I ask you is there a better pairing of season and food than winter and chocolate? Sure a chilly glass of lemony iced tea can cool you down on a hot summers day – but there’s something really special about eating (or drinking) chocolate in wintertime. For me a warm mug of hot chocolate or dainty cup of hot tea with a square of something rich and chocolaty somehow gets inside you. Chocolate is the food version of the electric blanket, the hot roaring fire or those soft, fluffy woolly slippers that instantly warm your popsicle toes.
Not surprising then that some of the best chocolate, Lindt hails from the wintery peaks of Switzerland where in some places at the height of the cold weather season it reaches minimum temperatures of -37° Celsius (and we have the nerve to complain about the Sydney weather!).
They say necessity is the mother of invention and the Swiss clearly needed their chocolate back in 1845 when Zurich based Confectioner David Sprüngli-Schwarz and his 29 year old son Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann decided they were going to make chocolate bars from their small pastry shop. Up to that point most of the chocolate in Switzerland (and around Europe) had been consumed as a hot beverage – but the introduction of chocolate bars from Italy at the time was a source of inspiration.
Chocolate back then was very different to what we are used to eating today. According to Lindt’s Maitre Chocolatier, Thomas Schnetzler it was very coarse and gritty in texture and bitter in taste, nothing like the smooth creamy, milky chocolate bars we are used to consuming today. In spite of this, chocolate was still incredibly popular back then and Sprungli and later his two sons built what is today a confectionary empire.
It wasn’t however until 1879 – some 35 years later that technology changed the chocolate landscape. That was the year that what was then known as “Chocolat Sprüngli AG” bought a Berne-based chocolate factory including the exclusive manufacturing secrets and the famous brand from Rodolphe Lindt, who had developed chocolate “conching”.
Conching was effectively a method of producing chocolate that used a machine that rotated, kneaded and worked the chocolate to produce the soft, velvety, creamy and melt in your mouth qualities that many of us associate with high quality chocolate today.
It’s hard to believe that such a simple innovation could make such a substantial difference – but it was this conching fondant chocolate which formed the foundation of Swiss chocolate making and is the reason why Switzerland is known worldwide as the home of high quality chocolate (though don’t tell the Belgian’s who are also reputed for their chocolate making skills).
These days the team at Lindt continue to look for ways innovate and so the recent launch of a range of new flavours extending Lindt’s Excellence Chocolate line was immediately inspiring. I was lucky enough to participate in a tasting which included some of the new dark chocolate combinations which were paired with strawberry, passionfruit and Fleur de Sel (sea salt).
I was most surprised by the Excellence Strawberry Intense – which took this flavour combination to another level – mainly because the strawberry flavours used in this block taste incredibly fresh and aren’t overly sweet or syrupy. It really did taste like I had just handpicked a wild berry from the brush and dipped it into a dark rich chocolaty cream.
The other revelation – and my new addiction is the Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt (Fleur de Sel) combination. Anyone who loves the taste of salted caramels will instantly recognise this winning combination. The secret is actually the Fleur de Sel which is hand-harvested sea salt produced in France. I have to admit that when I couldn’t find Lindt’s Excellence with a Touch of Sea Salt in my local – I did attempt to re-produce it with a bit of supermarket sea salt – I should say rather unsuccessfully.
Thankfully, I did manage to come across more on sale at my local green grocer. Naturally I took the opportunity to stock up. I’m pretty sure I now have enough to get me through winter.