How far would you travel for a certain food item? Down the road? To a city across the country? How about to another country? That’s what I did for chocolate. Not just any chocolate that you can get at your newsagents. But chocolate that includes flavours like, Blue Poppyseed, Peanut Nougat with Potato Vodka and Strawberry, Bacon Bits, Cheese, Walnut and Grapes from the brilliant and bonkers mind of Josef Zotter. About an hour and a half drive from Vienna (depending on how slow you’re driving in your hire car) is the beautiful area of Graz. A stunning drive through national parks and lush mountains with grazing cattle.
Josef Zotter, set up Zotter in 1992 when he invented the hand scooped chocolates. This way of layering flavours and textures that could be cut and dipped in a small workshop with minimal need for high tech kit when stating out (now they have a dancing chocolate robot, but more on that later!) In 2001, Zotter starts to work with more farmers producing his cocoa, to help projects like ‘Cocoa instead of Cocaine’ in vulnerable areas of production. This leads to 2007 being a big investment into the production of bean to bar to control the quality and ethics of the production at every step, being the first to produce solely organic and fair trade quality. The same year there is an expansion of the Choc Shop Theatre at the factory in Graz, where visitors can experience chocolate being made from bean to bar with tasting station at each step. In 2011, the Edible Zoo opens at the factory, 27 hectares of ‘adventure farming’ which provides produces for visitors meals. With the brilliant motto on the menus – ‘If you can’t look at your dinner in the eye, we have salads’.
The factory has just beautiful views of the surrounding area, that I was definitely considering leaving a CV at the front desk, a step up of the views of the factories I work in! As we wait to head into the theatre, ‘hidden’ tasting of caramels are waiting for the trying, including a fish and coconut caramel…can’t say I was a fan! But with over 300 tasting throughout the factory tour, I wouldn’t be going without any chocolate at all.
Sitting on cocoa sac cushions in the Cocoa Cinema to learn more of the beginnings of Zotter and the history and know-how of where cocoa comes from to really whet your appetite to what to come in the factory.
Moving through to the factory collecting a ceramic ‘kissing’ spoon to carry through for all the delicious samples of liquid nectar. From a 100% cocoa solids fountain, so enticing but oh so bitter at this point! Working through the steps to turning this bitter raw product to something utterly delicious we all enjoy nibbling on. A personal highlight was the liquid nougat fountain pouring from spoon to spoon, so mesmerising and the best screensaver ever created.
The tour continues working through tastings of different percentages and origins as well as the vibrant and flavoursome fruit chocolates on our kissing spoons.
There are even giant Zotter bars on the roof of the factory!
Then we planted ourselves at the Hand Scooped panorama, where samples of the wide range of hand-scooped bars travel around to be plucked from the travelling tray and sampled. Whilst overseeing the magical ladies making chocolate lollies in the below factory. This helped focus the shopping decisions later after visiting the Edible Zoo.
Needing something savoury after that mega sugar and chocolate rush, we went for the Edible Zoo Starters – Zotter Zoo Dry Cured Ham ‘on air’, Air Dried Meat from the Pasture Sheep, Lardo from Mangalistsa Pigs with Rosemary, Marinated Sheep’s Cheese with olives and oregano, Dry-cured Shaggy Highland Cattle Ham and Lucky Pig Bacon! All so flavoursome and the quality of the meat just shone through and lovely to watch the happy animals stroll in the lovely hillsides.
Being in food product development a particular favourite area was the Graveyard of Ideas. Actual tombstones for ideas of flavours and bars that didn’t quite make it in the big chocolate world. From the sounds of some, it wasn’t a bad thing that they had ‘died’ out!
Then came the serious work of the trip. No messing around now. The Shop. Bars and bars of all sorts of cocoa percentages, origins, dietary needs, inclusions, ice creams, lollies, hot chocolates and injectable caramels all under one glorious roof! I had checked with my chocolate pen pals before I left for Zotter’s for any bars they couldn’t get in their own countries and been desperate to try. It was so interesting to see what flavours and inclusions appealed to different people. We took the most time carefully selecting gifts for friends and gifts for ourselves, weighing up all the options vs. the weight allowance and free space in our hand luggage. I bought myself seven different bars including a Gin & Tonic, Blue Poppyseed, Passionfruit & Thyme and even a Vienna bar. You’ll have to check out my December chocolate advent posts to see my reviews of all my lovely bars.
If you didn’t stock up enough in the shop, don’t worry as there is the most wonderful vending machine outside, full of Zotter bars!
It was such a wonderful day and so pleased to have travelled to visit the factory and the Edible Zoo, coming away with not just a great stock of delicious bars to tuck into with friends and family but a deeper knowledge of the production of these wonderful and Zany Zotter bars!
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