Chocolates with the Pure Taste of Switzerland
It’s been several years that I have been tasting, sharing and praising Max Chocolatier. It was about time I made the pilgrimage to Lucerne to get a closer look. And to taste some more.
And so, within an hour of leaving Zürich by train, I was walking across Lucerne’s iconic wooden bridges with camera in hand, patiently waiting for Max Chocolatier’s shop on the Schweizerhofquai to open.
It turned out to be a perfect time for a visit, on a quiet weekday morning in the small chocolate laboratory upstairs from the shop. Matthias Frész, Chef Chocolatier, along with chocolatiers Tabita Schenker and Maria Wittman, were busy dipping, pouring and boxing. Fresh aromas of melting chocolate and roasted nuts filled the small space, trays upon trays with fresh pralines invited hands for tasting, and views over Lake Lucerne and the Alps completed the scene.
Handmade. Swiss. 100% natural. Unique.
Starting with couverture from Felchlin, the very best chocolate factory in Switzerland, Max Chocolatier sources the finest of ingredients, always local when possible. (They use twelve different varieties from Felchlin, including one made exclusively for them – Madagascar 68%, conched for 72 hours). Using not only chocolate from Schwyz, cream from the Napf region and honey from St. Niklausen, but even Swiss oak and Valais granite make up the shop’s interior design. These values have been the pillars of Max Chocolatier since Patrick König founded the company in 2009, naming it after his son, Max. Even the x in the logo is a unique form, and hand stamped on many of the chocolates.
Local, all natural, fresh and seasonal too. Four collections are introduced throughout the year, each season showcasing different ingredients and recipes. And while some truffles and pralines may keep for a couple of months, it’s recommended to eat them within 5 weeks to savor the ingredients at their freshest. That is, if they even last that long.
If you’re like me, you prefer to bite into a thick bar of chocolate rather than one that’s paper thin. However, Matthias will have you thinking differently. The thinner it is, the better, he insists. You taste the chocolate, not eat it. You’ll better experience the subtle flavors and textures that you may not have otherwise. SchoggiPlättli are small, ultra thin squares of chocolate, that allow you to have this taste sensation. Now that summer is (finally) here, they come in combinations like dark chocolate with cranberry and chilli, and white chocolate with candied rose petals. CaramelPlättli, another Max Chocolatier signature, are likewise small squares, and with a thin layer of caramel. You’ll find them with blood orange or balsamic vinegar in the winter, chestnut or coffee in autumn, and raspberry or alpine hay in the summer.
Hay ?! Hay. This was the chocolate I was most interested in tasting. It was smooth, not too sweet and a flavor I couldn’t quite compare to anything I had tasted before. I asked Matthias how he would describe it. “You climb up a mountain and take a deep breath – fresh air, herbs, flowers… it’s breathing in the Alps. That’s the taste.” The pure taste of Switzerland.
While the ever popular CaramelPlättli with Tahiatian vanilla and fleur de sel was a clear winner (and thankfully available during all four seasons), my very favorite taste of the day was a chocolate I’m going to have to wait another year to enjoy ! From one of the last spring batches, a square praline with a soft pink dusting on top revealed a layer of hazelnut gianduja with tiny frozen raspberry pieces, below a layer of fig jam. It was extraordinary. And a good example of Max Chocolatier’s chocolates – multiple layers of flavors and textures, surprising ingredients inside and a perfect balance in the end.
Last but certainly not least, a mention of the man who inspired it all, founder Patrik König’s father. His secret family recipe lives on in the shop, for none other than … mini gugelhopf (or kugelhopf, as I would call them, of course !). Sundays in the König family were not complete without Nonno’s traditional Gugelhöpfli (made with vanilla and sultanas), and a visit to the shop in Lucerne wouldn’t be complete for me without one either.
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* SWEET SCOOP: this fall, Max Chocolatier will be available at Zürich’s Globus on Bahnhofstrasse and at Bellevue too !