Our Styrian Adventure: Part One
If you love chocolate and want to taste some of the very best in the world, then a trip to Josef Zotter’s is a must. Put down your huge bars of Cadburys or Hershey and ask yourself, don’t you deserve to eat great chocolate and find out what it tastes like?
You don’t need to be a chemist or a chef, your taste buds will tell you, and what better place to try Zotter Chocolate than the factory itself?
Zotter’s place is located in the municipality of Riegersburg in the state Styria, which is in the south-east of Austria and is often called the ‘green heart of Austria’. An enchanting all year round holiday destination with its mountains for hiking and skiing, nature reserves, history, hot thermal springs, regional cuisine and well-respected wines.
The Chocolate Factory
More than just a place of production, a visit here is an adventure that wows all of the senses. So just imagine if you combine hundreds of wonderful tasting varieties of chocolate, presented in crazy, fun ways such as taps, fountains, mini conveyor belts, mini concrete mixers then you’re beginning to get the idea.
Lots of self-proclaimed chocolatiers combine different flavours, usually combinations that have been done better years before by Zotter.
Josef Zotter has been called a genius by many of his peers but it is his playful nature that keeps making me think of Willy Wonka. His understanding of the complex and different flavour notes in chocolate and how to combine them successfully with fruits, seeds, vegetables, hemp and even wood! Has to be seen and tried to be believed.
The tour begins with a short trip into the jungle of Belize, via film, to find out about why Josef is passionate about Bean to Bar; that in order to make the best chocolate you need to start off with the very best beans. He pays 3 or 4 times the normal prices to make sure the farmers that grow for him get a good price, encouraging them to grow the very best quality. Zotter buys beans from Peru, Equador, Belize, India, several African countries and even from Asia.
‘I travel to the farms in the beginning, to Nicaragua to Costa Rica and so on I see how crazy it is for the people to live life and so on. So I create chocolate in these three parts it is organic, fair and bean to bar.’
Just like coffee beans, cocoa beans have different flavour notes: soft fruity, citrus, vanilla, caramel that make a big difference to the finished taste.
You begin your tasting tour just as Zotter begins his chocolate bars, with cocoa beans. There are dispensing machines filled with beans in their raw form (with information about the country of origin) for you to sample. This follows on to a room filled with more dispensers but now filled with liquid chocolate with different percentages of cocoa mass, from 100% plain chocolate through to 50% milk chocolate. There are also white chocolate, nougat chocolate and chocolate made from different types of milk e.g. rice and almond. As you go upstairs, just in case you were worried you weren’t going to get your fill of chocolate, there are samples interspersed conveniently at child height.
Throughout the tour, there are glass windows in which you can view the spotlessly clean factory taking you through the different processes of bean to bar. Next, we moved on to the solid bars of chocolate and tasted many of them in liquid form with our souvenir tasting spoons. These range from dark to milk, nougat, blonde to fruit chocolates (instead of using artificial flavouring Zotter uses freeze-dried berries, so the chocolate has real fruit flavour). However, this is just the beginning, as you continue eating your way through the factory you will enter various rooms dedicated to the humongous range of Zotter products from Mitzi-Blue* Turntables to Balleros ‘Cement Mixers’.
The Choco Shop
Your tour doesn’t end after you’ve sampled all of the chocolates throughout the rooms of the chocolate theatre, and perhaps bought a few bars to take home in the huge chocolate gift shop.
Xocitto & Espresso Bar
Many people agree that coffee goes very well with chocolate, so Zotter has created an expresso bar using his own roasted coffee beans. If java is not your thing and you just need a little more chocolate then maybe try ‘Xocitto’, a creamy power drink, which consists 100% of fine Ecuadorian cocoa and is frothed up with hot water directly in the blender.
Homemade Ice Cream Parlour
The organic ice cream parlour is just around the corner from the Choco Shop Theatre entrance, in the direction of the Edible Zoo. Just turn right at the corner of the building and head towards the “skywalk”. All Zotter’s ice creams and lollies are organic and made on site.
The area now called the Edible Zoo started as a farm passed down to Zotter by his parents. The site is 27 hectares of countryside, encompassing a large area of pasture and woodlands, which you can explore and see the animals (many of them rare breeds kept by Zotter). There also several play areas and places you can picnic.
I was curious to find out how the idea of the Edible Zoo came about. Josef explained: ‘One neighbour wants to sell me their farm and I say I don’t need it but they say we are really old, so I say ok I take the farm and put in some cows.’ In a short time, the one farm became five totalling 85 hectares and Zotter wondered ‘What do I do with this farm I have it now?’ He thought about his core belief in fair trade and the quality of life he could give animals he raised.
So he decided to raise chicken, ducks, geese, rabbits, sheep, fallow deer and cows on his farms and supply his own restaurant with organic, free-range ingredients. So his restaurant is self-sustaining, plus he now sells some of his farm’s produce online.
At first, the idea seemed strange to some of his visitors, because many of us these days are very disconnected from the food we eat. ‘People say: ‘Zotter I never go to the zoo with the kids. What do I say to the kids? The sheep are so lovely and you eat it?”
But gradually people realised that this was a very ethical way to run a restaurant, knowing exactly where and what is in your ingredients.
Zotter continued: ‘You understand? It is the story of what we do here, this is all one story, for the edible zoo, the same for chocolate, for the meat.’
Since 2011 the on-site restaurant has been serving meat and produce straight from the farm pastures and gardens, today it counts among the country’s most sustainable eateries. The restaurant serves a delicious range of foods, from snacks to full lunch or dinners. The food offered at the restaurant is not an afterthought as is often the case at tourist attractions, but an integral part of Zotter’s World. Even the bread and pasta are made in-house, and Head Chef Thomas who leads the team keeps bees and makes honey.
As an alternative, the park and play areas have plenty of places to sit down and enjoy your own picnic if you wish. If on the other hand, you feel the need to get some exercise after tasting all that delicious chocolate: there are plenty of walkways around this 66 acre site, or you might like to try Farmer’s Golf ( a cross between crazy golf and Wellie Wanging), or even walk up to the viewpoint at the top of the park to view the local castle.
Whilst cropping and trying to choose which of the hundreds of photographs I took to help tell the Zotter story, I realised I could see my reflection in a dessertspoon so I zoomed in and cropped the dessert photo way down and saw this……….
Our invitation was unique because we were invited to stay on-site at Zotter chocolate, staying in an apartment above the restaurant giving us a chance to sample and explore the factory and edible zoo as much as we liked. Zotter himself is not elusive and is more than happy to take pictures with children if they ask.
*And don’t forget to see Mitzi Blue, Josef’s beloved 1951 MG sports car that inspired a whole range of disk-shaped chocolate bars.
And what’s next for Zotter Chocolate we asked…
‘What are your next plans?
‘Cosmetics. But I want to make eating cosmetics’
‘Where you can eat it or paint on the skin. I cannot understand the people want to buy cosmetic really expensive and to put it on your skin and a lot of it is chemical.’
Our Styrian Adventure: Part Two
Josef was keen for us to explore other foodie destinations in Styria and with the help of his trusty PA Susan, we were able to visit Vulcano Ham and Gölles distillery which we will write about in part two of our Styrian Adventure.
If this has inspired you to plan your own visit to Zotter Chocolate:
Zotter chocolate is located in Riegersburg in the eastern part of Styria.
The nearest airport is Graz approx 55 km away alternatively Vienna is 175km away.
Opening hours: Choco Shop Theatre & Edible Zoo:
Mon-Fri: 9-19 (Last tour starts at 17 h)
Sat: 9-19 (Last tour starts at 17.30 h)
Mon-Fri: 9-20 (Last tour starts at 18 h)
Sat: 9-20 (Last tour starts at 18.30 h)
Opening times on Christmas holidays
We ‘re closed from 24.-26.12.2017 and on 1.1.2018.
We ‘re open from 27.-30.12.2017 and from 2.-5.1.2018.
The Chocolate Theatre is closed due to renovation work from 06.-19.1.2018 and reopens on 20.1.2018.
Their website advises that you book ahead to avoid long waiting times, for full details please go to: https://www.zotter.at/en/zotter-experience-world
Also here is a useful link to trip advisor’s recommended hotels to stay at in the area.
For more information about Josef, you can read my other articles
Don’t forget to visit my other blogs
Easy & Cheap Student Recipes-A great resource if you are a student or just learning how to cook.
Old Blog Posts– A growing archive of posts from my original food blog, which had 20,922,573 page views from its beginning in February 2006 until December 2015.
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