Belgium is a country known for a number of things. Brussels, its capital, is also the capital of the EU, a major government city that people oftentimes think is boring and “skippable” on a tourist trek through Benelux. What I realized after my research is that Belgium, for those truly in the know, is known for a number of things other than beer, waffles, chocolate, and being the home of the EU capital — it’s also known as having quite a peculiar sense of humor, given famous statues such as the Manneken Pis (the peeing boy) and being the origin of many famous international comics, such as The Adventures of Tintin and the Smurfs. Ed would have been so excited to hear that I was visiting the birth country of the Smurfs. Belgians don’t take themselves too seriously. Americans could learn a thing or two from them.
However, I will say that chocolate was very high on the list for me to learn and discover more about while in Belgium. We visited the Choco-story museum here in Brussels (they apparently have other locations, including in Brugges), and learned so much about the chocolate production process, how it’s grown and fermented, and ultimately made into the beautiful bars, truffles, pralines, and drinks we so love today. What was most surprising to me, as I’ve read quite a bit about chocolate production before this visit, was that different cacao fruits have many varieties in the same way that you can have different varieties of apples or mangoes; each of them has a very nuanced taste. So, sometimes, it’s not just the percentage of cacao in your chocolate that is the actual determinant of the difference in taste, nor is it the amount or type of milk, but rather the type of cacao used in the bar. I would LOVE to have a side by side taste of different types of cacao from different countries to see what the actual difference is and if I could notice it!