Let me tell you a little something about me and museums. We haven’t always had the smoothest of relationships over the years and for a blog about travel, museums have not arisen all too often here.
I attribute this to the museum overload we had during school days, not always pitched at the right level and frankly, for an energetic seven year old, there was always going to be a limit to how exhilarating a 3000 year old clay pot would seem.
And then, there were all the countless museum trips we made with my parents in London during the year my Grandfather had come to stay with us; a highly intelligent man, well-versed in every Shakespeare play (an impressive feat for someone who grew up in India in the early 1900s, learning English as a second language), he had a thirst for knowledge about British history.
My sister and I would whine as we traipsed around the war and history museums, wishing that we were outside playing and eating Mr Whippy ice creams but it’s funny, now that he is no longer with us, those very museum visits fill me with fond nostalgic memories.
The Choco-Story Chocolate Museum, Bruges
I wonder what my Grandfather would have made of the ChocoStory Museum in Bruges, the kind of museum that I suspect most children need little persuasion to engage with. We enjoyed an informative (and calorific) morning at this museum during our recent pre-Christmas break in Bruges and with no pretence or misnomer, The Choco-story Museum does what it says on the tin – it tells the story of chocolate, through the ages and it tells it well.
We arrive to be greeted with a small bar of Belgian chocolate (a good way to start any day) and learned all about the origins of chocolate, how it was conceived into the form we know today and how it makes the journey from bean to bar with words such as “conching” and “winnowing” entering my vocabulary for the first time.
Whilst many museums fail to catch my attention, the way this museum is curated so clearly in chronological order means that even those of us with shorter attention spans in museums can follow the story along easily.
Did you know, for example, that the Aztecs used to mix cocoa beans with blood and serve it up as an offering to the Gods? You can rest assured this is not how I dish up chocolate to guests at my home 🙂
And let us not forget that the concept of hot chocolate was not concocted by Western world coffee houses in the twentieth century as a decadent but winter warming delight to soothe their gullets through cold climates.
It came as a surprise to find that hot drinking chocolate actually preceded the chocolate boxes and chocolate bars of the world and I was even more intrigued to spot these beautiful, authentic milk frothers of yesteryear, a far cry from the modern day contraptions used at turbo speed by baristas in financial districts all over the world.
Ever heard of the brands, Neuhaus, Leonidas and Lindt? Of course you have because if you weren’t an avid chocolate aficionado, you would surely have stopped reading long ago. Our visit to the museum though, showed me why and how these brands made their mark in the history of chocolate and who we can thank for the innovation of the chocolate praline, chocolate box and filled chocolates.
And as luck would have it, at the trivia quiz we attended on our cruise the following month, a question arose about who first invented a particular type of chocolate and guess which two members of the team proclaimed the answer loud and clear with a smug self-confidence?!
Choco-Story Museum Chocolate-Making Demonstrations
The other aspect of this museum that makes for a compelling visit is the range of workshops and demonstrations on offer. Whilst one chocolatier was guiding a group of schoolchildren through a hands-on demonstration (which I was secretly rather envious about,) Pumpkin, myself and other museum visitors joined a live demonstration being held by another fellow professional chocolatier, who was showcasing how pralines are made and even offering a generous taster of his efforts to us all, as we left the room.
The live demonstrations proved to be quite popular (its funny how the earthy, nutty scent of a praline being conceived pulls in crowds) so it is worth checking the timings and arriving early to nab a spot in the front row, though for those of you less punctual or of a shorter stature (like myself), they helpfully project the demonstration onto a screen for all to see more clearly.
You will even find a quirky touch screen quiz in the museum, which pries into a few of your personal traits and chocolate preferences to give you a customized answer about which type of world chocolate suits you most (apparently, mine was Venezvuelan chocolate.)
Mostly, I ignore the gift shop at museums, as I rarely collect bookmarks or pencils but this was a museum gift shop where I snooped with interest at many of the handmade chocolates providing temptation in every corner. If space and services permit in the future, I think it would be great to see an even larger selection of goods on sale in this gift shop, such as drinking chocolate, a chocolate counter or even a chocolate cafe – I have no doubts they would go down a treat for the most end-stage chocoholics, who still haven’t achieved their fix after all this!
If you have personally been affected by any of the chocolate issues raised today 🙂 perhaps I can tempt you with my chocolate lover’s guide to Brussels, a round up of the best chocolate shops in Bruges or this decadent chocolate afternoon tea in London. And in case you were in any doubt as to Napoloen’s wisdom, I will leave you with my favourite quote from the museum:
Disclaimer: Many thanks to Choco-story, The Chocolate Museum, Bruges for inviting us to such an educational and tasty introduction into the history of chocolate. As always, all opinions are my own and no number of milk chocolate buttons will persuade me to lie. I am more Charlie (of chocolate factory fame) and less Pinnochio.