Please Do Not Eat the Displays

Food museums
worth stopping for

By Michele Foley

Ramen Museum
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum
Museum of Spam
Spam Museum
Whether it’s a sophisticated study of food heritage or a tongue-in-cheek look at the marvels of burnt food, museums dedicated to comestibles are everywhere. And they’re giving out free samples.

1. Cured Ham Museum and Ibérico Pig Interpretation Center (Museo del Jamón-Centro de Interpretación del Cerdo Ibérico), Aracena, Spain. A guided Spanish-language tour walks visitors through the grades (cebo: OK; recebo: better; bellota: best), breed, diet, slaughter, and curing process for jamón ibérico, Spanish ham made from acorn-eating pigs. In May 2009, the fifth World Congress of Dry-Cured Ham is happening here.

2. Jell-O Museum, LeRoy, New York. Built in 1997 to celebrate the gelatin dessert’s centennial, the museum draws 11,000 annual visitors who learn about Jell-O’s history and view original oil-painted advertisements dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Best gift shop item: Jell-O human brain molds.

3. Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. In 1986 Barry Levenson, then Wisconsin’s attorney general, found himself wandering down the condiment aisle of an all-night supermarket, depressed because the Red Sox had lost the World Series. He decided to distract himself by assembling the largest mustard collection ever. Five years later, Levenson abandoned law and opened a museum that today features 4,300 mustards from more than 60 countries, many available for tasting.

4. New World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Georgia. The 92,000-square-foot megamuseum offers a “4-D theater” where visitors sit in moving seats and are sprayed with mists and aromas during a movie about a scientist trying to discover the secret formula of Coke. There’s also an eight-foot animatronic polar bear and a tasting bar where visitors can try 70 different sodas from around the world—including the bitter apéritif Beverly (Italy) and the supersweet Bibo Candy and Pine Nut (South Africa).

5. Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, Yokohama, Japan. Ramen-related paraphernalia abounds here—bowls, chopsticks, and packaging—but the real draw is the museum’s historical theme park, Ramen Town. It’s a reconstructed Japanese neighborhood, circa 1958. Visitors can design their own instant ramen, from packaging to flavors, to take home.

6. Culinary Archives & Museum, Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island. An anthropological look at the Western culinary industry, complete with rare and out-of-print cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and menus from around the world, among other historic treasures. The current exhibit, “Diners: Still Cookin’ in the 21st Century,” offers a complete 1950s re-creation of the 15-stool counter from the popular Ever Ready Diner in Providence, and a restored 1926 Worcester lunch car, one of the earliest diner cars.

7. International Vinegar Museum, Rosyln, South Dakota. Its population is under 300, but Roslyn has a big draw within its borders. Lawrence Diggs, also known as Vinegar Man, has amassed vinegars from all over the world, along with arcane knowledge on the topic. Example: It’s a good antidote for jellyfish stings.

8. Spam Museum, Austin, Minnesota. A surprisingly large 16,500-square-foot homage to the can of meat that helped bring Allied troops to victory during World War II and has been immortalized by the comic genius of Monty Python. A towering wall of 3,390 Spam cans greets visitors when they enter the museum’s lobby.

9. Kimchi Field Museum, Seoul, South Korea. Most non-Koreans know kimchi only as a red-hued, spicy, fermented cabbage dish. A visit to this museum may teach you that eggplant, radish, and cucumber are commonly used to make kimchi, and chiles are not always in its preparation. More fascinating material is to be found in interactive models, displays, and a tasting room with samples of regional kimchi.

10. Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, Burlingame, California. There have been 689 incarnations of the Pez dispenser since it was introduced in 1950, and Gary Doss, owner and curator of this museum, has them all, including the extremely rare “Make a Face” dispenser from 1972, in which you can rearrange the facial features like Mr. Potato Head. Earlier this year, the museum earned a Guinness World Record when Doss and three artists designed and built the world’s largest working Pez dispenser at over seven feet tall.

Michele Foley is CHOW’s editorial assistant.

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