13th
Sep
2013

Posted in Reference

Switzerland is well known for beautifully made precision watches, Swiss army knives, the Alps, banks and cheeses, not to mention the snazzily dressed Swiss Guard and the highly talented Roger Federer. Another considerable string to its bow must surely be Swiss chocolate, with famous companies such as Lindt, Toblerone, Favarger, Suchard and Nestlé, to name but a few.

In 1819 the very first Swiss chocolate factory was opened by François-Louis Cailler in Corsier, soon to be followed into production by many other Swiss entrepreneurs. Then in 1867, Daniel Peter, a son-in-law of Cailler's and friend of Henri Nestlé, founded the Peter-Cailler company. He began to conduct experiments with milk as an ingredient. The milk's water content had to be removed to stop mildew forming on the chocolate. It was in 1875 that he successfully created the first ever milk chocolate by mixing together cocoa paste with condensed milk, Nestlé having invented the latter ingredient some seven years earlier.

Milk chocolate became a huge success. It removed the bitter taste of chocolate and made it cheaper too because of the reduction in the percentage of cocoa solids required. It comes as no surprise then that from 1880 all Swiss chocolate manufacturing converted to this process. In fact even today, with the resurgence of dark chocolate, milk chocolate still represents over 80% of the Swiss market. Approximately 175,000 tons of chocolate is currently made there each year; around half of which is exported. As the world's top chocolate consumers, the Swiss happily eat the rest themselves.

Perhaps less well known is that the fortified drink Ovaltine originates from Switzerland. The academic and pharmacist Georg Wander created and studied the nutritional benefits of malt syrup in his Berne laboratory, until ill health in the 1890s caused him to hand his work over to his son Albert, who discovered how to convert the malt syrup into a powdered form through development of the vacuum drying process. In 1904 Ovomaltine was launched. Ovomaltine was the original name for the product and still the name by which it's known in many of the hundred or so countries in which it's sold today. 'Ovo' comes from the Latin for egg – 'ovum' because it is fortified with eggs as well as milk.

Apart from Ovaltine, the Swiss are very keen on their coffee. They are third in the coffee drinking stakes in Europe, pipped to the post by only Finland and Norway. The most popular style of coffee is café crème. While the literal translation is cream coffee, the Swiss café crème is a long espresso drink, the crème referring to the light brown head of foam created on the espresso by the high pressure it's subjected to during the brewing process.

Finally, if you've ever wondered why on earth Switzerland is abbreviated to CH on car stickers, it's not a subliminal reminder of their lovely chocolate, but refers to the country's alternative name, Confoederatio Helvetica!

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