Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Choco-Story Chocolate Museum in Brugge

We brought a friend to visit Brugge today. The past few days have been horribly wet and windy, a typical belgium summer, so to speak. So today's weather is a good change, sunny and albeit windy, but otherwise very good weather for a day trip.

I have been to Brugge a few times, and this is at least the third time that I visit Brugge. For those who have not heard of or been to Brugge, Brugge is a place that you absolutely must visit if you have only 1 day to spend in Belgium. Skip Brussels and Antwerp and head out to Brugge in West Flanders and you will not be disappointed. It is a UNESCO world heritage city and it is nicknamed "Venice of the North".

Townhall of Brugge
We had a very fruitful trip at Brugge. We booked a guided tour at the tourist office of Brugge for 9 euro each and enjoyed a leisurely but very informative walking tour for 2 hours. I didn't take many pictures during the walk as I had already taken quite a number during my past 2 trips. Besides the guided tour, we also went to the Choco-Story, a chocolate museum in Brugge and I snapped quite a few interesting photos there. There are at least 2 chocolate museums that I heard of in Belgium. One is the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate in Brussels and the other is the one which I visited today, the Choco-Story Chocolate Museum in Brugge.

My hubby said it was like a mini study trip for me. Yes, I was there on a mission, to study the history and making of chocolate, haha. I learnt some very interesting facts at the chocolate museum. 

Do you know that cocoa beans were very precious and were used as a form of currency by the Aztecs? According to a document from Nahuatl in Tlaxcala in 1545, 1 cocoa bean can be used to buy 1 large tomato or 5 green peppers, and 1 rabbit would have cost 10 cocoa beans! Pots, jugs and plates sold at the market would cost between 40 to 100 cocoa beans. The Aztecs paid for their purchases with cocoa beans but the cocoa beans themselves were not for sale at the market. (The Aztec people were part of an ethnic group in central Mexico, who spoke the Nahuatl and who dominated Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.)

Another interesting fact. Cocoa, was being cultivated for at least three millennia in Mexico, Central and South America and cocoa mass was used originally in Mesoamerica both as a beverage and as an ingredient in foods. But it was only until the 16th century, during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec people that cocoa and chocolate were imported to Europe. Chocolate became so popular that it spreaded quickly throughout the European continent, but only the royals and the rich could afford this luxurious good.

How cocoa became the favourite drink of the Spaniards
It was mentioned in the museum that Spanish women, who emigrated to Mexico, loved chocolate so much that they couldn't stop drinking it. They even had their servants pour it for them during religious ceremonies. The constant coming and going of the servants became so annoying that the Bishop decided to prohibit it. Drinking of cocoa was prohibited during mass, and as a result people stayed away from church. Finally the bishop was murdered. Poison had been added to his cup of cocoa. :)

And for many years, the Spaniards who lived in Mexico carefully guarded the recipe of the cocoa drink. But here is the recipe I saw at the museum :

700g ground cocoa
56g cinnamon
14g cloves
1 pinch of aniseed
musk, amber
750g white sugar
14 pepper grains
3 vanilla sticks
1 hazelnut
1 orange flower

I also learnt about the history of praline at the chocolate museum. The word "praline" is french in origin and was said to have originated from César, duc de Choiseul, Comte du Plessis-Praslin, a 17th century french officer and diplomat, whose cook prepared for him, an almond dipped in sugar, which was called a Praslin.

But it was Jean Neuhaus who invented the Belgian praline. In 1857, his grandfather left Switzerland to set up in Gallerie de la Reine in Brussels, where he opened a "pharmaceutical sweetshop". He sold cough sweets, stomach syrups and bitter chocolate which was more of a medicine than a sweet. His son, Frederick, studied confectionery and sold caramel sweets, fruit pastes and vanilla chocolate. 

In 1912, Jean Neuhaus who inherited the business from his father, launched a new idea: first a hazelnut coated with chocolate and then a little filled chocolate cup. He called it a "praline". He wrapped these delicate chocolates in a strong cardboard box, designed in 1915 with his wife Louise Agostini. The "ballotin" was born, it was a real revolution in chocolate packaging. Until then, chocolates and other sweets were wrapped in simple sachets.

(to be continued...with Part 2)

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