One could say that this is the belly of the Exhibition if, on the one hand, the relatively small space it occupies in the whole (8,000 metres of surface area, on two floors) and, on the other hand, the nature and quality of the products exhibited, did not call for a more delicate comparison.
So, the belly, no... but the mouth, and better still than the mouth, the palate, for this group is well named, in the sense that the 3,000 exhibitors it contains have, in a collective effort intelligently directed by Mr. Prevet, brought together all the delectations of the most refined taste.
Each product is represented by the manufacturer who popularised its brand; all the glories of food are here, monitoring the effect of their temptations on the awakened gourmandises.
When you follow the banks of the Seine, from the Pont de l'Alma to the Pont d'Iéna, the Palais announces itself to your attention by the Exhibition of Viticulture, which is, in a way, like the preface. It is impossible, in fact, in front of the two monstrous barrels that you see, one round, with a capacity of 600 hectolitres, the other oval, with a capacity of 275 hectolitres, for you not to think immediately of the good things that such barrels can fill.
You only have to take ten steps to find the realisation of your dream and you are, from the outset, conquered by the perfect harmony that the architect and the decorator have established between their work, which is very well thought out in its deliberate discretion of appearance, and the exhibition that they are framing, which, we repeat, is worth more for the quality than for the quantity of the products and aspires only to titillate if not blasé, then at least distinguished palates.
We must also praise the ingenuity of the layout which allows the eye to synoptically embrace the food distributed between two spacious floors: wonderful cellars for wines, ciders, beers, etc., and, above, a ground floor which a two-step rise subdivides transversally into the work gallery and exhibition rooms, with display cases, restaurant, tasting buffet, etc. For, it must be said, the great originality of the Palace of Food Products lies less in a sterile and uninteresting display than in a lively picture of the handling, manipulation and pressing of products.
It would therefore be wrong to believe that this exhibition is aimed exclusively at grown-ups who add to the privileges of age the curiosity of taste. Children who are educated and amused by the history of a mouthful of bread cannot remain indifferent to the manufacture of biscuits, chocolate, perfumed waters, the complete details of the Champagne wine trade, the different aspects of a laboratory, a cellar, a factory, a bakery, etc. It is an object lesson, a living teaching, no longer industry in statistics, but industry in action...
If it is important to know what we eat and drink, it is not useless to know through which channel the product of the earth, the farm, etc., has passed before reaching our mouth. This is what the Labour Gallery will teach us.
So we will head for it first, after having paid our tribute of astonishment to the 20,000 kilo colossus which guards the entrance: this barrel, with a capacity of 1,500 hectolitres, which was brought from Epernay to Paris with such difficulty by a wagon pulled by twelve pairs of oxen, which barrel, before being full of Champagne wine, could serve as a dining room for 15 guests!
After the central staircase, if we turn left, we find ourselves in the bakery, but, let us be clear, an elite bakery, the one that makes English-style biscuits, especially. Stop here: the different phases of mechanical kneading require your examination.
From the kneading machine, which can knead 2,000 kilos of dough per day, it passes into a second machine which rolls it to the desired thickness for cutting, which is done by a third machine, also responsible for printing the dough. The pasta is then collected by a huge oven, 14 metres long, which cooks it in less than ten minutes and delicately places it in fresh banners to be transported under the floor to the sales counters, where the crowds compete for it.
If you don't want to eat your biscuit... there is, on the other hand, something to satisfy your desires.
Through a distiller's laboratory, equipped with stills of ten hectolitres, basins, filtering apparatus and refrigerators; through the mills which initiate you into the treatment or manipulation of roasted coffee; you finally arrive at the confectioners' workshops which manufacture their sweets and syrups in front of you, and the two bays which end the Galerie du travail and are not the least attractive.
They are, in fact, occupied by one of the powerful machines used in Noisiel for grinding chocolate. What emerges in a dioramic perspective completing the illusion is one of the factory's rooms with its life and movement, a curious setting, an ingenious backdrop to a theatre where the leading actor, always on stage and always in motion, attests, once again, to the superiority of our industrial tools.
After having circulated in the workshops, it is interesting to take away an overall view that can easily be obtained from the terrace overlooking the gallery. After having spent a few minutes in the noise and activity of this teeming area, you can then turn around to visit the products displayed in the windows: sugars, vinegars, condiments, chicory, coffee, of class 72; - meats, fish, vegetables, preserves of all kinds of class 70 and 71, interesting exhibition in that it is the most complete we have organized, so far in terms of preserved fish; - biscuits, gingerbread, floury of class 67; fats, dairy and eggs of class 69 finally.
This is where we will end our walk on the first floor, because at this end of the building we find the staircase that will lead us to the Wine Exhibition.
However, let us not go down there before mentioning the series of competitions for farm products that this class 69 has instituted.
These competitions are of two kinds: permanent and temporary. The former, as is only natural, are concerned only with the tasting of preserved products: butter, oil and dry cheeses.
The temporary competitions, on the other hand, number two and will take place in May and September, at the Trocadero, under an ad hoc tent, and are aimed at fresh butter from all sources, dairy products, eggs, etc.
Shall we go downstairs now? Not before, I think, stopping in front of the vast tasting buffet occupying the centre of the room. This is the library of liquids, a library skilfully put together, where only very old authors are admitted, all authentic great vintages, rare editions, justly renowned, which can be leafed through (with two t's), if they are within the reach of both mouth and purse.
Incomparable works which are like dictionaries of taste and which I advise you to consult to guide your gastronomic research and to correct the barbarisms of the sensual language.
It is therefore in a perfect frame of mind, with heart and eyes delighted by the tasting of wines and the allegorical preparation of the sixteen decorative panels and the four large compositions celebrating Wine - Bread - Peach - Poultry; that you can honour with your visit class 73, the last of the seven that make up the palace of the Food Industry.
As I said, it occupies the whole of the subsoil and is divided into producing regions clearly designated by independent landscapes. Lovers of ciders, beers and fermented drinks will find ample harvests here; lovers of Champagne and Burgundy wines, perhaps more numerous, will draw consolation from the particularly successful display of these products, the phylloxera ravages of which another section offers the sad spectacle.
But the highlight of this class, it is probably not rash to say that it is the story of a bottle of Champagne, told by a relief map where all the cultivation of the vine is recounted, from planting to harvesting; - and again by a section of a building introducing us to the arcana of this industry, showing us the low cellar, the high cellar,. the cellar, the galley, constructions, appliances, accessories and wax figures, rigorously reduced to 1/10.
The figurative plan of a grape harvesting room, with its baskets, its scales, its various types of presses; the work site, natural size, established on the edge of the Seine; the curious collection of bottles (some of them dating from Louis XV); a very complete list of the glassworks where the manufacturers are supplied, nothing is forgotten so that we keep our visit an instructive and lasting memory, I will even add: patriotic, if one considers that absolutely everything, except the cork of the stoppers, is produced in Champagne.
To sum up, just as the exhibitor of this region says of his wine, when the harvest is generous: "No need to make it foam; it foams by itself"; in the same way one can say of the catalogued products: no need to boast about them, they recommend themselves as long as one questions their taste. And even if the gustatory faculties would refuse these loyal experiences, there is still plenty to justify the eagerness of visitors in the moving workshops, in the unveiled mysteries of the manufacturing process and, in the evening, in the enchantment of electricity enveloping the pyramids of bottles.
Finally, if an image could, with a characteristic symbol, give the key to this exhibition, I would willingly say that it presents itself to the public as an enormous mouth whose hiatus reveals the two levels of its jaws, the solid teeth of its grinding machines and, behind the fine tongue of a central corridor where all the varieties of greediness end up, the uvula incessantly moistened by an inexhaustible buffet of tasting.
© Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal 1889