Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sidney & The Chocolate Factory

Sacks of cocoa beans
Who doesn't love chocolate? My family certainly does so when the opportunity to tour a chocolate museum came up, we jumped at the chance to literally go to the source. I discovered the Chocoversum in Hamburg, Germany through the Ciao Bambino! travel blog and am so glad I did. (Actually, this fabulous blog, which provides recommendations for family friendly activities in cities around the globe, was my go-to resource for our entire stay in Hamburg-every recommendation was spot on). So craving chocolate off we went to discover this museum (and escape the cold).

From the moment we stepped through the door, we knew we were entering a world of chocolate. The sweet fragrance permeated the entire building; initially the aroma was welcoming but by the end of our tour it became a bit too much even for this die hard chocolate fan. But chocolate was really everywhere.  The purchase of our tickets provided us with small samples of what was to come while the shelves of the gift shop sold everything from chocolate shampoo, body creams and chocolate scented candles to chocolate themed gifts, chocolate scented teas (which we later learned were made from discarded cocoa bean pods) and chocolate itself. And we encountered all of this before we even began to explore the museum.

A tour guide escorted our small group through the history of all things chocolate. Of course, the tour and displays were entirely in German so we relied on an English guidebook and the graphic displays to understand what we were seeing. But despite the language barrier, we got a lot out of the tour. A large world map displayed the geographic regions that produce cocoa beans--you guessed it, they do not grow in Europe! This naturally lead to a discussion of the history of chocolate and the import process of
Fancy chocolate making equipment
cocoa beans.  From there we segued into the most anticipated part of the tour--making our own chocolate bars. We were provided with a bar sized mold filled with molten milk chocolate and could add up to three tablespoons of add-ins of our choice as toppings. Naturally, Sidney added in more chocolate -- chips, sprinkles, and mini candy coated chocolate pieces.  He also dunked his entire hand into the melted chocolate as part of his taste testing of the product. I went "healthy" adding in sunflower seeds and sea salt. Glenn settled for a combination that was somewhere in between.

While our chocolate bars set in the chiller we returned to the museum floor where we learned about the roasting of cocoa beans, the proportion of cocoa beans to sugar and other ingredients that are necessary to make milk, bittersweet, semisweet, and white chocolates, and saw how the "butter" is extracted from the cocoa beans. As an added bonus, the entire museum was hands on with each exhibit providing us with opportunity to taste, smell, or touch the chocolate making process from raw cocoa beans to finished chocolate. Scent machines allowed us to smell the various ingredients that go into making a finished chocolate product. We tasted raw and then roasted cocoa beans, which were simultaneously bitter, nutty, and gritty in flavor then sampled cocoa butter and finally the full fledged melted chocolate in both milk and bittersweet flavors. The chocolate was very good, silky smooth and rich tasting but by this point I found myself craving a crisp salad. Sidney, of course, just wanted more chocolate and ate my share of the sample in addition to his own. Much to my surprise, he preferred the bittersweet chocolate to the milk.

After the tour wrapped up we put our handmade chocolate bars into cellophane bags then quickly escaped outside into the fresh air. Sidney was giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting to eat the chocolate he had made (he was probably hyped up on all of the samples as well). As Sidney said, first he toured a car factory to see how our new car was made and now he got to see a chocolate factory to see how chocolate is made. For a four year old, and his parents, it doesn't get much better than this.

Sampling was the best part

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