On Monday - the one weekday I don't work - Le Garçon and I made a visit to the Musée du Chocolat.
OUI! There is a CHOCOLATE MUSEUM in Paris. I didn't know this either, until I spotted a brochure at work on a display of all kinds of "things to do in and around Paris" for our customers to browse before or after their tours with us.
I've been waiting for a good time for me and my step-son to go and check it out, and this week we finally went now that he's finished with school for the year. The museum is just near metro Bonne Nouvelle (Lines 8/9) and Strasbourg Saint-Denis (Line 4) in the 10th, not too far from Gare du Nord, on the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle.
It's a small museum but surprisingly well organized. They also have special things for children to do and see while they're there. You start your visit on the ground level with a self-guided exhibit (with text in French, English and Spanish - other languages may be available but you'd have to ask about that) that takes you through the history of chocolate - a history that goes back more than 4,000 years. They have chocolate-related artifacts from the Aztecs and the Mayans -- and did you know chocolate was used as currency?
I didn't know, for instance, that Christopher Columbus was the first European to taste a cocoa-based Aztec drink called "Tchocolatl", but it was Cortes who imported the first cocoa beans to Europe a few years later. From Spain, hot chocolate spread across Europe, reserved for the nobility and the wealthy. The museum has an amazing display on the upper floor of many chocolate pots and china cups used especially for hot chocolate throughout European cities and especially in France. On that level, you also see how chocolate-making tools evolved over the more recent centuries, into the more modern methods used today.
Finally, you descend to the basement level where you can watch a film (in French with English subtitles) to give you even more history of chocolate in video format, before going in for a short demonstration, sponsored by a Belgian brand of chocolate. And yes, you get to taste what they make! The demonstration we were given was all in French; somehow we ended up being the only "outsiders" with a large group of lively French seniors, and the Garçon was the only person in the room under 50. I don't actually know if some demonstrations are given in English or not.
At the end of the visit, we ended up in the little chocolate boutique near the entrance - the prices were quite fair and the chocolate we tasted was very good, so we came away with a small box of star-shaped "praliné" chocolates with a hazelnut/praline filling, and three special blocks of chocolate on sticks, that you put in heated milk to make hot chocolate (we haven't tried those yet but we're waiting for the right moment).
It was a very nice way to spend about an hour and a half. Not too long or tiresome (and really, how can chocolate ever be boring). I had hoped the demonstration would have been a bit more in-depth, like one I went to at a smaller chocolaterie near the Hôtel de Ville during my early months in Paris, but I think I will take the Garçon there some other time when we're looking for something fun to do together. At any rate, we had a nice afternoon together to start off his summer vacation right!
And of COURSE I took photos!
The Goddess of Chocolate. You KNEW it had to be a woman in charge of chocolate, right? That's a cocoa bean she's holding.
A tomato would cost you 1 bean at the market. A rabbit? 10 beans.
Tools (Mayan or Aztec) used to grind down the cocoa beans.
Pretty Central American ceramic tile picture of women making chocolate.
Cute scenes like this were set at a kid-friendly height into the walls, and used Playmobile figures!
Amazing collection of (mainly) sterling silver chocolate pots and bowls from across Europe.
I put my hand there to show how much larger some of the beautiful porcelain and china chocolate cups were, compared to a coffee or tea cup would have usually been. Those nobles sure liked to enjoy a "grande" chocolat chaud!
They even made special chocolate cups for men with mustaches! The inner "lip" of this large cup is shaped so the man could sip chocolate through the little hole while his mustache could stay nice and clean!
When European chocolate makers started to create solid chocolates, which didn't really start until toward the second half of the 1800's, the shapes of the chocolate molds were fascinating. I mean - a pig? (We spotted a Santa Clause and big Easter bunny, too.)
20th century vintage powdered cocoa tins.
Not part of the museum... but I love this movie and especially this scene: