Yes, Virginia, there really IS a National Mustard Museum . Located in Middleton, WI (just outside Madison), the museum showcases Mustardmania! You’ll find a treasure trove of mustard pots, a mustard vending machine, mustard-related film and video clips, vintage containers of mustard plasters, poultices, and baths—indeed, All Things Mustard. And, of course, there are the mustards themselves, THOUSANDS of them! A wall rack displays many different mustards from each of the 50 states. Separate cases invite you to look at mustards from around the world. And, should you find yourself in need of the restroom, be rest(room) assured that hand soap is available. However, it’s in a little (clean!) mustard squeeze bottle.
Mustard may well be the world’s most popular condiment. Seeds from different Brassica (brown or black seeds) or Sinapis (yellow seeds) plants have been used for millennia as flavoring agents. Indeed, references to mustard seeds can be found in the Christian Bible. Prepared mustard, the condiment many of us know and love, is a mixture of these seeds, in whole or ground form, plus some sort of liquid (e.g. water, vinegar, wine) and possibly other flavorings, in a paste form of varying thicknesses.
You can blame the formerly (and, apparently, currently) hapless Boston Red Sox for the founding of the National Mustard Museum. Dejected after they lost the World Series in 1986, Barry Levenson, an Assistant Attorney General for Wisconsin, wandered the aisles of a grocery store in an effort to assuage his pain when he had an epiphany—he was going to collect mustards! This gave him a way of redirecting his baseball sadness into a new hobby and a new lease on life. Well, things spiraled and on April 5, 1992 Levenson opened the National Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Years later (in 2009), with both the collection and the museum’s popularity growing, it relocated to its more spacious current spot in Middleton, Wisconsin, just outside Madison.
Does a visitor to the museum have an opportunity to actually taste any mustards? The answer is a resounding YES! The gift shop, where one can buy mustards (along with other souvenirs and accoutrements) offers samples of many brands and varieties. You can sample traditional styles, such as Dijons or deli mustards, as well as exotica (I sampled one flavored with garam masala, an Indian spice mixture—very good!) You can sample the gold medal winners of the World Wide Mustard Competition (for all categories), as well as the runners-up. And if the mustard you are interested in purchasing isn’t set up for tasting, just mosey on over to the Tasting Bar, where the staff have open jars of all the mustards for sale.
So, who should visit the National Mustard Museum? Obviously, any mustard nut (not perjorative—I count myself as one!) But anyone who gets a kick out of Quirky Americana shouldn’t miss this place either. Admission is free, though a $2.00 donation (as of July 2014) is suggested. Props to Mr. Levenson for not only creating this place, but for maintaining and expanding it!
National Mustard Day is August 2, 2014. To help celebrate this most sacred of mustard holidays, one of my next posts will feature a recipe for making your own mustard!