{Spain} Museu de la Xocolata

September 26, 2012

Spain

I suddenly realised I still owed you a couple of posts from my trip to Barcelona earlier in the summer. For anyone with a sweet tooth, Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum sounds like the perfect destination (though as I said to a friend who doesn’t like chocolate, you’re meant to look at the exhibits, not eat them^^) And to keep the exhibits from melting it was also refreshingly cool and a welcome escape from the mid-day heat outside. The museum introduces the history of cacao and chocolate, from its origins as an exotic food to its widespread popularity with all social classes around the world. Thematically, the museum is roughly divided into five areas. Plantations & Process looks at where cacao comes from and how it’s converted into chocolate, including an overview of the major chocolate producing, importing and consuming countries.

Chocolate: A Cultural Bridge looks at how the culture of chocolate has developed, starting with the Mayans and the Aztecs, who were the first cultures to grow and consume cacao as a drink and also used the beans as currency. From there the journey continues to Europe, with the original strong and spicy recipes adjusting to the sweet European tastes and the birth of chocolate bonbons at French courts in the 18th century. Spain introduced the first chocolate mechanical production workshop in 1777, and France and Switzerland followed suite at the end of  19th century with the industrial fabrication of chocolate. Alongside this was the development of the culture of serving and presenting chocolate.

Art and Advertisement looks at chocolate as a source of inspiration and creativity. Poets, novelists and playwrights have described their love for chocolate. Film makers, writers and painters have reflected on chocolate as a mirror of the society of their time. Some contemporary artists have even used chocolate to paint their artworks. Furthermore, the rituals around the drinking of chocolate have led to the creation of objects embellished by artists, and were also the source of inspiration for industrial designs and packaging. Large scale production of chocolate in the late 19th century led to the development of commercial advertising, with brands hiring designers to advise their products.

Pastry and Tradition looks at how chocolate is often directly connected to traditions, especially seasonal traditions such as Easter, Christmas, Valentines Day or Mothers Day. There’s also a special focus on cakes of Catalonia – “a country of cakes, sweets and chocolate” – and its Catalan Spring Sweets. Finally, Machinery displays some of the main machines used in chocolate making.

There was also an Audiovisuals area, which was intended as an interactive  way to explore the history of chocolate, but it didn’t seem to be working that day. However, there were several other audiovisuals and interactives throughout the exhibit. There was a touch screen where you could explore further info on cacao around the world and quiz yourself on what you know about chocolate – did you know that the most suitable temperature to work with chocolate is 28 C, the Swiss consume the most chocolate per capita per year (around 10kg), and Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate to film his famous shower scene in Psycho. Or you could browse a digitised collection of Nestlé collectors cards, then play an on screen spot the difference or memory game with them. There were also three film screens, one showing footage of a chocolatier at work, telling the story of Hansel and Gretel through Chocolate art, one with clips of chocolate TV adverts from the 1950s through to the 1990s, and one showing chocolates being made.

Compared to other chocolate museums I’ve been to, some of the sections here were a bit thin on the ground in terms of objects, but the museum makes makes up for it with plenty of information and images, though the display on serving chocolate has some pretty unusual objects I bet most of you have never seen or even heard of before. I hadn’t. What would have been great, would be to combine the sections on process and on machinery, to better illustrate the different steps the machines were used for and visualise the journey from cacao bean to chocolate bar (rather than have them at opposite ends of the exhibition space). Something with the chocolate museums in Cologne, Germany, and Sapporo, Japan do very well. But they’re also both located within chocolate factories, so they have a head start on that point anyway.

But what has to be most unique to this chocolate museum, is its gallery of chocolate sculptures from the Annual Chocolate Contest. From a mountain gorilla (not life size, but still impressive) or a typical Spanish bull fight, to famous sights such as the Arc de Triomf or La Sagrada Familia, to well known characters such as Asterix & Obelix or Tom & Jerry, these sculptures are absolutely amazing.

The museum is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10am to 7pm, and until 3pm on Sundays and public holidays. Admission is only 4.30 Euro and free for ICOM member. Oh, and did I mention that your admission ticket is a bar of chocolate?

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