Love food? Visit a food museum on your next vacation! Not all of them are well-known or found in travel books, but there are culinary and agricultural museums around the world that celebrate the finer points of food, its production, and the people involved in growing and making it.
1. Fries Museum // Bruges, Belgium
The Brugge Friet Museum, or Fries Museum, has various fried potatoes covered, of course, but it’s more than just that: the history of the potato, potato-centric art, and historic potato peelers and choppers are all available for your perusal. The building that houses this museum is worth seeing in and of itself—the Gothic Saaihalle (“wool hall”) dates back to 1399, and once housed the Consul of Genoa. Don’t forget to fill up on fries before you leave!
2. Chihsing Tan Katsuo Museum // Hualien, Taiwan
If you visit Hualien, Taiwan, you can hop along the rocky Chihsingtan beach, watch the fishing boats come to port with their catches, and visit the Chihsing Tan Katsuo Museum. Katsuo is another name for skipjack tuna, but the museum isn’t concerned with the fish itself—its focus is on “katsuobushi.” These dry, fermented fish flakes are common in Japanese cuisine, and are often prepared fresh at a meal, shaved or grated from a wood-like block of dried fish, much like parmesan cheese. Today, many people buy pre-shaved flakes at the market instead. The museum also has an exhibit on bonito flakes (a cheaper, less umami substitute for katsuobushi) and a gift shop, whose biggest seller is naturally the large bags of katsuobushi.
3. Pulmuone Kimchi Museum // Seoul, South Korea
Kimchi is another fermented food. Fermented vegetables, to be specific, and the Pulmuone Kimchi Museum has 187 varieties of it. The museum has been around since 1986, but was moved to Seoul in 1988 to promote the national food to tourists during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. There are also exhibits on the centuries-old history of kimchi, kimchi tastings, and even kimchi-making classes. While the museum is currently in the process of moving and renovating, it hopes to reopen later in 2014.
4. Dairy Shrine // Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
William Dempster Hoard was Wisconsin’s 16th governor, founder of “Hoard’s Dairyman,” and the author of the strongest anti-margarine-coloring laws in the country. In addition to the Hoard Historical Museum, Hoard’s Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin home also houses the Dairy Shrine, a two-story museum of dairy history, technology, and the “Dairy Hall of Fame.” Don’t miss the airdrop package used to deliver bull semen prior to frozen semen delivery, and the dog-powered butter churn.
5. The European Asparagus Museum // Schrobehausen, Southern Bavaria
For the past few hundred years, the German-speaking nations have known asparagus as the “royal vegetable”, which was so revered as to be restricted to aristocracy and royalty. It’s fitting, then, that in Schrobehausen, Southern Bavaria, you can find Europäisches Spargelmuseum—the European Asparagus Museum. This museum, housed in a 15th century watchtower, features the history of asparagus, a statue honoring the “spargelfrauen” (women of the asparagus fields), varieties of asparagus, chemical and pharmaceutical properties of asparagus, and even an Andy Warhol painting of asparagus. Of course, during Spargelzeit (the yearly asparagus harvest), the museum has seminars and asparagus tastings, while it sells asparagus-themed paraphernalia year-round.
6. Alkmaar Cheese Market // Alkmaar, North Holland
For 500 years, great wheels of cheese were bought and sold at the Alkmaar Cheese Market, in Alkmaar, North Holland. Today, the auction spectacle is a recreation of what was seen in the middle ages, and the old weigh-house features the largest cheese museum in the Netherlands. The Dutch Cheese Museum features all manner of cheese making, trade, and tasting, and is a popular attraction among visitors to the region. The Alkmaar kaaskoppen (cheeseheads) take pride in their artisanal cheeses, but also understand the factory-produced cheese world, and a large section of the museum is devoted to the contrast between the two worlds of cheese making in the modern era.
7. Gingerbread Museum // Torun, Poland
When was the last time you had real gingerbread? One gingerbread bakery that dates all the way back to the 16th century and is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List is still around and baking delicacies daily. The Muzeum Piernika, or Gingerbread Museum, in Torun, Poland, features the option to make and bake your own gingerbread with the traditional “cake”-type recipe, and the baker on hand can teach you about the medieval Polish baking method. While there aren’t many artifacts or exhibits, the cafe, gift shop, and the historic significance of the bakery itself help make the hands-on experience well worth the diversion.
8. The National Coffee Park // Montenegro, Colombia
In Colombia, there is a rural, wet, fertile region known as the “Coffee Triangle,” which grows nearly all of the country’s famed coffee beans. Inside this triangle, near Montenegro, is Parque Nacional del Cafe—the National Coffee Park. Unlike the other museums, this place is as much theme park as it is cultural and gastronomical celebration, but they don’t skimp on the latter just because they have log flume rides and roller coasters. The National Coffee Park has many species of coffee trees on its grounds, full-size statues of Colombian coffee pickers, demonstrations of organic and conventional coffee bean preparation, guided tours, horseback rides through the grounds, and, of course, lots of coffee-flavored and coffee-themed foods and gifts. Their children’s attractions also feature the coffee theme, but hopefully no free samples.
9. Tottori Nijisseiki Pear Museum // Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture, Japan
While there are several varieties of European and South Asian pear at the Tottori Nijisseiki Pear Museum, in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture, Japan, the shining star is the prefecture’s favorite fruit, the Nashi Pear. Shaped more like an apple than a typical pear, these fruits are grown throughout the prefecture, and are even one of the prefecture mascots. Nashi pears are more grainy than European pears, and not as suited for pie or jam, but are much crispier and juicier, and don’t bruise as easily. The Pear Museum has dozens of varieties of pear, exhibits on pear production in Japan and around the world, and, during pear season, fresh fruit from local farms.
10. Mill City Museum // Minneapolis, Minnesota
Declared more than once to be the “largest flour mill in the world,” the Washburn “A” Mill in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has had a rough history. In 1878, airborne flour inside the mill explosively combusted, killing 19 people and eventually destroying five other Minneapolis mills. After the mill was rebuilt, it had a long run, but was put into disuse in 1965, when General Mills shifted its focus away from flour, and when milling no longer needed water power to be efficient. In 1991, the building almost burned down again, but it was eventually stabilized, and turned into the Mill City Museum. As might be expected, milling techniques and exhibits from agricultural practices throughout history are displayed, but the real attraction is in the exhibits covering the dog-eat-dog world of the Upper Mississippi milling industry. The brutal competition, dangerous working conditions, and incredible output of the “Mill City” can make even ordinary wheat flour fascinating.
11. Kansas Underground Salt Museum // Hutchinson, Kansas
What’s food without salt? Located on top of one of the largest rock salt deposits in the world in Hutchinson, Kansas, Strataca is also known as the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, and offers tours through the Hutchinson Salt (formerly Carey Salt) Company mine. There are exhibits on mining, salt, and Kansas geology, deep beneath the surface. Though Hutchinson Salt Company produces rock salt (largely used for road salting and industrial application due to its slate inclusions and somewhat “off” flavor), you can collect your own bag of salt at the end of their tram tour through the main galleries. Interestingly, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum is also used as a repository for original film and television reels, thanks to its constant temperature and humidity. While the actual vaults aren’t available to the public, a replica of the collection is shown in one of the many large rooms of the early mine area.