I don’t believe I have ever met anyone who doesn’t like chocolate. I personally think it’s the best invention of all time. Whether I’m feeling down in the dumps or high as a kite, I could always go for a piece of chocolate. Just recently, while enjoying a box of Forrero Rochers, I wondered; who discovered chocolate? I learned that chocolate has a long history, and the art of confection is constantly being refined.
First off, I was surprised to discover that the Swiss people were not the first to discover chocolate. Actually, there are records that the Mayans had been producing cocoa in Yucatan since before the year 1000. The distinguished sweet quickly spread throughout Central America and was seen as a delicacy. The chocolate was prized so much that it was used as a currency beginning in the year 1000 . In 1513, Hernando Valdez reportedly bought a slave for 100 cocoa beans in America during Padrarias Avila’s expedition.
More specifically, the Swiss have Belgium to thank for chocolate. In 1697 the mayor of Zurich, Heinrich Escher, encountered chocolate in Brussels and brought it back to Switzerland. For a while it was discretely consumed at special gatherings and guild meetings, but later banned by the Zurich council because it was thought to be an aphrodisiac and encourage immoral acts.
Thankfully, chocolate reappeared in the 1730s when 2 Italians set up a chocolate factory near Bern, Switzerland. Shockingly, the locals were not impressed with the sweets, so the factory shut down. However, several years later, entrepreneurs began operating chocolate factories again which proved to be a huge success. In 1792 the first Swiss chocolate shop officially opened its doors in Bern.
Switzerland has remained a leading producer of chocolate for centuries because of their high quality products and innovative ideas. Before Swiss chocolatiers, chocolate was bitter and chalky. However, Daniel Peter is the renown Swiss chocolatier credited with formulating a smooth milk chocolate. He reportedly experimented for 8 years before stumbling upon the popular combination of milk and chocolate in 1875. Today, over 80% of chocolate eaten in Switzerland is milk, thus the Swiss population would be lost if not for Daniel Peter.
The first fondant, or melting chocolate was crafted by the recognizable Rudolphe Lindt. Mr. Lindt was the pioneer of conching, which is the process of kneading melted chocolate to create a smooth texture and eliminate the acidic flavor. This groundbreaking technique is still practiced today. Huge machines (which look like conchs) knead the dough at 110 degrees for anywhere from 24 to 60 hours. The liquid chocolate is subsequently cooled in specialized machines to control the temperature and then molded into shiny, smooth bars of chocolate.
Finally, I saved the best invention for last; hazelnut chocolate. Charles-Amedee Kohler strived to stand out from his competitors, so he experimented with different combinations until, at last, he developed hazelnut chocolate, a masterpiece. If I ever make the mistake of buying a jar of Nutella, it is gone within a week.