In 1819, chocolatier François-Louis Cailler founded Switzerland’s very first chocolate company. While non-Swiss folks might not have heard of Maison Cailler, they’ve most certainly heard of the food giant, Nestlé, which is named after another Swiss founder, Henri Nestlé. The Cailler chocolate company was purchased by Nestlé in 1929, absorbed into what has become one of the largest food corporations in the world. But in the tiny town of Broc, Switzerland, the sign on top of this old chocolate factory still says “Cailler” and folks travel from all over the world to learn about its history and enjoy the all-you-can-eat sugar bonanza that awaits in the tasting room at the end of the tour.
I’m not gonna lie – we were there for the free chocolate samples.
Well, I shouldn’t speak for our two friends, Larisa and Romi, who accompanied us. But Travis and I were all about the samples. What is so attractive about free stuff? Even when I don’t particularly want what’s being given, if it’s free, suddenly I have to have it! So on a remarkably warm day in April, the four of us headed for Maison Cailler.
After buying slightly overpriced tickets in their bizarre, futuristic outdoor dome, we entered the main building with its wall-to-wall array of shiny, colorful chocolate bars, tins, and tourist items along every wall. Though there’s no shortage of Cailler chocolate in Switzerland, we of course took advantage of their buy-three-get-one-free deal to send some to folks back home.
Even though we hadn’t even started the official 30 minute-tour yet, I found what would be my very favorite thing at Maison Cailler – a carving of an alpine ibex (common in Switzerland) which stood nearly a meter tall in its case and was made entirely of chocolate. Amazing! It’s a good thing he was safely stashed away in his glass case or I would have nibbled off part of his horn.
When the tour started, we fell in with a group of folks, all holding audio guides up to our ears to listen in our respective languages. For the next twenty minutes or so, we passed from room to room, each laid out in chronological order to illustrate the history of chocolate from its earliest pre-Mayan beginnings to its introduction in Europe in the 16th century and on to modern day production.
Exiting the last room of the “official tour,” we entered a large room with interactive displays. Different wooden cases were filled with cacao beans, different nuts, vanilla, and other ingredients used in making chocolate confections. It was fun being able to grab a handful of cacao beans to smell them and feel the oily chunks of cocoa butter.
The final section was a short walk along a conveyor belt where little log-shaped candies passed under a chocolate waterfall, were dried, and then were sealed in shiny, colorful wrappers. An employee waiting at the end of the line sat boxing up the final product, setting aside a fair number for a basket of free samples near the machine.
As nifty as all this was, I was a bit disappointed. Where was the Chocolate Room? When were we going to see Oompa Loompas? Did Maison Cailler really not have a Great Glass Elevator? Rivers of chocolate? Blueberries with children’s faces and limbs rolling along?
Apparently not. In fact, the actual chocolate production room was just a quiet, glassed-off room filled with industrial equipment, none of which was moving at all. At least the cocoa mixer was bright and colorful.
The tour ended on a good note though. I’m sure you can guess why. The very last room is the free samples room! Coincidentally, it was my favorite room and the one where we spent the most time.
Of course, just like with any good buffet, my dreams of how much free chocolate I could consume were not realistic. After 4 or 5 pieces, I was pretty much chocolated out. We stuffed “just one more piece” in our mouths, and Travis smiled to show me his beautiful brown teeth.
That alone was worth the visit.
Know Before You Go
Maison Cailler is located at Rue Jules Bellet 7, 1636 Broc, Switzerland. Tel. +41.026.921.5960
A single adult ticket costs 12 chf. 9 chf for students, disabled, elderly. Free for youth under age 16.