Choco-Story: Paris Chocolate Museum
Le musée gourmand du Chocolat
For most visitors to Paris, the word "museum" is a synonym for "Louvre," "Centre Pompidou," or "Musée d'Orsay." But there are many small museums in Paris that also deserve a tourist's attention, such as le musée des Égouts de Paris (Paris Sewers Museum) and--more appetizingly--Choco-Story, also known as le musée gourmand du Chocolat or the .
Choco-Story Paris is the third in a series of private chocolate museums operated by the Van Belle family of Erembodegem, Belgium, who launched a Bruges museum in 2004 and a Prague branch in 2008.
The Paris version of Choco-Story opened in 2010 and is sponsored by Belcolade, the second-largest Belgian manufacturer of chocolates for the professional market. (Belcolade's products are widely used by French chocolatiers, bakers, and pastry chefs.)
Choco-Story occupies three floors of a building on the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, one of the Grands Boulevards in central Paris. It's made up of three sections:
The museum has a collection of more than 1,000 objects, many of them chosen personally by Eddy Van Belle, the patriarch of the Van Belle chocolate-making clan.
Choco-Story also sponsors the international Cocoa Development Fund, which supports cocoa farmers and chocolate cooperatives in developing countries.
Choco-Story is open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. (last entrance at 5 p.m.)
The price of admission isn't cheap, but it does include a chocolate sample, and you can easily spend a couple of hours in the museum--or longer, if (like us) you can't resist buying a cup of hot chocolate in the gift shop and bookstore.
For detailed information, including ticket prices and how to reach Choco-Story, visit the museum's Web site at www.museeduchocolat.fr.
More museum photos:
Choco-Story is at 28 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle in the 10th Arrondissement, just a few meters from the Bonne Nouvelle station on Métro lines 8 and 9.
Our visit to the museum began with an introduction to the cacao tree and cocoa beans.
Dioramas and other displays introduced us to the history of chocolate, which goes back at least 4,000 years. In this diorama, a Mayan priest was offering cocoa beans to the gods.
The gods apparently devoured cocoa beans whole. Mayan and Aztec people, on the other hand, crushed the beans into a paste that was mixed with water, chili peppers, and spices to create a bitter drink.
Labels at Choco-Story are in French and English. (The label above shows how the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency.)
This display shows a stone metate and mano, which were used to crush cocoa beans in ancient Mexico.
The metate is still employed by traditional Mexican cooks for grinding corn and other grains.
After learning about the early history of chocolate, we went upstairs to see exhibits about the cocoa bean's introduction and cultural role in Europe from the 16th Century onward.
The display case above shows vintage bonbonnières for storing and displaying chocolate.
Half-dolls (produced mostly in the early 20th Century) were used as tea cozies, tops of powder boxes, etc. These half-dolls were cozies for cups or small pitchers of hot chocolate.
In more modern times, Playmobil has paid homage to chocolate.
Another section of Choco-Story's European exhibit shows chocolate packaging and brands, such as Banania (a popular French breakfasrt chocolate).
We enjoyed leafing through a display of information about chocolate brands (some familiar, some less so), including Banania and France's celebrated Poulain line of dessert and baking chocolates.
We also admired the displays of antique implements, traditional metal molds, and machinery used by confectioners and the chocolate industry.
After spending an hour and a half or so wandering through the museum, we went down to the basement, where Cheryl posed with (Choco-Story's mascot) while waiting for the chocolate demonstration to begin in the kitchen next door.
Choco-Story presents demonstrations with tastings every 20 minutes, all day long.
Outside the demonstration room at Choco-Story, a diploma showed that Eddy Van Belle (the museum's founder) was a member of the Confrerie des Chocolatiers de France.
We entered the demonstration room and sat in an amphiteatre-like row of seats (left) facing the modern chocolatier's kitchen.
A surprisingly svelte chocolatier demonstrated the use of silicone molds with a machine that melted chocolate.
He used the molds to create pralines in the form of Choclala, the museum's cartoon mascot.
After the short demonstration, samples were passed around
The friendly chocolatier took time to answer questions from visitors.
As we left the museum, we couldn't resist buying a cup of hot chocolate in the well-equipped gift shop and bookstore.
We chose dark chocolate, which was given to us as a block on a large toothpick for dipping and dissolving in a cup of hot milk.
Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.
After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for About.com, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors (including Paris for Visitors) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.