Zotter: Chocolate with a Conscience

Have you ever opened a Wonka Bar and hoped that just maybe the Golden Ticket inside would be real and you had actually won admittance to a chocolate factory? If you answered yes, today is the day your dream comes true. But either way, who wouldn’t want to tour a chocolate factory? During my semester abroad, one of the classes I taught went on a field trip to the Zotter Chocolate Factory. It is any chocolate lover’s paradise.

Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur is located an hour east of Graz near Riegersburg in Austria’s beautiful southeastern state of Styria. Zotter is a family business that was started by Josef Zotter and his wife. They opened a confectionary in Graz selling unique creations in 1987.   It wasn’t until 1999 that the Zotter’s opened their factory in the barn of Josef’s parents’ farm.

 

Zotter is unique in that all of the cocoa beans used in their products are organic and Fairtrade quality. Fairtrade is a progressive social movement whose mission is to alleviate poverty and create sustainability for small farmers and plantation workers in developing countries. It allows the small farmers to sell their products at fair prices, creates better salaries for workers, improves working conditions, and invests in opportunities such as education, health and environmental projects. Zotter is a permanent license member of FAIRTRADE Austria, which is a non-partisan, non-denominational, non-profit association to promote free trade. It is an organization that attempts to meet the demand of Austrian manufacturers for quality products from developing countries. Their products are completely organic, which means there are no preservatives or artificial flavors. Some of their organic ingredients in their chocolate products include wine, fruits, and nuts. There is even some uncommon pairings including chili and ketchup. Zotter makes their products to meet dietary needs. They make chocolate for those who need gluten and lactose free, as well as vegan chocolate.

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The factory is open for tours, along with its Edible Zoo directly behind the factory. Visitors can see the entire process of how cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate and learn more about the cocoa farmers that Zotter buys their beans from in India, Latin America and Africa. You can taste the cocoa beans in their different stages of production from raw to final product. As you are walking through the factory, you can sample as much chocolate as you can possibly eat and or drink.

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It’s no secret that I have a giant sweet tooth, so walking through the factory was amazing. They have all of their products out for sampling on every floor and in every stairway. They even have a floor that has a drink bar where you are given a warm glass of milk to mix in their drinking chocolate. There is flavor and type of chocolate to meet everyone’s taste. The hand-scooped filled chocolate bars have layers piled on the inside of a delicious filling that include cognac and coffee, bacon bits, pumpkin seeds with marzipan or sacramental wine and frankincense that is coated in chocolate. Labooko is a pure solid chocolate bar that comes in a variety of types including milk, dark, fruit, nut and coffee chocolate.  You can find the rest of Zotter’s products in their online Choco-Shop.

It takes real creativity to combine sustainability, Fairtrade, and organic products with decadent chocolate.  Zotter shares this with you when you visit the factory, they truly have the innovative edge in chocolate.

 

Walking on History: Recent Archeological Finds in Europe

For centuries, the continent of Europe has continued to grow despite it being confined to an area of land. Europe has grown in depth with having built layers upon layers that represent different chapters in its history. To the visible eye, we see the beauty and charm of a European countryside, village, or city striking a pose for all to capture. What about all that lies beneath and everything that the top layer of Europe is built upon?

 

We don’t often stop and think about the ground of which we walk because it’s just dirt, right? What if your workplace’s parking lot was paved on top of an old church and everyday when you go to work, you’re actually parking your car on top of where a former King of England is buried? How would you feel about buying your groceries over a mass grave where hundreds of people most likely died from some sort of disease? Everywhere you walk, even the most mundane of everyday places, like a parking lot, has an unearthed story to tell.

 

Skeleton of King Richard III uncovered in Leicester parking lot. Photo: University of Leiceser

In 2012, a 500-year-old skeleton was discovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England. The Leicester City Council Social Services staff parking lot was one of three possible sites for the location of the Greyfriars Friary, according to old maps and documents. Richard the III, the King of England from 1483 to 1485, was long believed to be buried in the church of the friary after dying in battle. Archaeologists thought the possibility of finding his remains were considered very slim. The skeleton found showed battle wounds and signs of scoliosis, which fit his description in historical records. After tracing the DNA from the skeleton through a direct descendent of the King, it was confirmed in 2014 that the skeleton was that of King Richard III.

 

Photo: Denis Gliksman

Even more recently, a supermarket in Paris called in archaeologists before continuing the expansion of their basement, and for good reason. Archaeologists were expecting to find a few remains since the store was built upon the same spot that was once a hospital from the 12th through 17th century. Instead they discovered a mass gravesite with the remains of more than 200 people and as they keep digging, archaeologists expect to find even more remains. With a grave this size, it shows that there was a major mortality crisis resulting from an epidemic, famine or extreme fever. Scientists are working on how to determine how old these skeletons are. In the meantime, it is business as usual up above in the supermarket.

 

Neatly placed skeletons in the basement of the Supermarket. Photo: Denis Gliksman

 

It is quite surprising to see what you can find, but that’s what makes it all the more interesting. Unearthing that next layer that Europe is built upon, writes more to the story that is Europe’s history. The next time you walk around your favorite European city, sit at a café to indulge in a mélange or take an afternoon to go shopping, think about the history that lies beneath you. What will you find? What does it tell you? Most importantly, watch your step!

Waltzing through the Night at a Viennese Ball

 

Hofburg Palace, Photo: viennaconcerts.com

ONE, two three, ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three is repeated over and over in my mind as I twirled around the ballroom. The orchestra played waltz after waltz at the Ball of the Vienna University of Technology (TU Ball). Even though I have never taken ballroom dance in all my years of dance training, learning to waltz really was not hard at all… I was more worried about getting my feet stepped on and twirling into another pair on a dance floor with hundreds of people crammed onto it. The most exciting part about that night was just experiencing first hand the traditions of the Viennese ball culture.

Viennese balls date back to the 18th century where they were reserved for the elite and nobility. Emperor Joseph II opened up rooms in the beautiful Hofburg palace to enable everyone to participate in the pomp and circumstance of the extravagant balls. Today, the balls still include features like very strict dress codes, a grand opening with debutants, a midnight quadrille and the Damenspende (gifts for the women). Another tradition is if a lady is asked to dance, it is considered very rude to decline… but don’t worry ladies, if there’s someone you want to dance with, there is an hour in the night that is considered “ladies choice.”

19th Century Damenspende, Photo: Andreas Praefcke

My Damenspende

My Damenspende

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the title of my post, it says through the Night. I quite literally mean through the night. The Viennese Balls don’t start (opening fanfare, entrance of debutants, and open dance floor) until about 20/20:30 and they last until 5am. The quadrille is an exciting feature that takes place at midnight; The ball that I attended also had one at 3am. The quadrilles are just as much fun to watch as they are to participate in. It’s a bit easier to watch a quadrille, than try to explain what it is. Enjoy!

 

Midnight Quadrille at the 2014 Vienna Opera Ball

As you can see, everyone crowds into the main ballroom with a partner (yes, there is more than one room open for dancing and each room features a different style of music) and joins the “organized” chaos of the dance. There’s a caller on stage with the orchestra giving out commands to very fast paced gallop and everyone is frantically trying to keep up as the line eventually snakes its way around the room. It is a nice jolt of energy at different intervals in the night to keep the celebration going and to keep everyone awake.

The other ballrooms at the ball I attended featured a band playing jazz music, and a band/DJ that played more Latin music and some popular music in which we called “the disko.” Now, if you thought the quadrille was a sight to see, imagine these bewildering (from the perspective of an American) images: 1. Couples trying to ballroom dance to Gangnam Style and 2. An elderly Austrian gentleman actually trying to do the dance to Gangnam Style. My first though watching this was “How???” I mean, you could clearly tell who the Americans were because they were the ones doing the actual party dance. Looking back, it is interesting to see how generations and styles mix, and how the old traditions of Viennese balls have evolved over time to include some modern day flair.

Winters in Vienna are host to around 400 balls and are organized around just about every professional group there is. There is the Zuckerbäckerball for confectioners, the Kaffeesiedler Ball for coffee brewers, the Juristenball for lawyers and the Jägerball where instead of wearing the formal long gowns and tuxedoes, the mandatory dress is traditional dirndl and lederhosen. The most well known and highest in placement on the social calendar of Vienna are the Philharmoniker Ball, hosted by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein, and the Wiener Opernball, at the Staatsoper (State Opera House).

Debutants waltzing at the 2015 Vienna Opera Ball, Photo: EPA

There is an array of balls to choose from to celebrate and join in with the locals and international guests. Sadly, this year’s ball season has come to an end with Fasching (Carnival) and the beginning of the Lenten season. Find your dancing shoes and start practicing your waltzing in preparation for next year’s ball season.