A Genevan passion

Yannick Nardin
Guillaume Cottancin
Winter 2023-2024

Geneva’s only cacao trees may be hidden in the Conservatory and Botanical Garden’s greenhouses, but the city’s chocolate specialists have spent two centuries perfecting their expertise. Mainstays like chocolate pavés (paving stones) and marmites (cauldrons) are both creations of the highest order, each made with a dash of madness and heaps of passion.

No one can understand Genevan chocolate traditions without knowing about a local annual festival: The Escalade. This historic event commemorates the night of December 11th to the 12th in 1602, when the city triumphed over the Duke of Savoy and his army, who tried to invade Geneva by climbing over the city walls. While many fought to save the city, the legend highlights a woman known as La Mère Royaume, who is known for dumping a cauldron (marmite) of boiling vegetable soup from her window onto the invaders. Ever since, chocolate marmites have been made and broken on December 12th — among other festivities — to commemorate the city’s victory… giving Geneva’s chocolate makers centuries to perfect many variations of the celebrated marmite, including some that are stuffed with candy or vegetable-shaped marzipan. If you find yourself looking for one in Geneva this December, check out Martel in Carouge, which was founded in 1818, or Favarger, founded in Geneva in 1826.

Pavés, princesses and… dustbins?
While just as iconic in Genevan chocolate traditions, the pavé itself has no ties to The Escalade. These gourmet, cocoa-dusted squares date back to a 1936 recipe from the Rangel confectionery, which was then passed on to Rohr Chocolates, where they are still made (by hand!) according to the original recipe. Rohr is also the inventor of another surprising local speciality: the chocolate poubelle (dustbin), a bin-shaped chocolate shell that contains a soft, truffled heart. If enjoying a chocolate dustbin doesn’t sound tempting, you may be more apt to try an Amande Princess, invented by chocolate maker Auer before being picked up by other chocolate shops in the city. This delight features roasted and caramelised almonds that are coated in milk chocolate and dusted in cocoa powder.

A full chocolate journey
As chocolate is an age-old tradition in Geneva, there are infinite ways to enjoy it while exploring the city. The “Choco Pass” gives holders access to special tasting plates created by the best and most famous local chocolate makers, including Stettler & Castrischer, Du Rhône, La Bonbonnière, Favarger, Zeller, Guillaume Bichet, Canonica, and Sweetzerland Chocolatier to name a few. Visit them all and enjoy a beautiful stroll around the city (to help you digest). You could also explore the School of Chocolate at La Bonbonnière, which offers multiple kinds of themed workshops for both children and adults.

If you wish to savour cacao in a more ritualistic manner, consider a mystical ceremony with a local yogi. According to ancient Central American practices, cacao opens the heart and encourages relaxation, as ceremonial cacao contains tryptophan (an amino acid that’s usually cooked out of chocolate), which raises serotonin levels in the body.

And to take your chocolate journey even further, consider a visit to the Genevan countryside where Orfève awaits in Satigny. Founded by two lovers (in life and of chocolate), the company has made a name for itself by mastering every single step of the chocolate making process, down to sourcing the cacao beans directly from the growers themselves. From selection and roasting, to breaking and milling, Caroline and François-Xavier have mastered every step in the hopes of making the best chocolate bars in the world.

Next up on the chocolate tour is the Vaud village of Perroy, which offers both stunning views of Lake Geneva and fantastic chocolate by Tristan, an internationally renowned cacao bean expert, who also happened to be trained at Rohr in Geneva. And of course, no chocolate journey is complete without a visit to Cailler’s World of Chocolate in Broc (the Gruyère district in the canton of Fribourg). Although this large-scale, world-famous brand is no longer artisanal by trade, the history and magic of Swiss chocolate making is brought to life at their chocolate factory via all of your senses — including a tasting of course.