Article by Frank Cierpial
Whenever I read travel guides for Paris or watch shows on the travel channel on Paris, they always talk about the same things. They base everything around The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, and La Notre Dame de Paris. While those things are magnificent and you must visit them… I repeat…you must visit them, but there are other fantastic activities to do in Paris. When you live here and you think you’ve seen it all, you are always proven wrong by something wonderful and thought provoking. I visited « Le Musee Gourmand du Chocoloat » (aka : Choco Story ») here in Paris. Completely unaware that such a thing ever existed here, I found it to be one of the most amazing museums I have ever been to in my life.
Situated in the 2nd arrondissement it is literally right outside the « Bonne Nouvelle » metro stop. The staff is very welcoming and bilingual, so do not be afraid if you don’t speak French. I visited the actual museum so I will give you guys in inside scoop about that, but today was a special day for the museum as they unveiled a whole new level and part of the museum. They also are celebrating the publication of the chocolate encyclopedia which I have a copy of and it tells you everything you ever wanted to know about chocolate.
Before going into the event, I wanted to give a little history on chocolate, where it came from, and how it spread to Europe and became the art form that it is today.
Today, Switzerland and Belgium are known for their chocolate, but chocolate actually came from the aztecs who we all know were a tribe in ancient Mexico. I am not going to go in to the whole story, because everything that I wrote below I learned today at the Museum. There is a lot more so I urge you all to go, but here is the summary of how chocolate spread to Europe. The Aztecs actually conquered Mayan territory in the 14th century and cocoa was very important to this tribe as it was used as their currency. They actually has a god of chocolate calledQuetzalcoatl. The Cocoa drink was only made for merchants, nobility, and the royal family. It was not accessible to everybody. The name Chocolate or « cachuatl » actually comes from their native language, which believe it or not is still spoken by 1.5 million native americans who still live there. The Mayans also valued cocoa beans and actually used them as offerings to the gods. In 1521, Cortez successfully conquered the Aztecs, and he did so by turning the tribes against each other causing them to fight. While learning about them, he tried a lot of cocoa and drank a lot of it during state events. between that time and 1600, the Spanish added sugar to the drink. Anne d’Autriche who was married to Louis XIII brought the drink to France. It wasn’t long before chocolate became the royal drink of Europe. In the second empire, here in France, there was a period of innovation. It was actually during this period under Napoleon III who was also the first president of France in the second republic that Paris was re-built into the city that we know and love today by Haussmann. Napoleon III also removed the tax on cocoa which improved the production of it and made it more accessible.
Now back to the museum :
I was walked downstairs to the inauguration and was greeted by a big statue of Quetzalcoatl, Dresses on mannequins, and a giant Arc de Triomphe entirely made of chocolate. I was then directed into a room where they gave me a glass of Strawberry Champagne and some chocolate to try. The chocolate was like art. I would bite into it and then look at it and even bitten into, it looked like art with the way it was layered. For fashion people, we know that Haute Couture is made in workshop ateliers in Paris. This is the atelier of chocolate, where it is made with quality and care.
All of the chocolate that I tried was made in the chocolate museum. I walked into the atelier and my expertise in chocolate was put to the test. It was explained to me that chocolate is like wine. Sommeliers know that the soil that the grapes come out of and where they grow actually change the taste of the wine. The same goes for chocolate. When Cocoa beans are grown in different countries they can have a different taste and scent, but contain the same amount of cocoa. This was exemplified when I was instructed to smell different essential oils from cocoa beans from different soils and identify the taste by guessing which one it is from tasting the chocolate. I guessed right both times. Point for Frank!
I then went upstairs and took a walk though the museum and learned all that history about chocolate. I learned where it came from and how it has been made through the centuries. For travelers in Paris, this museum is a must do! As I was leaving, I received an amazing gift bag which was given to press for attending the event which contained the encyclopedia, more information on chocolate, and a chocolate bar from the atelier. It is truly one of the best events I have ever been to in my blogging experience and it shows the infinite amount of things to do and to learn in Paris.