Zermatt’s “Madame Chocolat”
A spontaneous summer weekend adventure (and a birthday) found my husband and me on the Glacier Express, perhaps Switzerland’s most famous – and spectacular – train ride across the country, the complete line going from St. Moritz to Zermatt. We had been dreaming of taking this train since we arrived in Zürich in 2008. (A birthday that year had us on the Bernina Express. Yes, we like trains.)
I hadn’t been to Zermatt since a tennis tour in 1995, when one by one, we 15 year olds took the obligatory photo, arms outstretched in front of the Matterhorn. I’m sure you would all recognize that triangular peak, forever immortalized on Toblerone bars found all over the world, from the highest-end food shops in Switzerland to Bed, Bath & Beyond in the USA. We set off to Zermatt primarily to enjoy a day on the train itself (word of advice to photographers: bring filters for window reflections) and to see friends. But as you all know, no adventure of mine is complete without checking out the local sweet scene. So read on for where to get your chocolate fix in Zermatt,… sans Toblerone.
The friend I was visiting in Zermatt was Marion Mennig-Schweizer, whose in-laws run Zum See, a popular mountain restaurant above the village. (You’ll meet her and the whole family in the next post, stay tuned !) Unfortunately having missed Zermatt’s 14th annual folklore parade (an 11:30am to 4pm lunch will do that), we found a perfect people-watching spot at Boîte à Chocolat on the main street, where we caught a few folklore groups dressed in traditional outfits, heading to the train station, still smiling and humming after the day’s festivities. Not to mention a few straggling alphorns too.
Marion, a Basler herself, introduced me to the shop owner, Marie-Christine Taugwalder (seen above), whose mother is also from Basel but father from Zermatt. (Another bond for the ladies, Zum See was Marie-Christine’s grandparents’ summer home). I suppose I wasn’t surprised to see she carried Beschle chocolate from Basel, the entire line of twenty bars on the shelf. Most were familiar, like my favorite Beschle bar – dark chocolate with pistachios and fleur de sel; while some were new to me, like dark chocolate with açaí, the Brazilian fruit, and milk chocolate with Tonka bean and orange. The selection in the shop changes with the seasons, including both handmade chocolate and more playful confections; and at the moment, there is an excellent variety of brands, including Nobile, Idilio Origins, Villars, Aeschbach and Coppeneur.
Following years as a fashion designer and children’s clothing store owner, Marie-Christine followed her passion as an amateur cook and opened her chocolate shop on Zermatt’s Bahnhofstrasse in 2008, giving herself a new title, “Madame Chocolat.” In a small kitchen below the shop, she bakes her signature flourless chocolate cake, using 70% Valrhona chocolate and her great great grandmother’s recipe, handwritten in a leather journal; and she melts dark, milk and white Valrhona chocolate to make slabs with different nuts or other ingredients. She also spends time upstairs above the shop behind the stylish bar, where ordering a hot chocolate isn’t quite as simple as: with or without whipped cream. The menu (above) lists almost twenty varieties for the beverage, made with couverture, a chocolate stick or flavored pralines.
Or she will be standing among the different products lining her shelves, including hollow Matterhorn chocolates with a bit of a crunch from pieces of waffle (below), happily taking the time to help customers get just what they want, whether that be an ice cream, pastry or piece of chocolate. She loves what she is doing now and it shows. “My clients all come back.” With a selection like she has, I can certainly see why.
Boîte à Chocolat