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Blogger Abroad: Discovering Small-Batch Chocolate Making in Geneva


“Your Story on the Rails” blogger and student of German, Andy, is in search of the answers to excellent chocolate making this summer, and he’s discussing the process with expert chocolatiers across Europe. While all students who study (or travel) abroad will experience cultural immersion, those who take the time to have meaningful conversations along the way go a step further toward gaining insights and perspective into that culture.

Here, Andy speaks with the CEO of a Swiss chocolate company about some of those cultural differences and assumptions:

Today I went to Du Rhone Chocolatier in Geneva, Switzerland. This visit was amazing and added so much depth to my project.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with fresh lemon water and a piece of chocolate as I waited for Mr. Federico Marangoni, the owner and CEO of Du Rhone Chocolatier, to arrive. Once he arrived we sat at a table in the store and talked for about an hour.

Du Rhone began in 1875 and is the third oldest chocolate shop in Geneva. Geneva contains 27 chocolate shops, Du Rhone being at the highest end of Swiss chocolate. There is only one store in Switzerland, but the company has expanded abroad and has shops in cities such as London, New York, Berlin, Hamburg, Taipei, Shanghai, and Riyadh. Mr. Marangoni bought this company about two years ago and strives to improve and expand every day. Currently, they are building new production facilities outside of the city and he hopes to redo the inside of the store and upstairs manufacturing area that has been the same since 1972.

Mr. Marangoni explained that the French part of Switzerland prefers and produces a darker chocolate whereas the German speaking prefers and produces a sweeter chocolate. He said that I would experience this sweet taste as I travel throughout Belgium and Germany too. These countries use a lot of milk and sugar, whereas Du Rhone does not use as much.

Because Du Rhone is such a small company, they do not have the space to run a full bean to bar production. They acquire their beans from an island next to Africa. These beans are then turned into chocolate chips. These chips are sent to Du Rhone and other ingredients are added to create each confection. Most of the Geneva chocolate shops are very small. Mr. Marangoni said that he thinks only one company does the full bean to bar in Geneva.

We talked a lot about the quality of chocolate in the U.S. versus the quality of Swiss chocolate. The U.S. chocolate is very sweet and is mainly produced by huge manufacturers. Nestle, Hersheys, Cadbury, Mars, etc. Cheap ingredients and machines are used to produce a large amount of chocolate in a short period of time. The Swiss use fresh ingredients. For example, the Cows are not pumped with steroids or fed chemically enhanced products. The Swiss cows eat fresh grass and produce fresh milk. Mr. Maragoni said that any company can cover up bad ingredients with enough sugar and chemicals (a lot of what U.S. chocolate manufacturers do). He did admit that within the past 10 years, the U.S. has started to introduce some smaller chocolate shops that produce “good chocolate” but stated that Switzerland has been doing this for 150 years.

People go to the chocolatier that they trust in Switzerland, not go to the grocery store and pull a color bag of new foil-wrapped eggs from the shelf. Chocolate is a decadence in Switzerland. In the United States, we eat chocolate almost like we eat chips. We have that bag of M&Ms and feel obliged to finish the entire bag. Usually, we are preoccupied while eating them. So did we really even taste and enjoy the chocolate we just ate? Mr. Maragoni said that after three or four pieces of his chocolate, you should start to feel full. You should enjoy the chocolate you are eating. It should be an experience full of pleasure.

I am finding such distinct difference between American and European chocolate, which is what my project is all about. 

He concluded that a chocolate company varies on the ingredients they use, the amount they want to produce and at what speed, and the knowledge of the chocolatiers working for the company. There are three master chocolatiers that work upstairs and were all trained in France. The two that I met have been working at Du Rhone for over 15 years. Here is a picture of me with one of the Master Chocolatiers.

As I mentioned before, Du Rhone is one of the premier chocolate shops in Geneva and in all of Switzerland. To put this into perspective, Mr. Marangoni mentioned that about 2lbs of his chocolate would cost $140. Not to mention that one of his chocolates received the First prize in the world at the international chocolate fair. He kindly summoned one of his employees in the shop to bring over a sampling plate. I tasted the chocolate that received first prize and I understand why. It is a dark chocolate square with a dark chocolate, creamy inside. Also on the plate, I tried a chocolate truffle, a praline infused with Chinese tea, and another praline with caramel and salted butter.

After answering all of my questions, he took me upstairs to see their production facilities. The second floor contains his office and the packaging area. The third floor is where all the magic happens. When I stepped inside, it reminded me of a bakery. There were mixers and large buckets of ingredients. He introduced me to his master chocolatiers and showed me everything that they were making. All of their chocolate is made by hand. This was so different from the other companies that I visited such as Läderach and Frey that use large machines. All of their candies look industrial: perfect and all the same. Mr. Marangoni’s theory is that chocolate does not have to be perfect. He would rather make less chocolate by hand rather than using machines that would make him much more money. It was amazing to see how each praline is cut by hand. Chocolate bars are poured individually on a scale.

This was an eye-opening experience and allowed me to see the difference between small companies that pride themselves on handmade quality items versus other companies that produce industrialized chocolates. I cannot thank Mr. Maragoni and Du Rhone chocolatier enough for this experience.

Has a conversation about cultural differences ever shed new perspective on something you may have overlooked—like chocolate ingredients—and got you thinking? Tell us @LeadWLanguages on social media!

This post is adapted from one recently published on Andy’s own blog about his Magellan Project: Chocolate Empires in Europe. Check it out for even more information on his study abroad adventures.

Andy in Geneva