Finland is spoiled for choice when it comes to chocolate temptations. Blue Wings set out on a pre-seasonal mini-tour of three Finnish chocolate makers.
Located next to the factory where bread, porridge, biscuits, and of course chocolate are manufactured, the Fazer Experience Visitor Centre in Vantaa, Helsinki’s neighbouring city, offers a multisensory exhibition and introduction to the company. The 3D headsets and interactive games are ingenious, but it’s the chance to dip into giant tubes of their favourite cocoa-derived treats that generates the most excitement among younger visitors.
Fazerin Sininen – “Fazer Blue,” referring to the wrapper not the actual chocolate – is Finland’s best-known milk chocolate and one of the most emblematic Finnish products at any time of the year.
“Finns are very traditional when it comes to chocolate and Christmas,” says Liisa Eerola, Fazer’s director of confectionary communications and group partnerships. “The most popular Christmas products have remained the same –Fazer assorted chocolates in gift boxes, Green Jellies, boxes of Fazer Blue, Julia, Da Capo, and Geisha sweets.”
The brands are consistently popular, but sustainability is of growing concern for the environmentally aware customer and by 2017, Fazer aims to be able to trace the origin of all the cocoa they use with 100 per cent of the cocoa meeting the criteria for responsible production.
Fazer turns out 100 tonnes of chocolate daily from its Vantaa factory, but it also maintains the tradition of handmade delights at the Fazer café that opened 125 years ago in Helsinki at Kluuvikatu 3 and is still at the same site.
The next stop on the chocolate tour is to the shop and factory of pH7 in the small town of Tuusula, just to the north of Vantaa, which is a rising star of the smaller-scale Finnish chocolate scene.
I find pH7’s founder and director Toni Rantala preparing white chocolate Christmas snowmen and slabs of his “Design From Finland” Dark Milk brand. Rantala, whose pH7 product range also includes bread, cakes and other confectionery such as best-selling macaroons, is something of a chocolate purist.
“People are more aware of how much sugar they eat and chocolate doesn’t have to be really sweet,” he says, offering me a square. “Dark Milk is made to my own recipe, for modern tastes, using much less sugar, and with a 45.5 per cent minimum chocolate content.”
Rantala is proud of his title of Chocolate Ambassador of Finland, one of a distinguished global club of 55 appointed by the Belgian Callebaut manufacturer of couverture, the cocoa butter-rich material used as a raw material by chocolate makers. He’s also the coach of the Finnish National Pastry team and expects the pH7 store in Helsinki’s Ateneuminkuja to do a brisk trade this holiday season. Production may be on a much smaller scale than at Rantala’s competitor down the road in Vantaa, but the demand for his “craft chocolate” is more than he can currently satisfy.
The third and final stop entails a visit to the wooden Old Town of Porvoo, whose quaint cobbled lanes, offbeat boutiques, and snug cafés are the perfect Christmas backdrop. It’s also the home of another chocolate favourite, the Brunberg truffle. Brunberg’s roots date back to 1871 and its oldest product is the Alku caramel fudge which made its debut more than a century ago and which is still a stalwart on special Finnish occasions. I position myself strategically close to the truffle sample box as I chat to Pauliina Piela, a sales assistant at Brunberg’s Old Town shop (there is a second outlet at the factory a couple of kilometres away).
“Christmas is of course the busiest time,” she confirms. “And the Brunberg truffle is certainly the most popular product, along with the ‘Kiss’ chocolate coated marshmallows and our liquorice.” She lets me sample a new line in cinnamon-flavoured caramel which she is confident will be a Christmas favourite, along with a gingerbread chocolate bar. The shop, she says, has also become a must-stop on the tour itineraries of Asian and other tourist groups visiting Porvoo.
Text and photos by Tim Bird
This article is published in the December 2016 issue of Blue Wings.