Sometimes the most rewarding museums are those you stumble over by chance. Much as I love a big national museum I am also a sucker for an eccentric’s collection of molluscs and paperweights. It’s what attracted many of us who work into museums to get involved in the first place.
A year ago my family visited Flavigny sur Ozerain, one of les plus belles villages en France. Our purpose was to wander through its ancient streets, and more importantly, visit some of the spots where the characters played by Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche fell in love in the film adaptation of Joanne Harris’s novel, Chocolat. The village provided many of the backdrops for the movie.
Our immediate priority on arrival, though, as is so often the case on holiday, was to find somewhere for a beer and a bite to eat. We soon found a little shop selling all sorts of pretty things and beyond that was the café. While we ate and drank we looked around us and realised that we were actually in a museum. We had stumbled upon a museum dedicated to the aniseed ball! And who can resist a display case containing nothing but white aniseed balls?
The museum displays are charming and informative covering the manufacture of the famous sweets over many centuries. This was originally the work of the monks in the abbey, but the factory now occupies some of the ruined abbey buildings. As well as the static displays there is also archive footage of local manufacture at various times in the 20th century.
In 1814 there were eight manufacturers of Anis who had taken over from the monks in the production, following the French revolution. In time a single manufacturer, Jacques Galimard, bought out the village’s other Anis factories to form a single one within the abbey.
As well as visiting the museum, café and shop you can observe the current production process, but you can’t watch in its entirety because it takes 15 days to coat an anise! The basis for the anis sweets is the seed of the beautiful little plant, Star Anise. Today the sweets are flavoured with all kinds of natural products from mint to rose to orange blossom.
The sweets are all packed in boxes or tins showing variations of a pastoral idyll. By tradition a shepherd gave his sweetheart some of the sweets, so that they have come to symbolise love and fidelity; they are often given as favours at weddings.
The shop, museum, café, factory and abbey buildings are available to visit throughout the year.
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