Mornings on Zugersee are restoratively quiet. There is a while after sunrise when the sun is still behind the mountains, and the sky glows a pastel blue/yellow, spilling out onto the misty lake. It sounds like a dream, but it’s not. At least, I don’t think it is. But based on how wonderful the past week traveling around Switzerland has been, I can’t be too sure.
We’ve been to Bern, Basel, Montreux, and now Zug/Luzern (Zugersee means Lake Zug), singing for audiences along the way, enjoying the hospitality of our amazing homestays, eating way too much good food, marveling at the beauty of the landscape and the cities everywhere we go, revelling in the civility of train travel, and generally having an amazing time. We’re off to Leysin in the alps near Lac Léman tomorrow for the weekend, hoping there will still be good snow to ski, then we’re heading to Milan on Tuesday for the rest of the week.
My only concern is how excessively I have surpassed my body’s quotas for dairy, pastry, and coffee. Poor ol’ belly’s taking a beating, a veritable onslaught of delicacy. But hey, who knows when I’ll be in Europe next, right? Gotta make the most of it while I can. One can simply not get a proper espresso just anywhere, let alone a worthwhile croissant. So I’ve eaten more cheese in the past few days than probably the past month or more — that’s ok though, because there are so many different types and it’s all good and it’s all edifying!
But it’s building up more than just my experience or palate, let me tell you. 🙂
A couple days ago when we were in Montreux, we had free time between a concert in the morning and a workshop at night, and I spent the afternoon exploring the town. It was a warm sunny day, and it seemed like everyone was out walking their dog or strolling with their family along the lakefront promenade. It was pretty idyllic. Aside from exploring a chateau on a hill overlooking the town, writing and reading down by the lake, getting many great photo-ops (including a man with his five dogs of all different sizes and breeds), I found two chocolateries where I picked up some delicious souvenirs to bring back. I’ve been self-conscious of being only barely proficient in both French and German while traveling throughout Switzerland, so I was excited when the staff in both shops spoke to me only in French and I understood more or less everything they were telling me. Though I’m sure they figured out I wasn’t a native speaker (even based on what little I actually said), it felt good to try and hold a conversation. Sometimes, if it’s only a brief interaction, there is an interesting feeling of being perceived as a local/native speaker; it’s a sort of unintentional, benign deception that’s kind of exciting. Maybe someday I’ll actually be able to speak French and keep up the ruse for longer.
In any case, some of this chocolate was good. Like, really good. One of the stores I went to had easily over thirty different grades of pure bar chocolate, ranging from 40-50% milks to a luxurious, potent 85% dark, with cacao from many different areas of the world — some that I hadn’t even heard of, let alone tasted. The woman in the shop led me through a tasting of many of these. I eventually settled on an 80% blend of three different beans, with a good snap, a very long melt, and notes of roasting coffee and humus. Then, she led me to the wall with all of their flavoured bars. These were more rustic, like barks, and there were again easily over thirty kinds. She let me try their lavender, lemongrass, and insisted I try the salted caramel (her favourite). I settled on the tonka bean though, because even though she was out of samples so I couldn’t taste it, I have been wanting to try tonka bean for a while and this seemed like the next best thing to actually buying a tonka bean itself, which I’m sure would prove a little more difficult. I also got a ginger truffle that I enjoyed by the lake.
I had another, more local chocolate adventure a while ago now, back in January, at Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn. I had learned about it last summer and had been wanting to go ever since. So the first weekend back after winter break, I went down to the city and C and I went on an adventure to Brooklyn together, stopping off at Mast Bros. in between lunch at Bakeri and furniture shopping for his new apartment at Junk.
As we opened the door we were met with a blast of warm air and the intense smell of roasting cacao. The interior was full of rough-hewn wood, unfinished floors, with accents of glass and metal; the sort of design I really like. They had a long glass display case with different types of chocolate to try, always surrounded by a gaggle of eager customers. And their wrappers are so cool and well-designed — colourful, tasteful prints ensconcing hand-wrapped gold foil. I couldn’t get over the smell though. It was the most rich, luxurious, rustic smell all at once, and I wanted to bottle it up and take it with me everywhere.
We tried almost every bar, and I ended up settling on three: almond & sea salt, cocoa nib, and black truffle. Each of the bars had the same rich, earthy, espresso flavour that the whole store smelled of — it was a potent flavour with a tang at the end, like a good espresso. All three flavours definitely worked: the rich nuttiness of the almonds complemented the earthiness of the chocolate, with the sea salt magnifying the pairing’s intensity and bringing out the savouriness of both; the cocoa nibs had that lovely crunchy give to them that lent a beautiful texture to the snappy yet smooth chocolate, not to mention their divine bitterness that I love; but probably my favourite was the black truffle — a combination that in other renderings could come across as trite, but in this one there was nothing but success. They managed to coax the aroma of the black truffle to both float above the chocolate and lie underneath it as it melted on the tongue. It was not to faint nor too overpowering, but balanced with the chocolate perfectly and they each brought out the other’s earthy qualities, with the slightly acetic finish from their roasting and tempering technique tying both flavours together. It was an experience. I tried to share it with as many of my friends who would appreciate it as possible. Though I have some Swiss chocolate to bring back with me, I may very well have to make a trip back to Mast Brothers soon to pick up more.
The opening begins…
(notice the purity of the ingredients list)
a little more…
How could I not open the others —
It reminds me of a zen rock garden. Of chocolate.
Now you see why I have to go back soon. Hit me up and I’ll bring you some back. And check out their website — what do you think your favourite would be?