This was the best shot from my trip to the Cailler factory: I figured I'd give it a separate post.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Because such a thing exists, and we woke up at six for it.
I was so excited that the night before, I dreamed of Willy Wonka's Wonderful World: swirled rainbow machines, a river of chocolate, a fantastic elevator opening to the skies and me... okay, not so much. The always-creepy Johnny Depp-Tim Burton collaboration is one I prefer to avoid in my waking hours, and probably explains why I only got four hours of sleep.
I didn't think Swiss food tourism could get any better than Alimentation's comprehensive treatment of food history, but in any case, I joined fellow interns M and A the following weekend on the Chocolate Train, which consisted of tours of chocolate and cheese factories - and a castle.
(Tourist tip: if you're new to Switzerland, take the official Chocolate Train, which costs ~$105 from Montreux. Since everybody is headed toward the same location, you won't need to worry about transfers or how late the local buses run, though the tour lacks organization as well as an official guide. You just have safety in numbers.
On the other hand, if you speak French or are pretty familiar with train-riding, buy a second-class ticket for Broc - $72 RT from Geneva. And go on a Sunday, since most things in regular towns are closed then...but touristy places aren't and often have free admission.)
After two hours of trains, four transfers and thirty blurry shots of mountain/castle combinations from the window, we got off on the train's last stop: the rural town of Broc. Just down the road was an immaculate white building: the Cailler chocolate factory. (It reminded me of the mansion in Bad Boys 2, to be honest.)
We entered, and I squealed loudly. A PVC canvas of larger-than-life chocolate squares draped one wall, while shelves and shelves of chocolate lined the other three.
We spent twenty minutes translating "noixette" and "eclat" (hazelnut and [cacao] nibs, respectively) and comparing the relative merits of each sub-brand within the Cailler family, but without samples, how would we know?
Accordingly, we entered the museum, starting with the machines used to process the cacao, and some branding history of the Caillers -- who eventually got bought up by Nestle.
A giant slab of cocoa butter, a key ingredient in chocolate bars.
Smooth that chocolate river...
Early foils and wrappers that indicate the content of the chocolate bar.
What's really inside.
And the completed bars!
Gotta love adverts.
In the meantime, we learned why Swiss chocolate is baller:
1) Francois-Louis Cailler invented a smooth chocolate mix that could easily be poured into bars and molds.
2) Adding milk was key (and not the sour Hershey kind that followed it, either).
Some of the elaborate molds used, post-Cailler's invention.
Larger-than-life Swiss chocolate patriarchs...eventually all bought out by Nestle.
After a brief discussion on the ingredients and scents of chocolate, the highly-anticipated moment arrived: sample time! While the chocolate tour can be easily managed in an hour (forty five minutes if you skip the gift shop entirely), we easily spent the majority of our time at the sample station. Of course, the three of us spent significantly more time than any other group at the sample counter - a fairly obvious conclusion if you compare three stipended college interns with four seniors tour groups on a tight schedule.
Pictured here: only a third of the booty.
The samples started with Caillat's basic milk chocolate bar, followed by their milk chocolate + almond bar. Both were good, though I preferred the gritty smokiness of the almonds. Next, the Frigot sub-brand: large chocolate squares filled with a hazelnut and almond paste (or simply hazelnut); I preferred the mixed nut paste, largely because the hazelnut tended to be rather overpowering. All of us agreed that it was delicious, though (what did you expect?) Branches came next: soft chocolate ganache sticks wrapped in more milk chocolate, laced in crunchies. A brilliant plan, but so sweet that seconds weren't necessary.
The Frigot table.
And then we realized that there was more chocolate on the second counter: four more trays with at least twenty different kinds of chocolate. There was no way each of us could down that much, especially when we were already at half-capacity. "Shoulda woulda coulda paced better," we grumbled to each other. My first choice was a lesson in not eating things that are unidentifiable: rum-laced coconut, surrounded by a dark chocolate cloak, tasted like a sour sandpaper attempt marzipan. Needless to say, I used my feeble French phrasing to ask the staff what the next chocolate was and promptly avoided it; it's a good thing I asked what kirsch meant.
With three more trays left, I lucked out: all of the chocolate pieces were shaped identically, but could be distinguished by their color: milk, dark and super dark. I broke my self-proclaimed rule of eating the specialty (as mentioned, Swiss chocolate is known for being milk - superrich with a creamy texture) and settled for the super dark, hoping the bitterness would act as an antidote to the sugary aftertaste that had been in my mouth for the past twenty minutes.
I lasted two more pieces and then promptly surrendered.
Thankfully, we were forced to walk around plexiglassed portions of the gallery, waddling like little Gloop and seeing the chocolate churn much like our stomachs did. That gave us enough energy and relief to watch twenty minutes of vintage Nestle commercials...and to buy chocolate. I settled on a dark Frigot bar, the winner of our (too) extensive taste testing.
(Tourist tip #2: the Cailler gift shop is consistently cheaper than grocery stores in the Geneva area. Buy while you can - you won't be stuffed in a week.)
We bypassed the vending machines - full of chocolate Nesquik - on our way out.
Next post: Gruyeres
Posted by Heidi at 11:54 AM
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Michael: What do you think of when you hear the name, "Sudden Valley"?
George Michael: Salad dressing. But I don't want to eat it.
Michael: What about, "Paradise Gardens"?
George Michael: Yeah... that's better. I can see myself marinating a chicken in that.
Longer posts to come -- promise!
Posted by Heidi at 4:41 PM
Monday, July 6, 2009
Things I'd like from the States:
- Cambridge Common's breakfast BLT. I may very well attempt it this week, because I never realized how delectable bacon-eggs-avocado were. Basically, I am in need of brunch satisfaction.
- A balsamic salmon salad or Greek salad that doesn't cost $20.
- Pita chips, accompanied with red pepper hummus (never, ever, ever sundried tomato).
- Good Asian food that isn't from a Chinese/Thai/pan-Asian restaurant. Specifically, I am thinking of Spice's spicy basil fried rice and Shabu-Zen and Yi-Soon sponge cake. Or, more obviously, any type of home cooking.
- Arby's sauce (this remains a common craving when I am in Boston).
- My usual order at Chipotle: chicken tacos, cheese and lettuce, green and corn salsas.
- Swiss chocolate -- unfortunately, I just ran out of my fridge stash yesterday.
- GelatoMania -- just had their mustard flavor yesterday. It was grainy but neither sinus-clearing nor super-savory. A close runner up to my favorite, pineapple basil.
- Crusty bread. The new trick: spreading pesto on pretzel rolls for lunch.
- McDonald's -- I went twice this week with my housemates. Once unwillingly, obviously. Weirdly enough, a medium sized fries here is equivalent to the large sized order in the States. And costs $3.50.
- The tomato-mozzarella-basil combination.
- Pain au chocolat -- is this blasphemous?
Posted by Heidi at 6:39 AM
Saturday, July 4, 2009
This is the potluck, every year:
Beer and cheddar splattered bratwurst, take two. Drown 'em in those spicy noodles (yes, that's sesame oil you're tasting). Here are the burgers: slap one between the six-pack of buns, get more romaine in there, you haven't been eating your veggies lately. Fill the nooks and crannies of your plate with potato salad from the plastic grocery bucket, honest to goodness it has more dill than you think. Now choose between the French and the Italian, quick someone's behind you, it's pretty easy to tell you're a French kinda girl. Moving on! Here is the cake but you'll get it in an hour, it's red white and blue, do you see the Cool Whip on top (I love Cool Whip) and the inverted blueberry stars and the strawberry stripes? That's my America, see? We're cool.
Then the fireworks will start, big metallic splatters that'll gently crash into you while you're sitting on the minivan roof. And yet, that's not entirely true, is it? Your worst enemy is the mosquito, but don't worry, that's what the spray's for.
Don't push each other off, alright?
(photo via jojochao)
Posted by Heidi at 2:17 AM
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Rather ceremonially, I removed my bag of macarons from the tote (for the record: if you buy six macarons, you get them in a cotton box), carefully removed the sticker, and slid the macarons out. Of course, this epic display of propriety was shattered when I opted for my passion fruit juice as accompaniment since I had neither coffee nor milk on hand.
Top to bottom: fleur de sel, violet-cassis, bergamot-orange.
So now, the single-bite rotation, beginning with the violet-cassis. In short, simply beautiful: the grown-up, glorified equivalent of the patty cake. The compote had melded seamlessly into the macaron double-decker, making a cakey-jammy interior; accordingly, the macaron didn't break on the first bite. The cassis flavor was powerful but not overwhelming, while the violet played the backseat rather delicately.
Of course, excellent first bites make for rather impossible expectations; the bergamot orange, while a sound concept - citrus and bergamot go hand in hand, and bergamot is the scent behind Earl Grey, my favorite kind of tea - lacked the kick of the violet-cassis. Rather, I was left with a concentrated bergamot scent, which gave the macaron a bitter aftertaste and which the orange could not redeem.
Finally, the fleur de sel. Equally as good as the violet-cassis, but in a different way (I silently agonized for five minutes in deciding on a favorite). Neither jaw-breakingly chewy nor Hershey-thin, the caramel bound itself to its macaron hosts in a tight symbiosis of styrofoamy, rich sugar rush. At the same time, the caramel had enough salt to stop me from gagging and to enjoy each tiny bite I took. (I managed five bites from the fleur de sel's two-inch diameter).
After my first Genevan exposure to the macaron, I needed more. And so I found myself drawn to the Pougnier storefront, six blocks from Laduree, for "research purposes." Again, I bought three macarons (CHF 2.10, each): rose, Earl Grey and apricot-hazelnut. (The two stores only overlap on classic flavors - chocolate, strawberry, pistachio - though Earl Grey and bergamot-orange should theoretically have been similar.)
Another photoshoot was in order, and then tasting. (I should probably note that the macarons I happened to pick at Pougnier happened to match color better, although the packaging was comparatively lackluster on their part.)
I started out with the apricot-hazelnut. Overall, I was pleased with the flavor: notably, there was a piece of apricot in my filling and the hazelnut flavor was subtly pleasant. However, the fundamental problem was the texture of the macaron - as soon as I bit into the apricot-hazelnut, I felt how hollow the macaron was. And then I saw the hollowness, once the macaron immediately separated from the apricot filling. Once that happened, it was like eating a deep dish pizza layer by layer: good, but not great. And the macaron, apart from the filling, wasn't that impressive - it actually tasted a little stale.
You can visibly see the separation of the double-decker in this photo. Top to bottom: rose, apricot-hazelnut, and Earl Grey on the bottom (it actually was flaked with gold leaf, why it was red I don't know).
This review got a small boost from the rose macaron; because creme filling was used, the macaron structure held fairly tightly. However, I wasn't too impressed with the filling - though the rose flavor was distinctly and deliciously rose, the cream was curdlike, but not like jam-curd like, it just happened to be lumpy. I would have liked to see a rose jelly instead.
Finally, the Earl Grey. I actually liked the taste of the macaron more than that of Laduree's bergamot-orange. It was clear that the macaron was Earl Grey-flavored, which I gave a prompt thumbs-up to. At the same time, Fougnier infused a bit of chocolate flavor in the filling - which not only made it sweeter but also moister - enhancing the cookie's texture. Still, the outsides of the macaron sandwich were brittle.
As a consistent problem, texture was the deciding factor from which Pougnier couldn't recover. So for me, Laduree wins; it's still worth their CHF .10 premium.
But while these are the two major macaron producers in Geneva, there's more "research": Because Geneva is on the French-speaking side of the Confederation, it sticks mostly to French-style macarons, but luxembourgli, a Swiss variant on the French macaron, were invented in Zurich.
And if I manage to go to Paris later this summer, there will be lots of competition with Laduree's three-story flagship store, including La Maison du Chocolat (they specialize in combining chocolate filling with basic-flavored macarons), and Gerard Mulot. Hopefully, a macaron tour will be in store, and if so, I'm most excited about Pierre Herme, known as much for his savory macarons (including foie gras and ketchup) as his "high king" status in the macaron world. But for now, I'll be sticking with an occasional violet-cassis...though I'd love to see the new seasonal flavors.
I will never, ever put a Rob Thomas reference in a post title again.
Of course, this would have been highly appropriate for the jewel-colored, miniature macarons I just wrote about, but the nature of this post is write about other tasty, less-than-CHF 5 additions of mine. Think of it as Citysearch's Three-buck Bites, but adjusted for Switzerland's minimum wage (which is rumored to be CHF 18 -- about US $17). So...count macarons (here, CHF 2.20) as one of those delights. Meanwhile:
- Coffee, preferably subsidized by the office at CHF 2. It's foamy and requires two little cream cups and a packet of sugar to come close to the less-bitter, American Starbucks side. But it is the best accompaniment for eight hours of work, especially with its hint of cocoa.
- Flavored Nestea has come in handy on day trips. I'm a sucker for limited edition flavors, so I coughed up CHF 3 for a bottle of pineapple-mango Nestea. It would have been much better if Nestea had decided on one straight flavor...
- French fries: the real reason for the CHF 5 limit, as it's the exact price for a plate of starchy satisfaction. You don't need to go to McD's for McD-tasting fries; just hit up one of the kabob places on the sidewalk. (Note that kabob doesn't mean "on a stick" here; sorry State Fairers!) The resemblance is uncanny, but the major difference is that mayonnaise, along with ketchup, is served on the side.
- The best part about being in Switzerland is being able to complain about paying over CHF 2.25 for a pain au chocolat. (I get mine for CHF 1.70 here - and I'm already anticipating the shock once I return to Minneapolis and pay for my new addiction at French Meadow). Also, complaining about chocolate - but that is for another post. Specifically, the one that details my trip to the rural Nestle-Cailler chocolate factory (wait for it!)
- Yogurt: Dannon "fruit on the bottom" doesn't get advertised here, because the fruit's there by default. When Tomo and I went grocery shopping together, we wondered what our groceries said about us; we concluded that his one baguette and chocolate covered cookies screamed "bachelor without kitchen." Meanwhile, my eight cups of yogurt...all we could come up with was, "Heidi likes yogurt." I really appreciate the passion fruit and mocha flavors here, neither of which are widely available at the local Safeway; the premium yogurt here is packaged in a black-and-gold luxury wrapper and contains fleur de sel - salted caramel - and kiwi seeds. For CHF 1. Score.
- Finally, who could forget bread and cheese? Yes, that is my "homecooked" dinner below: cucumbers, salami, an olive mini-baguette, and some Gruyere (the Swiss cheese).
- And speaking of homecooked dinners, I'm off to make croque-madames! (Think a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, topped with a fried egg.)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
We learned in Ec10 about the Big Mac index, which the Economist publishes as an unofficial way to represent exchange rate theory. (The going rate for a Big Mac right now is CHF 6.50.)
But what about a Starbucks index?
Well, of course, McD's is nearly everywhere and the Big Mac is a reliable indicator. But anecdotally, the Starbucks index would be more relevant to Gen X and Y, who grew up drinking brand coffee, know the high school stereotypes associated with a Vanilla Chip Frappucchino, and frequently lounge ("work") there for the free wi-fi. Here's a start: I paid CHF 6.70 for a tall (aka small) mocha. With my US $1:CHF 1 ratio (since that's what I get, more or less, when I exchange USD here), that means I paid...$6.70.
(Admittedly, maybe the premium is from the fact that they were open on a Sunday night.)
So, here's the goal. If you are reading this blog, please comment below or email me (email@example.com) with:
- the price of a tall mocha at your local Starbucks (the local currency)
- how sad/elated you are at the price, especially compared to buying other beverages wherever you are.
- your location -- you can do this whether you're in or out of the States, or just traveling everywhere!
Saturday, June 27, 2009
The day after our sixteen-hour trek to Lausanne and Vevey, we slept in. Which was fine, because I had, with five hours of sleep, doubled Erin's sleepless evening, and also because virtually nothing is open on Sundays in Geneva. So, what to do at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, besides creep on people in the park?
We decided to creep on people in the town of Carouge instead. A little context: Carouge, often referred to as a Genevan suburb, was founded by Victor Amadeus III, the King of Sardinia, in hopes of snatching trade and people from its rival Geneva. (Fail?) As a result, Carouge is supposed to be architectually distinct from Geneva; despite its non-lakeside location, it has Mediterranean-style buildings.
Moreover, because Carouge is further from the center of Geneva, local Michelin-starred restaurants' entrees are CHF 10 cheaper. But they are closed on Sundays, and so Erin and I settled for a lazy panini-search (we had eaten the last of the food in our room - potato chips - earlier that morning). We first ended up at GelatoMania and concluded our backwards meal with a debate between Chinese food and a cafe, Wolfisburg. Wolfisburg won out, partially because its entrees were under CHF 20 and because after two scoops of gelato, we weren't that hungry anyway.
Although we missed out on Peking duck, we also had a lot of fun at Wolfisberg...except Erin was missing tomatoes on her panini (CHF 9), which she described to me as "just okay." Wolfisburg was more about the experience of being rushed in and out of the cafe than about the food, though. (I swear, I'm not being sarcastic.) Upon swinging open the door, we were greeted by a row of customers and a chocolate bar, flanked by the bakery on the right.
I wasn't feeling particularly hungry, but Erin - the enabler - suggested I get a traditional macaron (CHF 2.90). Two words: good call! I'm starting to be able to use my taste buds to parce the differences between amaretti and macarons. (German Wikipedia claims that amaretti are basically Italian macarons, while English Wikipedia doesn't link the two cookies. Both use eggwhites and sugar and almond paste, but macarons are a little less gritty, smaller, and in their modern form, have the cream sandwiched between two cookies. When you see them, they usually don't have a peaked top like amaretti do. Traditional macaron, like this one, are bigger and only have one cookie, no cream.) This particular macaron used hazelnut powder, instead of almond powder - it was a creative idea, but a strong hazelnut flavor does not beat a strong almond flavor in my book, as the hazelnut demolished every other taste in the cookie. The texture, though, was perfect for a amaretti. A chewy, nutty challenge without being jaw-crushingly nougaty, and when I bit it, it didn't have the styrofoam "crunch," either.
I've saved the best part for last. The real reason why we loved Wolfisberg? Its gift section, which made us hang out for fifteen extra minutes at the counter and why the people surrounding us shot dirty looks. Swiss chocolate knifes? Check. Gift-wrapped truffle boxes? Gourmet syrups from France? CHECK. We couldn't resist the brightly colored bottles, some with flavors that are rarely found in the States (especially when you're not buying in bulk). There were the brown food flavors, and then the neon food flavors:
If you look at the bottles, you can see what we mean. Acerola, in the top photo, is known as the Barbados cherry and is commonly used in Switzerland to garnish desserts. It's a small spheric jewel-colored berry -- think translucent crabapple -- and is super-tangy. In the bottom photo, pomme d'amour (aka tomato), chewing gum (yeah, because I totes want chewing gum moccachino -- but I guess bubble gum is a common ice cream flavor) and cactus. For kiddie flavors, like chewing gum and blue raspberry, they have smaller pump bottles (that I mistook for hand soap, my bad). Erin and I ended up with a bottle of strawberry and of lavender, respectively -- I had to have the lavender; I'm going to make easy lavender honey ice cream soon, I hope!
Hunger is the best pickle.
-- Benjamin Franklin (via stanfood)
When guidebooks lead you astray and there is nowhere to eat in town, the end of your two-hour search will always taste pretty good. That is not to say that you should discount the restaurant's own skills - because the meat at Moudon was pretty darn good, not to mention super reasonably priced by Swiss standards.
To elaborate: after hitting up Vevey (and spending a lot more time reminiscing on the lakeshore than expected), we train'd back to Lausanne and went to the other half of the city to check out the Olympic Museum, in hopes of catching the last three hour ferry to Geneva and being the next Andy and Akiva. Then, we encountered the most disgruntled teen employee ever: he looked like Josh Peck (yeah, I watched All That! growing up) but with unwashed hair and a monotone voice. Clearly, he wasn't getting paid on commission, as he explained that we wouldn't make the boat, there was no student discount, and the boat was really long and really boring. No kidding, a three hour boat with no T-Pain on board...so we did it his way and left.
Since we could now stay a few hours longer without the constraint of the boat, Erin and I decided to grab dinner. The goal: not to have to walk a mile uphill, again. But plans change. When we realized that our choices for dinner in the shopping district were limited to the Cactus Bar (fajitas for $34 and the ambience of a Hooters) or the classic fondue place (only with a man screaming "N'entrez pas! C'est terrible!") we decided uphill was the way to go. Specifically, we headed to La Pomme de Pin, in the Old Town, only to realize that it was closed this particular Saturday night. And our consolation prize, the cafe with curry gelato, refused to serve us a couple minutes before closing time.
Mild cursing ensued on the walk downhill.
We regrouped to find la brasserie Moudon, which was described in the Lausanne book as "a culinary experience for Lausanne gastronomy." But at this point, we were just relieved that the Cactus Bar was no longer an option.
The exterior of Moudon is a porched house, though it is located on a corner of a public square that tops a highway tunnel. That said, the house alone looks like something that could be plopped down in the Disneyland version of Liberty Square. A little kooky - haunted - but hospitable. We got our menus and raced to find suitable meals, but our timing did not match that of our waiter's, who arrived twenty minutes later. My stomach growling, I ordered the jambonneau roti au four (baked ham hock) while Erin ordered la filet du canard (duck). Again - another twenty minute wait - and then, gloriousness.
That is, a giant ham hock on my plate, coated with a grainy honey mustard sauce and accompanied with steamed veggies (not from Costco, but close enough) and potatoes. The ham was excellent; it fell off the bone and never necessitated a knife; add sauerkraut and you would had the perfect German meal. The relatively thin texture of the honey mustard didn't really match the robustness of the ham, so I stole Erin's honey-black pepper sauce periodically throughout the meal.
Speaking of Erin's honey-black pepper sauce, it coated, surrounded, and redeemed her duck, which was perfectly sliced if not rather tough. That sauce was the MVP of the game, really, followed by the au gratin that accompanied it (ten times richer than any dhall au gratin).
Both meals were at a good price (CHF $29.50 for the ham, $34 for the duck). As we found anecdotally, the further from Geneva, the cheaper the food - at least on the French side. Vevey actually had dinners starting at $17...
Accordingly, we ordered dessert; Erin went "weird" this time and went for the cigares du phraron, the most "exotic" item on the menu, which turned out to be nutty, hazelnut and almond
stuffed wafers in a Greek yogurt and honey dip. I went for the moulleux du chocolat, because it was the only word I didn't know on the dessert menu...with the 10-minute prep warning, I deduced that it was molten chocolate cake.
I actually preferred Erin's cigars to my own cake; her combination of nut-honey-cream was light and refreshing, though CHF 10 was pretty pricey for the quantity (3 small wafers). My molten chocolate cake (also CHF 10), of course, was the opposite of that; it was very rich, and while the chocolate was excellent (we are in Switzerland, after all), the cake was a little too floury and a little overcooked to provide a gooey consistency. The shot-sized vanilla ice cream was a good buffer for the richness though, if lacking in quantity.
Moudon left a positive stamp on our trip to Lausanne, but probably more from the recency effect. Meanwhile, we left Lausanne happy to return to the bevy of restaurants open Saturday night in Geneva.
Rue du Tunnel 20, 1005 Lausanne, 021.329.0471
Friday, June 26, 2009
Planetarium: pictures of stars on a screen.
Imaginarium: overpriced '90s educational kiddie store.
Natch, neither of these compare with the four-room beaut of a particular museum in Vevey, Switzerland.
When the woman at Vevey's tourist center told us to walk down the river until we hit a giant fork and then to turn left, Erin scoffed at the pun that went over my head. But she was right, just like any city official; lo and behold:
(The whole Vevey setup reminded me of home, actually - the fork being a low-key version of Spoonbridge and the lakeside town being the mountainous, gorgeous older sister of Wayzata.)
We turned left, and walked into the Alimentarium's garden; rows of vegetables - including corn native to three different continents - lined the walkway.
The entry foyer featured wallpaper covered in French verbs for different cooking - and eating - techniques, but the museum only had four major rooms: cooking, eating, consuming and digesting.
Erin and I led ourselves to a kitchen where the cooks at the in-house restaurant were prepping for the days' meal (souffles for two kiddie birthday parties). Surrounding the actual working equipment were displays of pots, pans and ovens, separated by global region. We joked around about photographing the notes, because they had tips on how to properly braise meat.
On the other side of the room were smaller "artifacts" - including these jell-o molds. Yes, you can get your asparagus jell-o to look like asparagus -- this would have been an easy cheat for the Brooklyn jell-o mold contest.
Erin, always the curator, was impressed by the unique setup of the Alimentarium collection: things in the eating room were displayed non-linearly, but in a tower, with a photo of the corresponding era that the items were from.
On the other hand, I was impressed with the fake food. The whole museum reminded me of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, which has a floor that is farming themed and, more importantly, filled with fake food.
As a child, I was always fascinated with fake and miniature food: things that resembled what you ate, but whose shape (and in the '90s, scent) remained long after you had its doppelganger. I couldn't stand dollhouses, the ghostly empty eyes of dolls who were in there, but I loved their kitchens; I received a Kitchen Littles grocery set for Christmas one year - which my cousin promptly destroyed. It's a little shameful to say that I have never quite fully forgiven and forgotten this particular incident on my beloved two-inch high fake slushie machine.
In any case, I marveled at the giant food pyramid (outdated!):
and the milk 'n' honey wafers from a pharoah's tomb:
years and years later, a remnant (of bread!) from the Irish famine:
and most definitely the display that showed what a "real person" should eat, five times a day, which finally legitimized elevenses (although this picture effectively says apples, not bagels, for Brain Break).
Erin and I also regressed and played the kiddie games, which were nutritional anthropology variations of Guess Who and Go Fish.
By far, the most photographed part of the museum; we love our processed food and took lots of photos with our preferred cravings (not all of them are here).
As an economics major, I really enjoyed checking out how payment methods for groceries changed over time.
There were nine stations, each with some interactive video or ridiculous faux phone conversation, but the real star was the walls of the consumption room, which contained plexiglas'd food items from a typical Swiss grocery store.
There was a giant chocolate cup. The photo had to be taken.
The Nestle Room
The center of the museum is actually the Nestle room, where the Nestle board met in the late 19th century; as I've previously mentioned, Henry Nestle, the founder, was born in Vevey. The conference room is filled with information about old mergers and acquisitions as well as some Nestle memorabilia. A TV is set to loop old Nestle television commercials.
I should note that Nestle is mentioned frequently in the Consuming room as well - no other company is really represented in the sample. It's clear when you look at the three displays of chocolate history in the Alimentarium; only Nesquik and its previous incarnations are seen. In this sense, the Alimentarium especially reminded me of the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, which is covered in Pillsbury material despite attempts to represent a unified Midwest mill scene.
The scientific part of the museum (the temporary exhibit on the top floor was about the five senses and was rather dry...it consisted of vials of phenol red and inflatable balloons that represented ear and nose cells). Lots of self-quizzes about our eating and cooking habits, and a giant hamster wheel that was, admittedly, rather hard to jog in. Digesting concluded with a 3D film, highly reminiscent of the infamous Life Sciences 1a intro - we watched ten minutes of sugar molecules disappear down animated character's esophaguses and sweep around the body.
All in all, the museum was bliss for a food lover - probably not a sophisticated foodie (but you know they'd have wanted to run the hamster wheel too). Especially good for those of us who like to know where our food's from and who like our history laced - nay, saturated - with food. For those of you thinking about visiting: without all the photo ops, the museum would probably have taken an hour and a half.