I’ve never been to a chocolate factory, so when I heard that there was one near Graz, I definitely put it on my list of places to go. The train that goes there from Graz only runs on the weekdays, so I decided to go last Monday.
We rode the train for about an hour before we got off in a city called Feldbach, where we waited a few minutes before taking the local bus to the chocolate factory.
It was a grey and cloudy day, but riding through the endless rolling hills of the Austrian countryside was as captivating as ever. I was able to see all the seasons from outside the window; there were trees with golden yellow leaves growing on bright green hills, and in the horizon there were tall blue snowcapped mountains. I even saw a castle at the top of a hill in the distance! At some point, I remembered we were only supposed to be on the bus for a few minutes, but it was already too late. We got off as soon as we realized we had missed our stop, but we were already two kilometers away from the chocolate factory. The buses don’t run very often out in the country, so we had no other choice but to walk.
What seemed like an unfortunate inconvenience soon became an extraordinary experience. As soon as we got off the bus, all I could hear was the gentle sound of the leaves crackling as they blew in the wind. Every few minutes a car drove by and blew the leaves up quickly and loudly in the air, but shortly after, they drifted slowly back down until they gently landed on the ground once again. How inconvenient that we got off at the wrong stop, right? How terrible that we had to walk almost half an hour in the Austrian countryside on such a beautiful Autumn day.
When I first read about the chocolate factory, I read there was also an “edible farm.” Since it was all about chocolate, I guess I just assumed the edible farm would be chocolate animals? I imagined walking through a “chocolate zoo” where there were chocolate sculptures and figurines of various animals like giraffes and hippos. Well, I was just a little bit off.
Zotter’s Chocolate Factory focuses on sustainable manufacturing and distribution of chocolate, but they also take it one step further. They have a sustainable farm (actual animals) that they tend to and eat from. Sounds morbid at first, right? To eat the animals that you feed and take care of? After they explained it to us though, it made a lot more sense. Don’t you want to know where your meat comes from? Well they figure the best way to know is to raise the animals yourself. They know what they fed them and what kind of conditions they were raised in, so when the time comes, they also know what they’re eating.
This small lunch they prepared was made of only meat from their edible farm, and it was delicious. After we finished, we made our way to the “chocolate theater,” where they played a video telling us about the founder of the factory, Josef Zotter, and a little bit about the history of the company and how it started.
One of the really nice things about being there during the Fall was that there weren’t a lot of visitors, so it felt like we had the whole factory to ourselves. After the video, we were given an audio guide, a brochure, and a glass spoon, and welcomed into the chocolate factory.
So, what was the glass spoon for? We were wondering too, but it did’t take us too long to find out.
The factory walked us through the entire chocolate making process, starting with the beans. The first room showed coffee beans from all over the world from Madagascar to Ecuador.
You could sample as many beans as you wanted, but after just a couple, I didn’t want to anymore. Chocolate beans are really bitter, and they don’t taste like the “chocolate” that we know and love. Eager to see what was next, we made our way up the stairs to the next section of the factory, where we figured out what the glass spoons they gave us were for.
There were chocolate fountains everywhere. Rows and rows of every flavor of chocolate from white to 100% dark and from coffee to fruit to caramel.
If you haven’t already guessed, here’s what the spoon was for:
The chocolate was so warm and rich that I just couldn’t get enough. There was even a row of all the milk chocolate/dark chocolate combinations possible (it started at 30% cocoa and went up to 100% in 10 % increments). I learned that my favorite milk chocolate is 50% cocoa. It has the sweet milkiness of milk chocolate, but also the yummy flavor of the cocoa. Any less than that tasted “milked down,” and any more than that I considered not to be milk chocolate anymore. I do love dark chocolate, too, but I guess it just depends on the day. I enjoyed the flavor of dark chocolate all the way up to around 70%, but after that it was too much. I even tried the 100% just for kicks, but I quickly ran to one of the many water fountains throughout the factory to rinse the nutty bitter flavor out.
At this point, I had really started to pace myself. I felt the sugar rush coming in, so i slowed down and took my time with each sample. I also only poured a small dot sized glob into my spoon. My boyfriend Zefr, on the other hand, who came with me, was filling up his spoon all the way for each sample. He was getting really full on chocolate, but we were both equally as surprised to find out that once we had finished with all the chocolate fountains, we were only half way through with our chocolate experience.
The next stop was drinkable chocolate!
There’s Zefr when he finally realized that he wasn’t going to be able to taste every single chocolate sample they had.
The drinkable chocolate was served at a bar and it was sort of the halfway break of the tour. There were chairs for you to take a break, and a nice window to enjoy the beautiful view of the edible zoo outside.
There were also a little conveyer belt around the room with chocolate bars you could chose from to make your “drinkable chocolate.” I chose the green tea chocolate bar off the small tray, and took it over to the chocolate “bartender.”
She heated up a glass of hot milk, put the chocolate bar in, and stirred it up until it melted.
It was delicious. The green tea was a white chocolate based bar, so it was a little sweet and didn’t have that strong cocoa taste. I enjoyed the drink so much, that I bought a few of those green tea drinkable chocolates to take home with me from the gift shop.
After we had recovered (for the most part), we moved on to the final part of the tour: the solid bars of chocolate.
There must have been hundreds. There were rooms and rooms full of rows of these machines with huge chocolate bars in them. You had to pull the lever on the side to crack the chocolate, and it would dispense a small sample for you to taste.
At first I was just eating as much chocolate I could, but then I noticed this sign on the wall:
I thought back to the video we had watched, where Mr. Zotter, the chocolatier, had explained to us how we should sample the chocolate. You’re supposed to put the small piece under your tongue, let it melt, and enjoy the taste and the flavor.
After I started doing that, I could taste the difference in the chocolates more. It also gave me a chance to slow down, and in the long run, sample way more chocolate 🙂
Over two hours later, we were finally finished with all our chocolate sampling! We returned our audioguides and headed out for a tour of the edible farm.
Zefr really needed a break…too much chocolate!
The edible farm was one of my favorite parts because of the beautiful scenery and animals. There was no one out there except us because it was a little bit chilly, so we made a loop around all the farm all by ourselves.
Those are just some of the animals we saw. We also used the iPhone self-timer to take some nice pictures with all the autumn colors. It was a great day to eat a ton of chocolate in the Austrian countryside with Zefr 🙂