830 he strove constantly to ameliorate his specialty. This led him to the creation of hazelnut chocolate, still one of the most popular kinds of chocolate in Europe today.
Next there was a man named Daniel Peter, who only got into the chocolate business after the paraffin lamp put out his passion for candle making. Even then it was not the delectable sweet itself that caught his eye, it was in fact a girl; he fancied the daughter of a famous chocolatier. Being out of a job and wanting to impress this girl, he was led to experiment with new recipes for chocolate. Since the Swiss did not care for dark chocolate, all that was available at this time, and preferred a sweeter taste, he took it upon himself to improve the smoothness and flavor. He tried for 8 years to add new and different ingredients to make it softer. Utilizing things that were readily available in this pastoral country he even tried adding cheese to the chocolate, which proved to be a disaster. Finally, in 1875, the recipe was perfected; milk chocolate had been invented.
It is clear that the Swiss are quite grateful for this man, over 80% of the chocolate consumed in Switzerland today is milk chocolate, while plain chocolate accounts for 10-12%, and white only 3-4%.
Shortly after Peter came another originator who would revolutionize the chocolate industry forever. Rudolphe Lindt produced the first melting, or fondant, chocolate in 1879. This process, which not only took the sharp, coarse, and gritty flavor out of chocolate but also gave it that suburb velvety texture that we love today, is known as conching. The addition of cocoa butter to the chocolate, to give it the necessary melting quality, was another epoch-making discovery of this man from Berne.
Switzerland may have Brussels and the Italians to thank for the beginnings of their national pride but many other countries have Switzerland to thank for theirs. Due to the long Swiss tradition of emigration, chocolate makers were spread worldwide. Germany, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland are just a few. The Swiss even took their expertise back to the place that taught them in the beginning, Italy. Some of the greatest names in chocolate history even boast Swiss heritage. Jean Neuhaus of Neuchâtel settled in Brussels in 1857 and started business as a pharmacist, his grandson would later go on to invent the praline, the invention that put Belgian chocolate on the map. Even Milton Herschey, of American chocolate bar fame, had Swiss ancestors. He was descended from Christian Hirschi, who fled to Pennsylvania in 1672 to escape religious persecution.
In the years leading up to the 20th century annual Swiss chocolate exports amounted to 600,000 kilograms. By 1914 they had exploded to an astonishing 17 million kg! In the years just before World War I, Switzerland controlled more than half the world chocolate market. Even the war proved useful to the chocolate makers of this region as they were commissioned to provide for the troops. Even today chocolate is part of the standard Swiss army rations.
It was only after World War II that chocolate truly lost its status as a luxury food and demand shot up. At this time chocolate manufacturers started to compete maniacally with each other to create the most and best new products. But the development of new lines was expensive and the situation got out of hand - so much so that in 1955 they all agreed not to put any new items on the market for a whole year.
Chocolate (Schokolade, chocolat, cioccolata) is not only an industry in this small country; it is a way of life. The Swiss hold the record for most chocolate consumed by any single nation – an astounding 11.6 kilos per person per year. This would average out to each person eating roughly one ordinary-sized bar every day of the year.
Chocolate in Switzerland is extremely versatile. Each season, festival, and region has their own specialty crafted from the national delight. They celebrate Easter with the usual edible bunnies but they go on from there with chocolate chestnuts and chocolate mushrooms in autumn and chocolate flowers in spring. In Zurich they make miniature chocolate Bööggs for the Sechseläuten festival where a gunpowder filled Böögg (a replica of Zurich's evil spirit of winter) is exploded to signal the start of spring. Chocolatiers in the Jura are famous for making chocolate watches while Bern produces elaborate chocolate bears.
Chocolate remains one of the greatest icons of Switzerland and they are going to great lengths to make sure that icon is not tarnished. Imitators are hunted down worldwide and forced to stop any claim to this billion dollar industry. The benefit of this is that if you buy chocolate that claims to be Swiss, you can be sure that it was actually made in Switzerland - or else that it will shortly disappear from the market.