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The Foire de Genève: a matter of taste

The Geneva Fair aims to encourage people to eat local produce.

(Keystone / Martial Trezzini)

This year's Geneva Fair, one of Switzerland's foremost homes exhibitions, is all about flavour, as the canton's farmers and master chocolate-makers take their place among the guests of honour.

Almost 300,000 people are expected to visit the "Foire de Genève" during the 12 days it is open, making it the second-biggest annual fair at the city's Palexpo exhibition centre.

Now a key date in the Geneva calendar, the fair has evolved into far more than just a line-up of the latest in vacuum cleaners, adjustable beds and environmentally friendly washing machines.

One of the big attractions at this year's fair is "Terre Avenir", or land of the future, an exhibition organised by the Office for the Promotion of the Agricultural Produce of Geneva (OPAGE). The aim is to establish and maintain contact between the city and country, by making farms more accessible to townsfolk.

Geneva may have the reputation of being an international city, but half of the land in this small canton, some 11,407 hectares, is given over the agriculture.

It is the fourth largest producer of early vegetables in Switzerland, and the biggest producer of tomatoes, aubergines and lettuces. Geneva is also the third-biggest wine-producing canton in Switzerland, after Vaud and Valais.

"Geneva plays an extraordinary role in Swiss agriculture," says Paul Davoine of OPAGE. "We want to give people access to the discovery of Geneva's countryside."

"The best way of preventing the canton from becoming too built-up is to eat local produce," agrees Neil Ankers, head of Geneva's chamber of agriculture.

Terre Avenir is a chance for visitors to broach some of the burning issues of agriculture today - environmental protection, the health of consumers and the care of livestock - with local producers.

OPAGE is also involved in reviving local varieties, such as the rare Geneva Cardoon, and tries to raise awareness about other important crops, such as hemp and green lentils. To encourage children's interest there are also several animals, including a six-month-old bison.

An important aspect of the Terre Avenir exhibit is to re-educate people's palates to appreciate high-quality produce. That is the aim of another of the guests of this year's fair, the Association of master chocolate makers of Geneva.

Not surprisingly given the wonderful aromas emanating from their corner of the exhibition hall, the chocolate makers are the focus of a great deal of attention.

They are currently making the chocolate cauldrons, which are used to celebrate Geneva's Escalade festival on December 12. During the course of the fair, they will make a giant 250-kilogramme "marmite", as the cauldrons are known, and on the last day it will be smashed, as tradition dictates, and the pieces will be handed out.

Switzerland sells more chocolate per head - 11.5 kilogrammes - than any other country, though this figures includes tourists seeking something typically Swiss.

But the chocolate being made at the fair is certainly not mass-produced, run of the mill stuff. These master craftsmen would never dream of adding vegetable fats to their creations. They only use 100 per cent cacao butter.

"We want to defend the taste of Swiss chocolate made in a traditional way," says Marc-André Cartier, president of the Geneva chocolate-makers' association.

He says being at the fair gives the association the opportunity to allow people to get to know the profession better, since fewer and fewer young people are taking it up as a career.

Two other guests of honour at the fair are the association of electricians, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and the French-speaking West Indies.

The Foire de Genève closes on November 19.

by Roy Probert

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