Curation of laughter and mustard

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Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum

I wanted to do a post about the most beautiful museums in the world…but you already know about the Louvre. And Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. And maybe even the Milwaukee Art Museum, the incredible bird-wing/ship-mast addition designed by Santiago Calatrava. (No? Well, I’ll put in a photo just in case you haven’t heard of it. And so my architect dad will be happy).

But then I realized I’d be doing the theme of curation a disfavor. After all, art museums aren’t the only museums in the world. With just a quick google search, you can find a museum for just about anything.

The macabre is well-represented in the world of museums. For instance, Guanajuato has an entire museum devoted to mummies. You can walk through halls of mummified bodies, 111 in all, in various states of decay. I’m sure the curator had fun with this one (“should we arrange by date exhumed or by state of decay?”). And there’s the Museum of Death in Hollywood that features artwork done by serial killers and videos of autopsies, among other things. What better place for a museum of death than a place obsessed with eternal youth? Amsterdam has a Torture Museum, but it’s not the only place. There are torture museums in Prague, Italy, Germany, and even friendly ol’ Wisconsin Dells, a place better known for its water park.

Just go to Wisconsin, lady!

But if you’re only in Wisconsin for one day and have to choose which museum to visit, why not skip the torture and the art housed under Calatrava’s wings and head to the National Mustard Museum, formerly known as Mount Horeb Mustard Museum. My Wisconsinite boyfriend tells me there was much controversy when the world’s only mustard museum relocated from one tiny Wisconsin town to another. What does Mount Horeb have to offer the world now? Perhaps just find another beloved and questionable food group…don’t pick Spam though, because we Minnesotans have the market cornered on Spam museums.

Minnesota does have its own share of odd museums. We even made a blogger’s list of “7 crazy-ass museums” with the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, aka the Quackery Hall of Fame (on every list of ridiculous museums was New Delhi’s International Museum of Toilets). I visited this museum with friends when I was in junior high school, researching for a project on Freud. We tried on the phrenology device, wrapped ourselves in the conveyor belt that you were suppose to wear as a real belt to eliminate fat, stepped into the x-ray machine to measure foot size that was all the rage with cobblers right after x-rays were discovered. Apparently, even Marie Curie’s death from radiation hadn’t raised red flags with the Adrian X-ray Company, based in Milwaukee (it always comes back to Wisconsin). The last x-ray machine found in operation in a shoe department was in 1981 in West Virginia. 1981.

My favorite museums, at least in theory, are museums of intangibles. I wrote about the Museum of Lost Smells last March, and just found about about the Laughter Museum in Wiesbaden, Germany. Although I’m sure the real museum is nothing like this, I imagine a large white room where people just go in and start laughing. And after having a good laugh yourself, you can tour white hallways listening to a vast library of laughter. Napoleon’s laugh, Gandhi’s laugh, Salvador Dalí’s laugh. The price of admission would be a guffaw. Excuse me, I have to go start designing my laughter museum.


Artisanal cheeses

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Let’s play a game. I’ll give you the adjective, you tell me the first noun that pops into your head: unrequited; scarlet; artisanal. You are correct if you answered: love; letter; cheese. (Yes, there are correct answers in this game and yes, this post will be my love letter to cheese).

The author, at left, in a Wisconsin cheese hat (much to the chagrin of her Minnesota Vikings brethren)

I’ve had meals the world over consisting of not much more than cheese. I flew to meet a friend in Milwaukee, where we found an incredible beer-and-cheese restaurant. Wisconsin specializes in dairy products and beer (I could make fun of the fact that they’ve also topped the nation’s obesity list, but now that I’m dating a Wisconsinite I’ll refrain…oops, too late) so we delighted over our Milwaukee microbrews and local cheddars. It was a perfect dinner.

While visiting a friend in Paris, we dined at many fine French restaurants before deciding that all we really needed was cheese and wine. We bought a baguette, a bottle of red, and several packages of cheese so fine they’re illegal to import into the US. We took our picnic to a pedestrian bridge right by the Louvre that is inhabited every night by Parisian hipsters, all with their own 40s and guitars and dreadlocks and roller skates.

Eating cheese on a Parisian bridge like a true hipster

And, when spending a week with a British family in London, I was thrilled to find that dessert every night was a board of select cheeses and bowls of fruit sprinkled liberally with sugar. (Picture an elderly British gentleman sitting back in his chair and exclaiming, “Well, dear, shall we bring out the cheese board, then?”)

There is an art to cheese making, which you know if you’ve ever read any of Brian Jacque’s Redwall series, and which I had the unexpected pleasure of learning just before college graduation. I was sitting on my front porch on a beautiful Saturday when a friend emerged from our house and asked me to bike to Dartmouth’s organic farm with her. The fact that I had never been there in my four years was a source of shame to me, so I immediately agreed (and then begged around the house to borrow a bike).

We chose an excellent time to arrive, as student workers were just about to start a mozzarella demonstration. We were given milk, rennet, citric acid, and a pot to heat it all up. After letting it set, we cut the curds up, strained out the whey with a cheesecloth, and added salt. We were all amazed at how tiny a ball of mozzarella emerged from two gallons of milk. I was also amazed at how good our cheese tasted. We ate our cheese that afternoon with bread baked fresh at the farm and water from our Nalgenes. And you know what? It was perfect.

Excuse me for a minute, I’m going to go refill my wine glass and slice some cheese…