On the Chocolate Trail: Yes, there are chocolate spies, but I am not one of them

Published by Thursday, February 3, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Christina Daub






I am seventeen, in Zurich waiting for a train to Kilchberg, a welcome break from the grinding German language drills that march me through my summer mornings. Kilchberg, literal translation: mountain of freshwater whitefish and the site of Thomas Mann’s grave, but these could be not be further from my mind.

I am going on my first chocolate factory tour, the Lindt Swiss chocolate factory, where you can sample the goods and I can hardly breathe.

To begin, there’s a slide show, a talk, a Q & A, and I am asking a lot of questions.  How did Rudolf Lindt, the father of Tobler,  figure it out? What is the relationship between Lindt and Sprüngli (my haunt in Zurich then and now)? What countries do they import their cacao beans from? The answers are vague and some don’t come at all. Suddenly it’s time for the tour.

We see chocolate being mixed and poured, large machines sorting and Tobler—I photograph it all. Before I know what is happening, I am pulled from the group and taken to an office where the door is shut a little too loudly behind me.

A man behind the desk begins to interrogate me. He wants to know if I am from Suchard, acquirer of Tobler. Suchard, Tobler? I’m just a tourist, a student from New York, I say. Why am I taking pictures of their highly secret patented machines? I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Nobody said not to take pictures.

It appears chocolate-making methods are more guarded than the pope’s jewels. I begin to get a clue as to how much secrecy is at stake when the man demands the film in my camera. Please don’t take my camera, I beg, swearing I am not a spy from Suchard, Hershey, Frey, Cailler, here., here or any other chocolate manufacturer, and finally I am able to rejoin the tour.

Back out in the sunshine, my friend Reto asks me what happened and I tell him. Here, he says, handing me his box of chocolates, we were each presented with at tour’s end. You like chocolate more than I do.

This chocolate factory is no longer open for tours due to concerns of “hygiene,” however, the Lindt & Sprüngli factory store is open Mondays to Fridays 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. and Saturdays till 5.  Seestrasse 204, Kilchberg, Switzerland. For more info, click here.

Suchard merged with Tobler in 1970 and is now a subsidiary of Kraft.

Factory tours are available at Cailler (now owned by Nestlé) and at Hershey’s and Mars in the U.S.  See above links for more information.

For a good list of U.S. chocolate factory tours, both actual and virtual, click here.

For chocolate tours in Canada, here.

Soon to come: a comprehensive list of chocolate tours in Europe.

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  • Abigail Adams Greenway
    February 3, 2011

    I spy….in my little eye…..One FABULOUS…..CHOCOLATE REPORTER…..!!!
    What a terrific article!……Right out of James Bond!…..I was fully expecting them to quietly remove you by slipping you into a VAT of Deep, Dark……ummmmmmm….CHOCOLATE!
    Whew! that was a close call!

  • Loopback Address
    February 3, 2011

    Ok, you have piqued my interest….

    How did Rudolf Lindt, the father of conching, figure it out? What is the relationship between Lindt and Sprüngli (my haunt in Zurich then and now)?

  • S. Kenyon
    February 3, 2011

    I’ve had a few doors shut a little too loudly behind me in my time so I can surely relate to your adventure, and some of my missions weren’t as innocent as yours, Christina. What I love about your columns on this site are the little details you provide that lead us down alleys I wouldn’t have even known existed. It was pure delight learning about “conching” today, and I think it’s so cool that the link to find out more is put there so
    conveniently within the text as all the best blogs do. The stylish writing was a happy distraction from my own, and I do look forward to many more morse such tasty morsels from you!

  • Tom Leachman
    February 3, 2011

    Very interesting article Ms. Daub. I too enjoyed learning about conching. Maybe your interrogator was semi-sweet for you.

  • Fred Schroeder
    February 5, 2011

    This story was delightful. You transported me to a different time and place, and then from the expected to the unexpected, while providing a wealth of usable chocolaty information. I loved the foreign intrigue. I hope you can devote a future column to explaining the cultural differences among the European choclatiers — the Belgians, the Dutch, the Germans, the Swiss, the Italians, the French, and more — and why they give us their unique varieties of chocolate cuisine.

    • Tina
      February 14, 2011

      It’s on my to write list. Thanks.