You see that distinctive beige triangular box and immediately you just know its going to be good, and unless you have the will power of Lance Armstrong, you know you are not going to stop with one square, err triangle portion, but settle in for the long haul. You know what I am talking about, resistance is futile… that all around unique candy bar – Toblerone. Not only is it’s shape unlike any other chocolate bar, but there is no confusing its flavor. Toblerone is a Swiss chocolate bar that is immediately recognizable because of its unique shape and packaging. I’ve been reading a lot about marketing strategy lately, and it struck me as a classic example of a marketing success story – if you just have the box, and hide the name, everyone knows what can be found within; if you do a blind taste test, folks familiar with the flavor can tell you the candy.
What’s in a name?
“Toblerone” is a play on the names “Tobler” + “Torrone“, the Italian word for honey and almond nougat. Tobler being the surname of the company founder.
Why a triangle?
The official version states that the chocolate bar owes its triangular shape to the famous Swiss Mountains of The Matterhorn. The unofficial version is that on Theodore Tobler’s frequent business trips to Paris, he visited the shows at the Folies Bergères. The shows’ finale featured the red and beige clad dancers forming a human pyramid, was the inspiration for his “ah-ha” moment.
Regardless of its genesis, this brilliant marketing idea, and the Toblerone name were quickly patented, making the Toblerone chocolate bar the first chocolate product to have this distinction. Tobler moved quickly and in 1909 also registered Toblerone as a brand name in Switzerland.
So what of this country that produced this wonderful sweet? Switzerland is a country of incredible beauty, and diversity brought on in part in its quest for neutrality and independence. The time I spent there only stoked my desire for further exploration. The
country, thanks to its prime location, enjoys tremendous natural resources and beauty. Its a land of multiple personalities, and each one is worth knowing. In some respects, it is a composite of Europe with its French, Italian and Germany cultural regions. Not one, but four languages are officially spoken: French, German, Italian and Romansh. Switzerland is further divided into 26 cantons, each with their own constitution, legislature, government and courts. Which leads me to my next observation…
Switzerland’s strong goal towards neutrality makes for some challenging business situations, especially for those not familiar with its attributes. I worked in Switzerland some years ago, and was responsible for the construction of a telecom site that required hiring contractors in construction, electrical, plumbing, and the like. I discovered that contractors must be hired locally – I had hoped to piggyback of the success of a colleague and hire the contractors he worked with in Geneva (my project was in Zurich). To my chagrin, I could not make that hire. Each city has its own building codes – so no regulations are governed at the national level. To find an expert in the building codes, local contractors are about the only option, and this sort of local expertise extends beyond business into the realm of food.
A sampling of cuisine (by region)
When most people think of Swiss food, what immediately springs to mind are images of cheese and chocolate. Many Swiss cheeses are justly famous – take for example Emmental cheese, Gruyère, Vacherin, and Appenzeller. Of course with that wonderful ingredient, inspiration strikes and dishes such as are fondue and raclette are developed. Swiss chocolate covers the gamut as well with: Lindt, Suchard, Cailler, Sprungli, well you get the idea. The bulk of what is produced and shared with the world so when you walk into your grocer you might be able to take home a bit of Switzerland.
Dishes from the French part of Switzerland
Cantons include Geneva and Vaude.
Papet vaudois is very filling as a pork sausage, leek and potato hotpot. ‘Papet vaudois’, leeks with potatoes, served with Saucisson (sausage)/
Fondue is probably the most famous Swiss dish. Fondue is made out of melted cheese. It is eaten by dipping small pieces of bread or potatoes in the melted cheese.
Raclette is a variation of fondue, and is melted cheese dribbled over potatoes, served with small gherkins or pickles, pickled onions etc.
Tarts and quiches are also traditional Swiss dishes. Tarts in particular are made with all sorts of toppings, from sweet apple to onion.
Cervelas (made of beef and pork) is considered the national sausage, and is popular throughout Switzerland – to the tune of over 160 million links consumed annually.
Dishes from the German part of Switzerland
Älplermagronen: (Alpine herdsman’s macaroni) is a frugal one pot meal using ingredients found in the herdsmen’s alpine cottages: macaroni, potatoes, onions, bacon, and melted cheese. Traditionally Älplermagronen is served with applesauce rather than vegetables or salad.
Dishes from the Italian part of Switzerland
The Ticino canton is the only Italian speaking canton in Switzerland, and as you can imagine pizza and pasta are very popular, both here and around Switzerland. It is almost entirely surrounded by Italy, hence the heavy influence, as a result the
predominate language is Italian but not without a twist. Given the French and German presence in Switzerland some of their words have been assimilated into the local dialect.
Polenta: For centuries polenta was regarded as a meal for the poor. While corn was introduced back in the 17th century, it took another 200 years before polenta – initially made with flour added, only later of pure cornmeal – became a staple of the area.
Saffron Risotto: A typical dish from Ticino
In this region, one will finds a restaurant unique to the region, called a grotto, so you will see Grotto Ticinese. This restaurant is a rustic eatery, offering traditional food ranging from pasta to homemade meat specialties. Popular dishes include artisanal sausages called Luganighe and Luganighetta. Authentic grottoes are old wine caves repurposed into restaurants, and commonly found around forests and built against a rocky background. Typically, the facade is granite blocks and the outside tables and benches are made of the same material. Grottoes are popular with locals and tourists alike.
Dishes from the Graubünden Canton in Switzerland
This canton borders Liechtenstein and Austria, with only one third of its land available for use, the rest is forests and mountains. Some corn and chestnut farming takes place, along with some wine production around the capital.
Chur Meat Pie: A popular dish from Graubünden in south eastern Switzerland. Chur is the capital of this canton.
Graubünden Barley Soup: The famous soup from Graubünden
Pizokel with cabbage: Pizokel were eaten in a wide variety of ways. In some places when eaten by themselves they are known in Romansh as “bizochels bluts”, or “bald pizokel”. If someone leaves a small amount of any kind of food on the serving dish for politeness sake, in the Engadine this is called “far sco quel dal bizoccal”, meaning “leaving the last pizokel”.
Bündner Nusstorte: a honey and nut tart.
Bündnerfleisch: a dried-beef specialty
The diversty is part of what makes the Swiss, well Swiss. They say that what is important is “unity not uniformity” and when the results this delicious and delightful, I think they’re on to something.