Illustrious Italian explorer Christopher Columbus famously discovered the Americas on behalf of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, leading to the first lasting European contact with the Americas and the Spanish colonization of the New World. Whilst this discovery had a colossal impact on the Western world and historical development thereafter, to the Swiss, Christopher Columbus' trip is acknowledged for another very special reason; the introduction of chocolate to the West.
Although the Mayans first discovered and cultivated cocoa plants in 600AD, it wasn't until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that chocolate was produced in Switzerland and later, post industrial revolution, became a mass manufactured, externally exported commodity.
Long gone are the days when 'Xocolatl', a bitter cocoa and water concoction, was purely consumed as a restorative and healing tonic. Today Swiss chocolate is enjoyed around the world as a decadent luxury enjoyed for its delectable taste.
"The years between 1890 and 1920 saw a real blossoming of the Swiss chocolate industry, coinciding with the golden age of Swiss tourism. Members of the top echelons of society throughout the world who spent their holidays in Switzerland came to know and appreciate Swiss chocolate, and took its reputation home with them" (Choco Suisse).
After one taste of Italian chocolate, François-Louis Cailler, born in Vevey, dedicated the following four years to learning the art of the chocolatier in Turin. On Callier's return, he opened the first chocolate factory in Switzerland and launched the classic Swiss chocolate brand, Callier. Callier's son in law, Daniel Peter, took the family business to Henri Nestlé and the collaboration led to the invention of milk chocolate.
Toblerone's distinct triangular shape is believed to have been inspired by the mountainous Alps, "in particular the Matterhorn with its characteristic triangular shape" (Toblerone). Whilst Milka is symbolized by a purple alpine cow.
A short scenic drive from Du Parc meanwhile, sits one of Switzerland's best kept sweet secrets, the artisan chocalatier, Tristan. Located in the small village of Bougy-Villars, Tristan is a determinedly local producer who's none the less always keen to experiment with innovative, international flavours in his chocolates and his atelier has become a hub of activity within the community.
Local school children stop on their way home for a bite of truffle, whilst the ladies of Bougy-Villars help pack and delicately wrap the confections whenever a big event calls for the best in traditional Swiss chocolate.