|Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium|
The Aztecs and Mayans cultivated cocoa trees in Central and South America. Cocoa beans were even used as currency. These people brewed a bitter cocoa beverage called "Xocatl".
Europeans did not learn of the existence of cocoa until Christopher Columbus' fourth voyage to the new world. At first Europeans did not understand the need to dry, roast and then grind the beans into powder. The higher the cocoa content the richer and more flavorful your chocolate will be.
The cocoa tree grows in tropical conditions in hot and humid regions. Today 70% of world production of cocoa comes from Africa with the Ivory Coast ranking as the world's greatest cocoa producer accounting for 34% of total production. Half of cocoa is consumed in Europe. The Swiss, who invented milk chocolate, win the gold medal for consuming more chocolate per capita than any other nation.
Pralines were invented in Belgium in 1912 by a pharmacist called Jean Neuhaus. Melted chocolate is poured into a mould and left to cool down and harden before the filling and a fresh coat of chocolate is added. You can see chocolatiers making pralines at this museum.
Chocolate has a limited lifespan. Dark chocolate keeps for 12 months while milk chocolate will last for six months. So eat up those chocolate treats!
|Lady Godiva Tea Party Founder, by John Collier|
|Commander K. by Lion at Grand Place, Brussels|
Belgian chocolates for me always bring to mind thoughts of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (see video below) who was once looking forward to spending a solitary Christmas in his apartment eating chocolates when he is interrupted by the need to solve another murder mystery.
Commander Kelly says, "If in Brussels, be sure to check out the Museum of Cocao and Chocolate. If not, enjoy some Belgian chocolate wherever you are!"
Special thanks to the excellent Hotel Amigo (http://www.hotelamigo.com/) which sells a special chocoalte package that includes a trip to the nearby Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate (www.mucc.be) in Brussels.
Hercule Poirot Opening