Choco Story Museum in Bruges, Belgium

No blog would be complete without a Valentine's Day post this week.  No Valentine's Day post would be complete without mentioning the food of love: chocolate.  And no post about chocolate would be complete without mentioning the best chocolate in the world: Belgian chocolate.

Before you chime in defending Swiss chocolate or Dutch chocolate or all the up-and-coming artisanal chocolate boutiques in the US, let me cut you off right there: Belgian chocolate is the best in the world.  No arguments.  Full stop.

The difference is not just a matter of personal preference.  It all has to do with how much chocolate is actually in Belgian chocolate. Belgian chocolate has some of the highest cocoa content around.  Belgian chocolate usually has 35% cocoa content.  The minimum percentage of cocoa content required in the EU to qualify as "chocolate" is 25%.  The minimum in the UK and Ireland is 20%.  The minimum in the US?  Ten percent.  That's why Europeans look down on M&Ms and Snickers bars as candy rubbish.  That's why Cadbury's chocolate made in the US (11% cocoa content) tastes so different from Cadbury's chocolate made in the UK (23% cocoa content).  That's why even generic mass-produced chocolates that you buy for 3 euros (for a box of 12) at any supermarket store or outdoor market will taste better than Ghirardelli or See's Chocolates. The numbers don't lie.

What's more, Belgian chocolate makers don't generally use substitutes like vegetable fats in place of cocoa butter.  European chocolates are not allowed to have up to 5% of the cocoa butter in chocolate replaced with vegetable fat.  That's why Belgian brands such as Leonidas, Neuhaus, and Godiva are world reknowned.
The whole family became chocolate "experts" -- and snobs -- during our 2012 trip to Bruges, Belgium.  We spent a fantastic week exploring the medieval city and enjoying the best of Belgian food (fries, cheese, waffles, beer, and of course chocolate -- the Belgians really know how to live!).  We learned all about chocolate and how it is made at the Choco-Story museum.  The museum is a small building located in Bruges, and it's definitely a must-see for tourists.

The first floor of the museum highlights the origins of chocolate in Mayan and Aztec cultures, showing visitors how these ancient civilizations made and enjoyed chocolate.

Check out the cool Playmobil diorama!

The second floor outlines the chocolate production process, from cacao bean to cocoa paste to chocolate.  Visitors also get to see how chocolate making developed through the ages and spread all over the world.

The third floor showcases the health benefits of chocolate and the ingredients in a bar of chocolate.  Visitors learn the difference between dark, milk, and white chocolate, as well as the difference between Belgian chocolate and other countries' chocolate that I shared earlier.  Other cool exhibits include vintage chocolate posters and ads, vintage chocolate tins, and vintage chocolate packaging.

I don't remember which floor I saw the original recipe for hot chocolate, but I wanted to share it so that everyone can get a taste of how the Mayans drank chocolate!

The museum trail leads you back to the first floor, where you begin to smell the heavenly scent of chocolate.  Is it coming from the gigantic sculpture made from real chocolate?  Only partially.  The real culprit is....

... a demo kitchen, where a chocolatier holds chocolate making demonstrations.  More importantly, he passes the chocolates he makes around to the museum visitors for a tasting!

Everyone gets a piece.  The Choco-Story Museum was our first stop on Day One of our Bruges trip, so this was the very first time we had the opportunity to taste freshly made Belgian chocolate in Belgium.  I will never forget it.  In case I haven't made it clear already, any other kind of chocolate will forever be inferior to me.

The museum exits into a small souvenir shop, where you can buy chocolates, tshirts, posters, and other souvenirs, as well as chocolate bath products that smell as heavenly as the real thing.

If you don't get around to purchasing souvenir chocolates at the museum, don't worry; you can purchase edible souvenirs anywhere and everywhere.

I couldn't resist showing some of the other ways they shape their chocolates in the stores around Bruges!
If you're American, this might be something you'd only expect to find in a red-light district, but these chocolates are in practically every chocolate shop in Bruges, in full view of underage minors' impressionable eyes.  We all thought it was hilarious, and bought a few of them to give as souvenirs (not for my parents, though!).

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