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Last update on January 08, 2020

You may eat Swiss chocolate regularly – but how much do you know about the origins of Swiss chocolate?

Switzerland has a long tradition of emigration, so it is not surprising that Swiss chocolate makers took their skills abroad. It is perhaps surprising just how early chocolate emigration started. The first emigrants came from what are now cantons Ticino and Graubünden, peripheral regions where life was particularly hard and which had a long tradition of exporting their labour. Both of these areas also had close ties with northern Italy, the home of the best confectioners in the 18th century: this was where the Swiss chocolate makers learned the skills which they then spread throughout Europe.

Chocolate makers from Graubünde

Among the first Swiss pioneers of chocolate making were the Josty brothers from Graubünden, who made their reputation in Berlin. They opened a confectionery and chocolate business there in the early 1800s which was soon well known, not least for what one customer described as their ‘really first rate’ chocolate. Josty’s is mentioned enthusiastically in the writings of Heinrich Heine and Theodor Fontane. In the early 20th century it was the meeting place for politicians, artists and writers. Erich Kästner wrote his famous children’s novel Emil and the Detectives on its terrace. For 80 years Daniel Josty even had a street named after him in central Berlin near the site of the brewery which he also founded. The name was lost when rebuilding changed the layout of the area in 1969.

Other confectioners from Graubünden worked in Russia; the great poet Alexander Pushkin drank a cup of chocolate at the Café Chinois of Salomon Wolf and Tobias Béranger in St Petersburg just before his fatal duel in 1837. Also from Graubünden, the Cloetta brothers opened their first chocolate factory in Copenhagen in 1862; their business soon spread to Sweden and Norway. Another Swiss, Karl Fazer, established a patisserie in Helsinki in 1891 and developed into a major confectionery producer. Today Cloetta-Fazer – the two merged in 2000 – dominates the Scandinavian market and is well known in Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries.

Chocolate makers from Ticino

Emigres from the Blenio Valley in canton Ticino set up businesses in cities in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. They also had great success in London with a number of cafés and restaurants serving chocolate. Queen Victoria was reported to have been greatly impressed by the chocolate making machine belonging to the Ticinese owners of a café in Charing Cross, which they showed at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Chocolate with Swiss roots

If any country rivals Switzerland for the reputation of its chocolates, it is Belgium – but even the famous Belgian pralines have Swiss roots. The story started in 1857 when Jean Neuhaus of Neuchâtel settled in Brussels and started business as a pharmacist, making such items as cough drops and liquorice sticks for stomach aches. It was Jean’s son, Frédéric, who persuaded his father to move into confectionery, and his grandson, also Jean, who in 1912 invented the bite-sized chocolate which he called the praline and went on to develop an ever greater range of cream fillings. Neuhaus is still one of Belgium’s premier chocolate producers.

Yet another classic chocolate, though of a very different kind, has Swiss roots buried deep in its past: Milton Herschey, of American chocolate bar fame, had Swiss ancestors. He was descended from Christian Hirschi, who fled to Pennsylvania in 1672 to escape religious persecution.